I'm not a numbers cruncher, but everything I know about the NCAA tournament tells me that if Illinois gets to 11-7 in the Big Ten by winning two more games, it will make the field of 65. Jerry Palm, who is a numbers cruncher for whom I have the highest regard, says that isn't necessarily so. That's because the Illini, who have some glaring nonconference losses, have been inconsistent. No question, Jerry, who runs collegeRPI.com, is correct in saying that conference record isn't an official factor. Something just tells me that if a team is among the top five in the Big Ten, and has the quality wins Illinois has, it's going to be in the Big Dance, even though those early-season trips to Las Vegas and Georgia don't look good.
That said, Jerry put the Illini into his latest bracket projection, with a No. 12 seed, playing a No. 5 Texas. (Tough matchup.) ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi is kinder, giving Illinois a No. 8 seed vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech. The Sporting News (TSN.com) also lists Illinois as a No. 12. It doesn't have an opponent matchup, but Illinois already has played two of its No. 5s, Vanderbilt and Gonzaga. The others are Temple and Texas A&M. An MSNBC.com projection has a No. 11 Illinois playing a No. 6 Tennessee, which would bring another round of the Bruce Pearl/recruiting scandal storyline.
The Illini also could solidify their situation with a good showing at the Big Ten tournament, where one more win would mean a lot. That's because Illinois is tracking for a top-five seed. A win in the 4-5 game would be very difficult to achieve, but it would mean a another quality victory.
For more on all of this, Jerry Palm will be joining Boz and Mr. G today (Tuesday) on their internet show, Talking Illini, which can be found at talkzone.com from 4 to 6 p.m..
Illinois released a 2011 football schedule that's very different from its 2010 slate. In 2011, the Illini will play eight home games for the first time in school history, beginning with five straight home games. They will have a well-timed open date on Oct. 29, and won't finish with a December nonconference game. In addition, their traditional conference season-ending meeting with Northwestern has been moved up to Oct. 15.
And while the 2011 nonconference opponents aren't as intriguing as some of Illinois' recent matchups with Missouri and Cincinnati, for example, there are many pluses to the 2011 slate. With all four nonconference games, the Illini will have a chance to prepare for their Big Ten games, a formula that has worked well for many other Big Ten schools. And the eight home games will be welcomed by some fans and boosters who wanted Illinois to follow another pattern that has been well-received around the league. All in all, some very smart moves.
2011 Illinois Football Schedule
Sept. 3 - Arkansas State
Sept. 10 - South Dakota State
Sept. 17 - Arizona State
Sept. 24 - Western Michigan
Oct. 1 - Penn State
Oct. 8 - at Iowa
Oct. 15 - Northwestern
Oct. 22 - at Indiana
Nov. 5 - Michigan State
Nov. 12 - at Michigan
Nov. 19 - at Purdue
Nov. 26 - Wisconsin
2010 Illinois Football Schedule
Sept. 4 - Missouri, at St. Louis
Sept. 11 - Southern Illinois
Sept. 18 - Northern Illinois
Sept. 25 - Bye
Oct. 2 - Ohio State
Oct. 9 - at Penn State
Oct. 16 - at Michigan State
Oct. 23 - Indiana
Oct. 30 - Purdue
Nov. 6 - at Michigan
Nov. 13 - Minnesota
Nov. 20 - at Northwestern
Nov. 27 - Bye
Dec. 4 - at Fresno State
There's a lot of gloom surrounding Illinois football, which came up with a sub-par recruiting class and faces a ton of pressure to be competitive in the fall.
But amid the dark clouds, Tom Lemming sees some light at the end of the recruiting tunnel.
``Obviously, it was not a great year for them,'' the veteran Chicago-based recruiting analyst told me of a recruiting class that's ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten. ``But this class won't kill them. They've had three good classes before this, and they have a good recruiting staff that will come back next year. There are still a lot of positives. They worked real hard at the end, but with so many coaching changes, it was almost impossible for them to land anybody of blue-chip caliber. So they went after guys that they evaluated as pretty good players that they hope to develop. With the new coaches they have, especially the ones that came from Louisville, they have a bright future.''
The key, of course, will be for Zook and his staff to accomplish some things on the field this fall with the three previous classes. Otherwise, it's possible they won't be around to develop the 2010 recruits. The good news is, Zook's new hires are widely viewed as top-notch coaches who can get that job done.
And while this class isn't up to the usual high recruiting standards of Zook, it's important to remember that recruiting isn't the end all-be all.
Of course, everyone would rather have a highly ranked group, because that suggests better athletes. But Illinois was ranked eighth in the Big Ten by Rivals.com, ahead of No. 9 Northwestern and No. 10 Wisconsin. I don't expect either of those schools to fall that far in the standings. Because I know Pat Fitzgerald brought in players who will serve his system well. And the Badgers also have a history of finishing much better in the won-lost standings than they do in the recruiting rankings.
If Illinois can start following that path--finding players players who fit its system and coaching them up--it will give itself a boost in its goal of being consistently competitive.