From the darkness, light.
As an Illini fan who was born in 1997, life has been tough in the revenue-sports section of my favorite university’s sports teams. It hasn’t always been bad, and I have gotten to watch elite athletes like Derron Williams and Dee Brown run the court, and Rashard Mendenhall and Vontae Davis perform on the gridiron, but for the revenue sports in my lifetime, it’s been far from great.
If all of the recruits that Illinois currently boasts for their 2019 recruiting class turn out to be as good as advertised, which so far they surely have looked the part, this class could be one of the best Illinois recruiting classes, in any sport, for as long as I’ve been alive. Sure, 21 years isn’t that long (or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself) but this could be a defining moment for the University of Illinois Athletics Department going forward.
And it’s well deserved.
For far too long, Illini fans have struggled in the misery and mediocracy of their revenue sports. And yes, before I’m corrected on this, I know non-revenue sports have been good if not great in recent years. As an avid baseball and volleyball player and fan, I couldn’t be happier, and as a student, it’s been an absolute blast to witness the success of these programs.
But what’s been missing in this consistent craving of success? Football and basketball.
Not only does the Illinois’ women’s basketball team look completely different than in years past, starting off the season with good non-conference play and a fresh feel under Head Coach Nancy Fahey, but the 2019 recruiting class for Illinois football looks to be a program-changer.
Spite me if you must, but despite some bad losses recently, I still have (maybe naïve) faith in Brad Underwood’s Illinois basketball program.
As I look to graduate after four (sometimes long) years at the University of Illinois, I look back at the sports I’ve witnessed and cast a sad shadow on the basketball and football programs. As a four-year member of both the Orange Krush and the Block I, far too long was I led to disappointment. That could all change with the going forward of the 2019 class.
Many of you know that my favorite subject so far in my young journalism career has been covering the NFL Draft and NFL prospects playing in the NCAA. For far too long have I yearned for a true NFL prospect to come out of this Illini program.
My heart has been enlightened in recent years with performances from Illini alums like Clayton Fejedelem, Geronimo Allison, Justin Hardee, and many other UDFAs and late-round draftees that have risen to the occasion of the NFL.
Though I’ve loved these moments of greatness, and greatly respect those athletes and every athlete to come through the program, it isn’t enough. And with the classes of 2018 and 2019, it might be time that I, and Illini fans like me, get some much-needed encouragement in that front.
Though it won’t be a while until prospects like Isaiah Williams, Marquez Beason, and Shammond Cooper make it through the ranks and (knock on wood) declare for the NFL Draft, the thought of it should serve to provide a sense of hope for Illini fans.
With the commitment of Shammond Cooper tonight at the All-American Game, and the incoming transfer of the former MVP of that game in ex-Miami star Jeff Thomas, the future is finally looking up for Illini fans, and the program alike.
Though the Illini recruiting class won’t show that much better on the recruiting boards thanks to the way most recruiting services work, Cooper’s commitment brings a much-needed bright spot for a revenue-sports program that has been dreadful so far this year. Though there have been flashes where Illini basketball and football looked the part of a developing team that could have a presence in the Big Ten conference, it has seemed as though fate itself were against the Fighting Illini.
But for Illini football? There’s hope.
The Illini have recently landed great commitments from athletes like Williams, Beason, and Cooper, and are winning competitive recruiting battles all over the country in order to try to turn the program around.
I’ll have a more technically focused breakdown of what Shammond Cooper brings to the Illini team in the future, the do-it-all linebacker will fill what has been a hole at the linebacker spot for the Illini for years on end, but perhaps the most important thing that Cooper does for the Illini is provide hope.
I’ll be graduating from the prestigious Alma Mater in May, (likely) without seeing a Basketball team go to the NCAA Tournament, and definitely without seeing a Football team go to a bowl game.
As I make my exit from my home of four years, I’ll be looking forward to the great things to come.
The main reason I’m writing this is to tell— no, insist – Illini fans to keep their heads held high and eyes focused on the future. As a journalist, I’m not one to voice my opinions out loud, but until my next article, I’ll leave you with this opinion:
The future is bright.
Location: West Lafayette, IN.
Mascot: The Boilermakers
2017 Record: 7-6
The Purdue Boilermakers (2-3) enter this game having won their previous two contests and are looking to keep the winning momentum going against the Illini. It was a rough start for Purdue’s 2018 season as they fell to Northwestern in their first game 31-27. This was probably a game they should have won, especially with freshman wideout Rondale Moore emerging as a star, in this contest.
The next contest saw Purdue host Eastern Michigan. This ended in disappointment as Purdue fell in upset fashion yet to a 2018 opponent by a final score of 20-19. The next matchup pit SEC foe Missouri and Purdue together. This was a back and forth contest with the Missouri Tigers coming out on top 40-37.
After this game there were a lot of questions being asked about Jeff Brohm’s team and whether his team could handle the preseason expectations. Purdue then hosted then ranked #23 Boston College and Purdue had their best showing of the year, winning 30-13. Finally, two weeks ago Purdue continued B1G play against Nebraska and was virtually unstoppable on offense and thus cruised to a 42-28 victory. Coming off a bye week, Purdue has had plenty of time to prepare, so it’ll be interesting to see how they come out against the Illini.
The Boilermaker’s offense is quite intriguing because it has all the major components to be one of the best in the B1G. Starting at QB is senior David Blough who had a fantastic season last year before suffering a season ending injury against the Illini. He has been fantastic this season completing around 68% of his passes, throwing for 1318 yards, and a 7 to 1 TD to INT ratio in just 3 games (took over starting job in third game of the season).
He is not the only threat for Purdue’s offense. Senior RB DJ Knox has also had himself a nice start to the season totaling 390 rushing yards on 70 carries while also scoring 5 rushing TD’s. Knox is the type of player who doesn’t look very fast at first, but has excellent second level speed. If I were to compare him to anyone in the B1G it would have to be the Illini’s very own, Reggie Corbin.
As stated before, freshman wideout Rondale Moore had a pretty outstanding first collegiate game against Northwestern. As a receiver he had 11 receptions for 109 yards and a TD, and as a runner he carried the ball twice for 79 yards and a TD. These stats were absolutely phenomenal and he instantly become a Purdue fan favorite. He has kept up that pace too as he has totaled 41 receptions for 457 yards and 4 TD’s this season. Purdue’s offense is one to watch even if they aren’t playing the Illini that week.
Tune to FS1 at 3:30 PM ET on Saturday to check out this matchup!
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We’re just days away from the beginning of the 2018 Illinois Fighting Illini Football season, and we here at Illini Scoops are just as excited as you guys are. That being said, how will the Illini Football team fare as compared to last year, going winless in the Big Ten?
With a freshly upgraded roster (nearly all-around), and a stable QB room that will look to improve under new Offensive Coordinator Rod Smith, how much improvement can Lovie Smith and the Illini make from their season just one year ago?
Below, our staff gave their season predictions for the Illinois Football Season, and each gave what they believe to be a key to the Illini having some success.
Nate Williamson’s Season Prediction:
I expect some improvement from the Illini, to say the least. Illini fans should be looking for a four or five win season, but for my predictions, I’m going to go with the Illini football team winning six games, and dropping six games. Taking a brief glance at this schedule, it’s one of the easiest schedules the Illini have faced in many years. A schedule without Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State bodes well for the young Illini.
I have the Illini starting at 3-0, with blowout wins against Kent State and Western Illinois. They’ll follow these games with a tight win against the University of Southern Florida. They will drop to 3-1 after a loss against Penn State, beat Rutgers and Purdue (homecoming), before dropping a game to a stacked Wisconsin team that will be in contention for the National Title. A win against a Maryland team in an interesting situation at the moment secures a bowl birth for Illinois, before they move on to losses against Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern to end the season, before they are announced to a bowl.
Key to the season: Health. The team has to keep it’s playmakers and best players healthy. A team that isn’t as deep as it would like to be, and for the Illini to succeed and achieve the wins above, they’ll have to keep positions like the offensive line, running backs, their main quarterbacks, and their linebackers all healthy. A handful of key players going down hurt the Illini greatly last year, and they’ll have to avoid that this year to succeed.
Aarman Sethi’s Season Predictions
This should be a fun year for Illini football. Head Coach Lovie Smith has announced AJ Bush as the starting QB and I definitely expect some offensive fireworks this year.
Regarding the Illini’s overall record this year I fully expect them to qualify for a bowl game. Here’s how they get there. The Illini should have a comfortable start to their season with wins over Kent State, Western Illinois, and USF. Next is a tilt with Penn State in Champaign. Penn State has too much talent currently and might be heading to the college football playoff. That’s a loss, but Rutgers and Purdue are next up and I believe Illinois will be victorious in those matchups.
This puts the Illini at an unfathomable record, for most fans, 5-1. Great start to the season, but can they finish it off? The road tilt against Maryland and the home tilt against Minnesota are the two matchups remaining that I believe Illinois can get that sixth or seventh win. That would be a remarkable season for the Illini and really bring the buzz of college football, back to Champaign.
Keys to the Season:
Skill players. Yes, the QB position is vital for an Illinois football team that will rely on its offense to pull out victories this year, but if the skill players produce, they could make AJ Bush’s year a lot easier. Expect the household Illini football names, Mikey Dudek, Ricky Smalling, Mike Epstein, Louis Dorsey, etc. , to produce big time if their team is to have a successful season.
Matt Moore’s Season Predictions
The third iteration of Lovie Smith’s Fighting Illini will roar out of the gate with a remarkably improved offense. I look for 50-plus points to be scored in each of the first two games against Kent State and Western Illinois. If the Illini aren’t putting up pinball machine type numbers in the first two games, it could be a really long season once again.
The neutral site game in Chicago versus South Florida will be a stern test. South Florida will have the team speed to run all over the field with the Illini skill players. It will be time for the Illini to just make more plays than a good, but not as good as last year USF team. Just because I WANT the Illini to show good improvement, I will say that a 37-36 win over USF will begin to build some positive vibes around the program.
Ryan Evan’s Season prediction
I think it’s safe to say that Illini Scoops strongly believe in the rebuild of the Illinois football program and it’s new pieces. USF is the pivotal game that could swing a big season for Illinois. Illinois will at least double it’s win total from last season, but in my opinion, they will win all the home games they are supposed too plus steal a road game. I see Illinois winning 7 games this season and upsetting Maryland or Nebraska.
Having a Quarterback with 5 tools and quality leadership isn’t something Illinois has had in many seasons. A.J. Bush will make life so much easier for everyone and adding another year for a young but talented O-Line will be priceless. Confidence and that taste of winning for a program turning the corner will fill memorial stadium, something the players are thirsty for. Illinois wins 7 and goes bowling for the first time in 4 years.
Key to the season: Defense
This is the year Illini fans truly see what Lovie has patiently been building. He has Maulers up front on the defensive line, and many of them. Calvin Avery and Verdis Brown will help talented upperclassmen Tymir Oliver, Kenyon Jackson and Jamal Milan greatly. All 5 of those men are nasty warriors in the trenches. With the maturity and weight added to Bobby Roundtree and Isaiah Gay along with Owen Carney and Lere Oladipo, this defensive line is set for years to come. Having a healthy Jake Hansen to match with Delshawn Phillips will be critical for success this season at the weakest position of depth and experience. Dele Harding and Khalan Tolson will be names to watch as well.
Illinois already will have a top 5 secondary in the BIG once the season is over with year. Instinctual, hard hitting and relentless describes what you will see from Hobbs, Adams, Green, Watkins, Williams, Martin ,Walker, Joseph and Brown this season. Ballhawks. The Year of Lovie defense has arrived in Champaign
On Tuesday August 14th, the Illinois fighting Illini Football team held another open practice during their training camp period, while getting ready for the upcoming season. There was a lot to watch for, as is typical with so many fresh faces when a new season begins, but these training period really allow us to look at exactly who could take a leap and become a household name this season.
Lovie and Co. had another good day with their young, talented squad, and the team didn’t disappoint the fans and media members in attendance, as Illinois showed off what could be the best top-to-bottom roster it has had in recent years.
Here’s some of the key things I noticed at today’s camp, for those of you that missed my breakdowns on Twitter.
M.J. Rivers had his best day thus far, after being rewarded with second team reps for today’s practice. He showed off his high arm strength that many Illini fans have pointed out recently from his high school highlights. Rivers comes into a quarterback race at Illinois that remains wide-open, and he certainly made his case today, completing on several deep balls and also on quick slant routes to all manners of receivers during both QB/WR Drills, and full-team offense/defense drills.
If Rivers can continue to build and get comfortable in Rod Smith’s offense, he certainly has the talent and ability to make himself a top-tier choice for the Illinois offense behind apparent QB1 A.J. Bush.
Rivers, however, has a lot of competition for the QB position, and will have to fight with, and likely surpass, the player who is the focus of the next thing I saw.
Matt Robinson, now an Illini fan favorite, continued Tuesday to showcase his abilities and make his case. From the start, Robinson really caught my eye. In QB/Receiver drills, Robinson showed off his accurate arm, completing both deep-ball passes on streak routes to speedy receivers like Mike Dudek, to corner routes from TE Luis Dorsey.
Robinson has really impressed Illini fans as of late with his ability to throw the ball, but Robinson also showed his running ability, on one play in a later drill, evading the sack from a defensive lineman, and scrambling for a fifteen-yard gain, and could easily have had more. Robinson, to me, looks like the clear-cut QB2 for this team that showcases one of the deepest Illini QB rooms in recent years.
I was impressed with Robinson today, even though Bush and Rivers got most of the time with first string units. He’s shown out through camp and will look to continue fighting for the primary backup spot, or even the starting spot, should Bush suffer a setback.
The Defensive Line showed out, and took the day from Offensive Line. The Defensive Line was matched up once again against the Offensive Line in today’s practice, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. The defensive line (in real-time drills) often got into the line of scrimmage and frustrated the offensive unit, taking sacks and tackles-for-loss at a high rate. The young defensive line is certainly a bright spot going forward, especially with the addition of one of my favorite freshmen, Calvin Avery.
The Illini Special Team’s Unit continues to impress me. As someone who loves watching special team’s work, the Illini have a great, talented group of kickers (and returners) this year. Blake Hayes continues his development, as his foot power is unparalleled to any that I’ve seen don an Illini uniform in some time. Placekickers like and Caleb Griffin continue to impress with their consistency in the position, and Coach Ligashesky’s unit will hope to thrive behind a new offense under Rod Smith and the newly-implemented offense.
Also, it’s worth noting the Special Teams performance, especially Blake Hayes, even “wowed” a certain legendary News Gazette writer who covers Illinois sports.
The team’s depth of quality the best it’s been in some time. It’s been a while since I’ve been to an Illini practice or early-season training camp where I could visibly not keep my eyes on one specific player, due to the large amount of talent on the field.
This year’s recruiting class brought in not only a solid stable of skill players, but with it the Illini also added depth and young talent at most of the positions. From linebackers to offensive linemen, the team is stacked with young, untapped potential.
The team looks fresh and ready to go for the upcoming season, and the sheer intensity players like Bennet Williams, Mike Dudek, and A.J. Bush (amongst many others) have shown throughout the early-season training camp practices points to a much-acknowledged fact: very few positions are set in stone.
Overall, Lovie’s team this year features a lot of positional battles, which bodes well for an Illini team that has for so long lacked the depth of talent that this year’s roster appears to have. With an already-booming Class of 2019 coming in next year, the staff will look to build this year, and have a seasoned core of sophomores and juniors to add to the special incoming class.
Lovie Smith and the Illinois Fighting Illini Football staff received another commitment today out of what is quickly becoming a flowing pipeline for the coaching staff from Florida. The Illini staff gained the commitment of yet another prospect out of the Sunshine State in defensive end Seth Coleman, from Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Florida,.
Coleman announced his commitment to Illinois on Sunday the 29th, continuing recent recruiting success for Lovie and his assistants. Coleman confirmed his commitment to Illinois during his weekend visit to Champaign.
Coleman is definitely a “style-of-play” recruit for Lovie Smith and company. This group of Illini coaches likes to use quick, athletic defensive ends to get into the backfield and disrupt opposing offenses. Seth Coleman certainly fits this bill. Coming in around 6’5”, 200 lbs., the defensive end utilizes a wide range of skills and natural physical ability to find holes in opposing offensive lines.
With a good sense of timing, and a great ability to read the snap count and get ahead of the offensive line, Coleman’s highlights are full of him breaking through gaps in the line, and using his great physical ability and quick burst of speed off the line to get to opposing quarterbacks. He will likely be utilized as a 5-technique rusher on the edge, used to get straight to opposing quarterbacks.
Coleman also has a great frame for Lovie’s ideal physique for the position, with long arms and good strength to get through tight gaps, into offensive backfields.
Coleman also is a highly productive player for his school’s basketball team, which can easily be guessed as he has great reaction times, and his highlights show multiple pass break ups, wherein he uses his long arms and quick reflexes to swat or bat down passes.
Seth Coleman has thus far been a bit under-recruited when it comes to power-five schools, and Illinois became the first power-five team to offer him in June, via a phone call from Head Coach Lovie Smith himself. Coleman also currently holds offers from fifteen schools, including offers from South Florida, Florida Atlantic, Navy, Ohio, and other Division-I Programs.
He also has had reported interest from schools like Iowa State, Tennessee, and Michigan.
Coleman is the first defensive end, and the first player from Florida to commit to Illinois in the 2019 class, and with the staff hitting the state hard, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more follow in the coming months.
The Illini continue their recent recruiting successes, as Coleman joins a class of top-tier talents Isaiah Williams, Marquez Beason, and several others.