For decades, coaches have told me, ``The schedule can be friend. Or your enemy.'' The sports landscape is littered with teams whose hopes were dashed by unfriendly schedules. And that's what I see when I look at Illinois' 2009 football schedule.
Some of it--the choice and timing of nonconference opponents--is Illinois' doing. Some of it is the bizarre way the Big Ten comes up with its schedules, which makes me think they must be generated by an old Commodore VIC-20 down in the basement of the home office in Park Ridge.
But here's the point: When I asked Juice Williams about the schedule, he showed a lot of knowledge and maturity. It ought to be very encouraging to Illini fans who wonder about opening with four major-college opponents (Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State) that were a combined 40-13 last year, finishing with two dangerous nonconference games (Cincinnati and Fresno State) and playing a string of tricky middle games in between (at Indiana, at Purdue, Michigan, at MInnesota, Northwestern).
`You can't base your schedule on what you saw last year,'' the senior quarterback said. ``We were in the Rose Bowl two years ago. What did we do last year? Going off last year's hype is good to talk about. You can make all these predictions and assumptions.
``But once you put the pads on in a new season, it's two totally different things. Whether its the No. 1 team in the country, or the last team in the country, we're gonna go out there and hit you hard. We're going to be efficient on offense, and come out and try to do our thing.''
Good for Juice. We may look back at this schedule next December and say: Bad idea. But the players need to tune that out and go play, and from the sound of their quarterback, that's what they intend to do.
You may recall that Illinois and Northwestern have agreed to bury the hatchet--well, the Sweet Sioux tomahawk. Their politically incorrect trophy will be replaced by a new trophy, and Illinois is seeking the input of supporters from both schools on the decision.
Suggestions are being taken at www.fightingillini.com/trophyvote .
Here's mine: I would call the trophy ``the Governor's Till.'' It would be a treasure chest with a hand dipping in and clutching doubloons--a tribute to our many notorious state leaders from both sides of the aisle who have run afoul of the law.
But since that's not going to happen, I suggest you visit the website and make your own suggestions, or vote for one of the four ideas at the site. The Land of Lincoln Trophy and President's Trophy both look like good choices.
Suggestions will be accepted until April 15. Sorry for not posting this sooner, but that darned Final Four was occupying my time.
Here's an announcement from the University of Illinois explaining the process. . .
``Illinois and Northwestern Working Together to Establish New Football Series
The University of Illinois and Northwestern University are collaborating to
establish a new trophy for the winner of the football game between the two
institutions. The Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy, which went to the winner of
the Illinois-Northwestern football game from 1945-2008, was retired
following the 2008 contest and both schools have agreed to play for a new
trophy beginning in 2009.
``Northwestern and Illinois are looking at a very unique opportunity to
establish a traditional series trophy that will last for generations,'' said
Illinois Director of Athletics Ron Guenther. ``As the only two Big Ten
institutions in the state of Illinois, our game attracts a great amount of
attention, which only adds to the pageantry of the trophy. We're hopeful our
players, coaches and fans will continue to view this game as a very special
tradition in college football.''
Both institutions are asking their fans for feedback on the new trophy by
participating in an online poll on each of the school's athletics web sites.
Four possible ideas, along with the opportunity to offer an alternative,
will be provided until April 15. The schools expect to announce the new
trophy around each of their spring football games on April 25.
Four possible suggestions for the new series trophy include the following:
* The Land of Lincoln Trophy - A replica of Lincoln's stove pipe
hat mounted on a piece of White Oak (Illinois' state tree).
* President's Trophy - Recognizing the four presidents associated
with the state of Illinois - Lincoln, Grant, Reagan and Obama.
* The Popcorn Bowl, named after the Illinois state snack.
* Graham-Grange Fire Bell (original series trophy started in
1941 was a fire bell) named after two of the greatest players at each school, Otto Graham of Northwestern and Red Grange of Illinois.
The website for fans to vote is: www.fightingillini.com/trophyvote ''
Illinois men's basketball assistant coach Jerrance Howard, said he turned aside a preliminary inquiry from Kentucky about possibly joining the Wildcats staff.
``I'm an Illini for life,'' Howard said on the Talking Illini program at Talkzone.com.
Howard, who has been on Bruce Weber's staff for two seasons, is off to a strong start as a recruiter. He had been an administrative assistant under Billy Gilllispie at Kentucky when he was hired by Weber. A Peoria native, he played at Illinois in 2001-04.