Head Football Coach Ron Zook and this year's 2005 football team didn't win a single Big Ten football game this year - and let's be honest - they were tough to watch at times. For the average fan when asked about the Illinois' football program, they used to blame it all on former Head Coach Ron Turner. But since Zook is in his first year some (though not all) have given him some slack.
For those that have played sports, it's not easy. I don't care what anyone tells you - to go out there each weekend and take a beating like that is hard. But this year the kids fought hard and so for that I'm giving you thanks. When you saw this group play you thought they were miles away from ever winning a Big Ten game. "We're not that far off. It may look like that, but we're not. We see improvement each week out," said Zook. Could that be coach's talk? Who knows. One thing's for sure - Zook's players didn't quit.
What I could see with this year's team standing on the sidelines was clear as crystal. Oh, this is my wish list now by the way. People from coast to coast said Zook was a great recruiter. Well, if he plans to keep the alumni, fans and boosters off his back he better bring in players that are difference-makers.
Two games that I just stood there on the sidelines shaking my head were the Michigan State and Penn State game. Illinois just got punished upfront and at the skill positions. The size of the Illinois players and the size of other Big Ten teams are not even close. The speed of linemen in today's collegiate game is just unreal anymore.
Zook's system, I have to admit, was painful to watch at times because it just looked like quarterback Tim Brasic would take the ball and run 90% of the time. Sitting in press row you could see that Zook would try to throw the ball downfield, but the set of WRs currently on this roster doesn't have the speed or strength to separate from the defenders, so therefore Brasic would try to use his feet. This works when you have a great passing game because it can keep a defense honest, but not until they can make plays downfield.
Also, if I were to pick a MVP this season it would have to be Brasic because, let's face it, he took a beating all year and in Zook's system he's really not the ideal quarterback to run it.
Don't fall out of your chair reading this next statement. Illinois is not just a basketball school, even though this week one on the nation's basketball recruits told me so. Ron Turner proved you could win at Illinois, he just didn't sustain it. One year a slogan under Turner was "Why Not Illinois." To him that meant, "Win." To me that means, "Why don't kids come play here?" What the fans are looking for is a consistent team to root for. I've never met an Illini fan, alumni, booster, coach, or media member say to me ever that Illinois should win 9-10 games every year. But they should be in the ball park of 6-8 without a doubt.
Tell me recruits don't matter? Two years ago Penn State fans were ready to fire one of the best coaches to ever stand on the sidelines in Joe Paterno. With a couple of great recruiting classes, now look at Joe Pa. He's taking his Lions to a BCS Bowl game.
Bottom line to all this - get better players and people won't think Illinois is just a basketball school. You can win there.