Illini Football Could Remain at Kansas Jayhawks Level Depths for Awhile

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There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Illini football is Kansas Jayhawks level bad; plain and simple.

There’s no reason or rationale for euphemisms or spin anymore, these two programs are mirror images of each other, and they have now “established” themselves as the two worst bottom feeders of the power five conferences.

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As 2018 brings year three of the Lovie Smith era, things are certainly trending in the wrong direction.

You can debate until you’re blue in the face who’s fault that is- Smith, Bill Cubit, Josh Whitman, Mike Thomas, Paul Kowalcyzk, Garrick McGee, Tim Beckman, (it’s really a combination of all of them), but you can’t deny that things are getting substantially worse, and you can definitely assume that things might get worse before they get any better.

Take a look at the records over the past decade and a half, the numbers match up pretty evenly.

We spoke with Brendan Dzwierzynski, Sports talk host and reporter for WIBW-AM in Topeka, KS about this analogy.

“While Illinois’ struggles aren’t quite as bad as Kansas’ in terms of specific numbers of wins and losses, it’s pretty clear that they’re the bottom feeders of the P5 schools right now,” said Dzwierzynski, who has been covering the Kansas Jayhawks regularly for several years.

“Teams that shared that title with KU and Illinois in recent years have bounced back with good hires and a commitment to the teams (speaking specifically of Iowa State in the Big 12 and Purdue in the Big Ten). Meanwhile, KU and Illinois are stuck and seemingly not going anywhere.”

Kansas has lost their last 46 games away home, and their last 45 on the road. While Illinois road futility is nowhere near that level of ineptitude, the Illini have now surpassed Kansas in the category of worst current conference game losing streak in the nation.

When the two programs meet in their 2023-24 home and home series, it may look like this:

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Cue the Spiderman Meme 

“It’s amazing and frankly embarrassing that both mirror the other’s misery so much in recent memory,” Dzwierzynski continued.

“And I can imagine that in Champaign, that 2007 season/2008 Rose Bowl is remembered and held on to as closely as that year’s Orange Bowl is for KU (although maybe not the same considering KU won its BCS game). The one difference I see in their current states is that I wouldn’t give up on Lovie Smith yet, whereas I’ve completely abandoned hope for KU’s David Beaty.”

“One of the biggest things that creates this sort of cratering trajectory for a program is a disastrous hire.”

“For Illinois, obviously Tim Beckman was a failure overall and led to unrest with the program, struggles with recruiting and what appears to be some apathy toward the program, at least to a degree. Similarly for Kansas, Turner Gill was a failed hire and that was followed up by paying Charlie Weis to essentially burn the whole program down.”

“His tenure also led to unrest, bad recruiting and intense apathy. So while there are a lot of factors, they do all connect back together.

“However, it’s hard to blame one individual; usually it takes a group of failures to drag programs down like this.”

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Yesterday saw the Illini football program officially announce that offensive coordinator Garrick McGee was let go; three days after one outlet first broke the news. McGee led the Illini to the 127th ranked offense this past season, after a 125th overall showing (there are only 130 teams!) his first season. No matter who are you are or what you do, when you’re this bad at your job, you’re not going to have it very long. Change was needed, but despite all the changes, both Kansas and Illini football remain pretty much unwatchable.

(Another coincidence is that both programs made a disaster hire named Turner over the past couple decades)

Despite the turnover, dismal results persist. We asked Dzwierzynski if he believes a so-called “culture of losing” mindset can develop.

“That sort of culture can definitely set in,” he responded.

“It starts off as “nobody believes in us” but when you lose week after week, it becomes more of “nobody believes in us, including ourselves.”

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“Charlie Weis’ recruiting pitch was essentially telling kids that the team was terrible and that if they could play at all, they’d play at Kansas (and also that they’d need to be confident they could start over the current riffraff).”

“Lovie Smith is a player’s coach and David Beaty is a guy with boundless optimism, but speaking in positive platitudes can only get you so far when you lose every game.”

KU went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl in 2007, the exact same season that Illini football knocked off the #1 team, Ohio State, on the road. That glory may has been have occurred in the Bronze Age, given the irrelevance and incompetency present in both programs today.  

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So what’s the Timeline for a Recovery?

With Illinois, it’s still a tear down first, then a rebuild kind of project. Given all the mass exodus of players, some of which were quite key, it’s obvious that the Illini are still in the midst of the tear down phase. Most of the Smith era has been painful and difficult to watch, due to all the blowout losses and lack of a pulse on offense. Every time you think it hits rock bottom, the floor drops out again the next week. You’d think the drudgery was over once the season mercifully ended, but then you had the wave of players fleeing the sinking ship that is the program.

It’s up to you how dedicated a fan you are and what you’re willing to sit through until something positive finally happens way down the road. Everyone has a different standard for relevancy and competency. Not everyone stops going to games and turning off the television at the same time. Only you can decide what’s a bridge too far to stay engaged.

If you’re all in now, kudos to you- your dedication is so strong that no one can question that.

Next season is going to be brutal- there’s no way around that, and if you’re renewing your season tickets, it’s an act that we should all admire. You remain committed despite the dreadful drudgery ahead. The epidemic of players defecting for other programs can’t be good for a team that was atrocious to begin with.

There are many ways to improve your defense, but seeing your third and fourth leading tacklers from last season going elsewhere is not one of them.

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You would need a major blockbuster of a recruiting class to try and offset all that, and what did Illinois achieve on signing day last week?

A class that ranked dead last in the B1G, until Verdis Brown committed and moved them up to 12th place.

Maybe in 2019 Illini football can show some competitiveness in league games again, and actually win one or two?

Then, if have 2020 vision, you can realistically envision something close to mediocrity? Maybe become “good” in 2021?

This is of course a best scenario, provided there are no more added obstructions in the path, and the Illini football program achieves more stability.

Urban Meyer (took a 6-6 team to 12-0,) Jim Harbaugh (5-7 to 10-3) and Mark Dantonio (4-8 to 7-5) all got it done in year one.

Another current B1G Head Coach, Jeff Brohm, has the chance to increase Purdue’s win total by four in his bowl game tonight.  

The apolitical beauty of sports lies in “you are your record,” as Bill Parcels famously said. It’s results, period. You don’t have alternative facts, spin and other b.s. to rely upon. Slogans are total garbage, unless you have the wins to back them up. As a football coach there are no “year 0″s or “okay this is really year one now because of my recruiting cycle, even though it’s actually year two.”

Year one begins the moment you sign the contract, and progress is expected immediately.  

“As for Kansas’ timeline for rebuilding, some of us would tell you that the program is already off schedule.”

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“David Beaty is 3-33 in three seasons, and just 1-32 against FBS teams. It’s unimaginable to me that a coach could go 1-11 in Year 3 and retain his job, but it’s clear that the athletic department wants to give him a fourth year.

“Under the Beaty regime, there’s no more time to build, it’s time to win.”

“If he gets fired, it’s another two years minimum, but the fans who have waited for nearly a decade for their team to be relevant, or at least competitive, are sick of waiting, although it doesn’t appear that the waiting will end any time soon.”

So that’s issue all Kansas and Illini football fans must wrestle with- how do you stay engaged amidst the tedium of excessive losing?

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It’s not just fans, but also media, and most importantly BY FAR- the boosters and donors. How can you keep all these people interested when past performance has been so dreadful and there’s no real immediate, tangible cause for optimism on the horizon?

You got to find a way to keep those who consistently give money to the program happy, no matter what.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune company’s blogging community Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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