When things go wrong it's very easy to point fingers, and more often than not it's at the head coach. But at Illinois this year, that won't happened because Ron Zook is in his first year. Quite frankly I really don't think it's Zook, and to be perfectly honest with you I don't think it was all Coach Ron Turner either.
Quarterback Tim Brasic is trying to stay positive but now it may be getting to the players. "It's so frustrating," Brasic said. "We have the athletes. Former Coach Ron Turner left a lot of great players. We have them and we can't get it done." Brasic may feel that Turner left the cupboard full at Illinois, but I just don't see it Tim. Clearly, Zook has done a great job of getting his new team to stay upbeat, but the fact of the matter is, Tim, right now the talent level at Illinois is not where it needs to be if the Illini ever wish to avoid finishing in last place.
Let's be very realistic here. In years past, Indiana was a team that Illini fans counted as a victory, but now that's gone as of last Saturday. Sometimes (on a good year) Northwestern could be counted as a win; not sure about that after they just beat Wisconsin 51-48. The Badgers have been one of the best teams in the Big Ten the past 10 years. The Wildcats set a school record 674 yards of total offense and quarterback Brett Basanez was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, as Basanez accounted for 430 yards of that offense.
This is a young team and Zook doesn't like to use that as an excuse, but facts are facts. Until Zook is able to bring in the kind of athletes that Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin has, this 0-11, 1-10 or 2-9 thing in the Big Ten is going to happen more often.
Turner was a good coach; he did lead Illinois to a Big Ten Title in 2001. So the guy must know something, right? Where he failed at Illinois and where he's set Zook back is - in one word - RECRUITS! The Athletic Director said in his press conference the day he hired Zook, "Zook is a great coach and a tireless recruiter." Well, if Zook is going to fill the seats at Memorial stadium that quote better hold true.
Watching this group of Illini play you can tell they are giving 100% maximum effort, but at times we don't have guys on either side of the ball that can make the "big" plays. Watching a game on TV doesn't really show the entire field. Guys right now have a hard time getting separation and how many dropped passes did you see just on Saturday alone? Good teams and great players make those plays more times that not.
Don't give up on Illini football. Illinois is not just a basketball school. It's going to take one special coach with a lot of help from his assistants, school and fans to get this turned around. Until then, the true fans will have to ride this out maybe for another year or two.