From The Cheap Seats

In the latest edition of <i>From the Cheap Seats</i>, Brumby looks at the Illinois football team and what he expects to see on the field next fall after taking in a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Champaign, IL. <br><br> Read this story from to see if Brumby is expecting the Illini football team to return to competing in Bowl Games under Head Coach Ron Turner.

A lot of things have changed since the last time I wrote a From the Cheap Seats column. The Fighting Illini had a successful run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual Final Four entrant, Duke. Bruce Weber signed the final member of his first recruiting class at Illinois in the Chicago Sun Times Player of the Year, Chicago Simeon's Calvin Brock. Ron Turner and the Fighting Illini Football team finished up Spring practice with the Spring scrimmage game attended by about 4,000 faithful fans on a warm Saturday afternoon in Champaign.

I personally think late spring through the summer is the worst time of the year to be a fan of the Fighting Illini, and major college sports in general. The end of the sporting year for me is signified by the completion of the NCAA Tournament Championship game. There is nothing to look forward to until football starts up again in early September, but I am not even looking forward to the start of football this year. Would any rational thinking Illinois fan be looking forward to football season this year? I will go to the games and cheer on the Illini, but all I see is a dead man walking on the sidelines. I just cannot get excited behind him as coach; he just does not evoke the emotion in me that makes me think he is the guy to bring another winning season to Champaign. Without Kurt Kittner, who may be the most important Illinois football player since Dick Butkus, I just cannot get excited about a Ron Turner coached team. I have seen players ranging from bad to good drowned in praise by this coaching staff when they state how much "they like the look in their eyes" ad nauseum in interviews. I just have been so jaded over the last two seasons, but especially last year that I will not believe this is a football team with a chance at a bowl game until I see it. Summer also brings about my least favorite topic regarding Illinois sports, recruiting. All the rumors and speculation surrounding the recruiting season are just too much to keep up on and process. My theory, let me know when a player commits to Illinois, and then I will follow his progress, but until then I will follow at a distance. Bruce Weber already has a collection of names fans know and are following closely.

The best part of the summer, well besides the NBA Playoffs, the NBA Draft, and the baseball season getting into full swing, is looking ahead at what the Fighting Illini football and Men's Basketball teams will do next season (this will be in a later From the Cheap Seats column).

After watching this weekend's spring game, I did not see one reason to get excited for football. In fact after hearing Ron Turner give a speech in front of the season ticket holder tailgate before the game and using the phrase, "I like the look in their eyes" I became even more discouraged than I was heading into the scrimmage. There is just so much superfluous talking that I can take, and after hearing Turner use that phrase during last seasons unmitigated disaster, I do not trust what look he sees in the players eyes.

The Spring game and the reports after it were very interesting to me, especially the report coming out of the University of Illinois Sports Information Department via the school's official website ( touting the 52 points scored by the Fighting Illini offense. I saw the exact opposite thing from the game, especially in the first half. I saw an offense that was incapable of scoring on what is assumed to be a mediocre at best Illinois defense. The offense struggled against the defense for the entire first half of the scrimmage, no matter if it was the first team or second team offense. Jon Beutjer received the snaps with what would have been the first team offense, and the other quarterbacks switched off possessions as the quarterback of the second team. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, both offenses struggled until the defenses wore down. Considering the struggles of the Illini defense and the introduction of a "new" defensive coordinator in Mike Mallory, I was surprised the Illinois spin on their own Spring game was not the improvements of the Illini defense, highlighting their first half ability to keep the score low, but we all know defense only wins championships, it does not put those extra 50 people in the stands. Well that, and no defense will ever overshadow Ron Turner's offense while he is at Illinois.

The major question I have for myself after watching this game was: how good is this team? Without seeing another team practice besides Illinois it is a little tough to judge how well they are performing. Simply put, if all I have seen is Illinois' practices from last year, and this year's look better, of course I would say they are better. The frame of reference I had to make the comparison was terrible, though. Shining up something that is terrible could make it look better, but it would also still be terrible. I am always wary of reading glowing practice reports from Champaign because quite honestly if you are quicker, faster, and stronger than other Illinois players on defense, it does not mean you are quick enough, strong enough, or fast enough to make an impact on the field when Illinois takes on the rest of the Big Ten.

Looking ahead at the Illinois schedule, I like what I see: four straight home games in September, with all three non-conference games being winnable. The games against Florida A&M (your chance to see the Marching 100, the reason I cannot wait for this game), UCLA, and Western Michigan can easily be wins, but I cannot mark them down in the "W" column quite yet, especially the UCLA and Western Michigan games. Last season UCLA snuck by Illinois in the Rose Bowl, and this year they are coming to Champaign in what should be a good game. I have heard many Illinois fans say they expect to defeat the Bruins, and start the season 2-0, but I just wonder how many UCLA fans look at the trip to Champaign against the Fighting Illini, who finished the previous season at 1-11, as a game they can and should win. Western Michigan is also a team that is definitely dangerous for the Illini as they are from the conference of the giant killers, the MAC.

Football is a game of confidence, and Illinois can start off the season with a large amount of confidence, the opposite of what happened last season, by winning all three non-conference games from within the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. If Illinois happens to lose two or three of these games, I expect to see a team that instead of playing football will just be thinking, "what else wrong can happen to us?"

Early prediction at record: 4-7
I see wins occurring over Florida A&M, Western Michigan, and Indiana. The extra win I will take as a wild card win as I do not know who the Illini will beat for that fourth win, I just think it will happen.

Early prediction as to the best football news of 2004-2005: Illinois signs Rashard Mendenhall to a Letter of Intent.
Early Prediction for Offensive Player of the Year: E.B. Halsey
Early Prediction for Defensive Player of the Year: Mike O'Brien

Illini Inquirer Top Stories