Photo by Jason Caldwell

Werner's Whits: On President, UI rivalries

Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner weighs in on the addition of Gimel President, Illinois rivalries and the Big Ten race

Welcome, Mr. President. The Illinois football addition of Auburn transfer Gimel President is a solid one. President, a fifth-year transfer who started nine games as a sophomore, lost his starting spot last season. Despite being a solid rotational piece for the Tigers the past two seasons, President's future role with the Tigers was uncertain.

President adds much-needed depth at Illinois. President isn't a star, but he is very strong with good vertical speed. He's good against the run and is an average pass rusher off the edge. He could move inside to the three technique on passing downs and contribute, as well.

If healthy, Illinois actually has some solid depth along the front four. Four players return with starting experience: DE Carroll Phillips, three technique Chunky Clements, nose tackle Rob Bain and defensive end Dawuane Smoot. President, redshirt freshman Jamal Milan and Teko Powell all have starting-aliber talent, as well. Of course, Powell has only played three games over the last two seasons due to three foot fractures, so he can't be counted on to contribute. Redshirt sophomore Tito Odenigbo doesn't yet look like a starter, but he's a pretty solid fourth or fifth option on the interior.

President also should allow Illinois to develop its youth. Class of 2016 recruits Tymir OliverIzon Pulley and Brandon Jones arrive this summer, but none of the trio should be expected to contribute early. With President and redshirt sophomore Henry McGrew (a good run stuffer), the Illini should be able to redshirt the freshmen defensive linemen, develop them slowly and not waste an unproductive season of eligibility due to a lack of depth.

Illinois still has two scholarships remaining in the Class of 2016. They plan to use them because using them has no effect on the Class of 2017, which will be a full class of 25 regardless. So, it's a "use it or lose it" scenario for Illinois. The staff has honed its sights on a high school West Coast wide receiver and will likely keep the other open for any other options (prep, junior college or fifth-year transfer) that come up.

Fifth-year transfers are an understood part of the college basketball conversation. There have been some high-profile Big Ten fifth-year transfers in recent seasons: QB Russell Wilson transferring from NC State to Wisconsin and QB Jake Rudock transferring from Iowa to Michigan. I wonder if the quantity continues to rise and the graduate transfer rule trends as much as it has in basketball.

Illinois basketball hosts Indiana on Thursday night. Many Illini fans -- many of whom lived through the Bob Knight vs. Lou Henson rivalry or the bad blood of the early 2000s (through the Eric Gordon game) -- still hate Indiana more than any other team. But to be a true "rivalry" game, the hate has to be equal on both sides. As much as it pains Illini fans, Tom Crean has lifted the Hoosiers out of the mess left by his predecessor Kelvin Sampson and back to the top of the Big Ten. Illinois fans would like nothing better than to upset the Hoosiers and deny them a chance at a Big Ten title. But while the history may be nasty with Indiana, the Hoosiers-Illini doesn't seem like the top rivalry at the moment. If you combined football and basketball, it would seem Northwestern (though Illini fans don't want to consider the Widcats a rival, they are a worthy one), Purdue (I frequently call PU and UI "sister schools" due to their close proximity and similar histories in the Big Ten) and Mizzou (despite the end of the football series) would top Indiana -- at the moment.

Indiana now has a full game lead atop the Big Ten. Wisconsin continued its hot streak with an upset win at Iowa on Wednesday. The Badgers (18-10, 10-5 Big Ten) have won nine of 10, while the Hawkeyes (20-7, 11-5 Big Ten) have lost three of four. It's no longer crazy to think the Badgers could go further in the NCAA Tournament than the Hawkeyes. And it's no longer a question, in my opinion, that Greg Gard is the Big Ten Coach of the Year. Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez is stubborn, but I doubt he's dumb. Gard's earned that job. Just as Bo Ryan planned...


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