Juice Williams, All-Big Ten Selection!! Wait…Juice Williams, All-Big Ten Selection????

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By Paul Schmidt

Let me be the first to say, I love Juice Williams, and I want you to, too. 

I think he’s a great kid. 

I think he was the most deserving player of all that received mention as a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award Nominee. The grace with which he handled his demotion, and the teaching capabilities he showed with Eddie McGee and Jacob Charest surprised even me, an ardent supporter.

But an Honorable Mention nomination at quarterback?  Really?

Let’s go through some numbers…

Your first team QB was Darryl Clark, the conference’s leader in passing efficiency. That’s a good choice.  Your second team QB was Mike Kafka. While Kafka was fifth in passing efficiency, he was second in per game averages of total offense.  Again, a very defensible selection.  I might have gone with Purdue’s Joey Elliott (the conference’s leader in total offense per game), but either way, Kafka is a fine choice.

Now…here’s the honorable mention QBs: Juice Williams, Ben Chappell, Ricky Stanzi, Kirk Cousins, Scott Tolzien, Terrelle Pryor, and the aforementioned Elliott.

Now, I know you’re looking at that and thinking, holy crap, that’s nine of the 11 starting QBs in the conference.  Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. Given that list, it would be tough to leave Williams off, right? 

Wrong.

The only top ten list Williams’ name appears on on the conference statistical leaderboard is, surprisingly, in passing efficiency, where he ranks tenth.

He’s not on the total offense list, a place that a running QB like him should be a lock to make.

Not on the top ten list for the conference’s top passers in terms of yards, either.

Heck, he’s not even in the top ten of games started by quarterbacks in the conference, mustering only nine appearances and eight starts.  That’s right, an honorable mention Big Ten selection was benched halfway through the season.  That alone should result in automatic disqualification from the award…

The simple solution? Nine QB’s mentioned in the all-conference awards, one way or another, is just too many. Dropping the number of players named would not only raise the prestige of the award but lend some legitimacy, as well.

But, assuming that you’re locked into that number of players appearing on your final award sheet, one deserving player was not named.  Remarkable, considering the number that appeared, I know, but it’s true.

Where was Minnesota’s Adam Weber?

I know that the Minnesota writers here will slam this thought, but bear with me. 

First, when naming nine QBs in the awards, you have to consider that Weber, though awful at times and someone who took a major step backwards this season, still was statistically one of the top nine QBs in the conference this season. He finished 8th in passing per game and 10th in total offense. 

Plus, he was never benched this season.

Look, while I do applaud the Big Ten Conference for honoring as many players as possible, having nine QBs mentioned is simply too many.  There must be a way to pare this down some, lest you face looking foolish on a national stage.

Of even greater importance would be to eliminate players like Juice Willams from contention, perhaps not a step the conference wants to take. Even given that, instilling some sort of a minimum performance barrier, or giving the voters qualified names to vote for would be a good step for the conference to make; awarding 81.8% of your conference’s starting quarterbacks some type of All-Conference award is just patently ridiculous.

I would have gone with Clark as the first team selection, and Elliott at second team, followed by honorable mention selections for Stanzi and Cousins.  That’s it.  Four guys is still more than a third of the QBs in the conference, and more than enough nomination-wise.  Plus, naming just those four guys doesn’t make your conference look patently ridiculous.

Perhaps the most damning evidence against any awards for Juice comes from a web page listing his national ranks this season — 91st in the nation in passing efficiency and 93rd in total offense.

That page?

His biography page at www.fightingillini.com.  Ouch.

Orange Juice (Williams) and Champaign

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The Juice Williams Interview/Profile Part 1

By Paul M. Banks

On May 10, 2005, Urban dictionary made “juice” the Urban Word of the Day and defined it as such “Respect and credibility on the street. A.K.A. Sauce “I can’t be seen with them – they don’t have juice.”

Sounds like another word for power, connections, a big time reputation- something a star quarterback at a large, Big Ten University would have. But University of Illinois quarterback Isaiah John “the kids call him Juice” Williams didn’t get his name on the southside of Chicago’s mean streets, or because he has juice from his teammates. (and to play the most high profile position in all of sports, having juice is a must) Williams was dubbed “Juice” by his grandmother because of his large size as a child. “I was kind of big … you know, big and juicy, I guess.” Williams nearly died at birth due to his large size of 13 pounds and 8 ounces. Today, he’s large within the Illinois and college football record book.

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He enters his senior season with 6,405 career passing yards, fifth on the Illinois all-time list. He ranks 14th on the Illinois all-time rushing list and is the first non-running back in Illini history to top the 2,000 yard career rushing mark. Juice is third on the Illinois career total offense list with 8,455 yards.

His 475 pass completions and 909 pass attempts both rank fifth on the all-time list, he’s also thrown 44 career touchdown passes, third in school history. Oh, and as you might have heard 1000 times before, he attended the same school as former Illinois and Chicago Bears legend Dick Butkus. At Chicago Vocational High, Juice was an honor student.

Former Illini QB Kurt Kittner holds a lot of the records that Juice is poised to break, and as the team’s current radio color analyst, he remains close to the program. “We’ve had a few conversations. Kurt is a great guy, he’s not too worried about me breaking the records, if I’m able to, he’s fine with it. A compliment to the type of mentor he’s been to me, he loves Illini football,” Juice said about his interactions with Kittner.

In the bigger picture, Juice realizes that these records are just numbers. Instead he wants his legacy to be something else.kurtkittner

“I want people to say that Juice was one of the best guys to ever come through here, as far as leadership, being the captain, being the playmaker, being the role model, and being a great human being, not only just around campus but around the community…helping out youngsters, being a positive influence in other people’s lives…on the field, hopefully I can say that I will be the all-time leader in passing, passing yards, rushing yards by a QB, those things would be huge.  In order to get to that point, you have to do things as a team…fulfill team goals and the individual goals will come after that.”

Williams knows that the most important thing for him to do as a quarterback is be the “field general,” to be almost James Bondlike- staying calm and composed when dire situations arise. “Keep your head…a majority of quarterbacks know that when things start going on around them, people start talking, things start to tank. It’s just the quarterback mentality to let everything go and just stay focused and go from there, once you start paying attention to everything negative going on around you, you kind of lose sight of what you’re trying to do, so I just block everything out and just go,” Williams stated.

Of course, Williams has not had this healthy attitude during his entire Illini career. At Big Ten Media Day I asked him if he ever had read some criticism of himself online and gotten offended, thinking “hey, now that’s just not true.”

“I used to do it all the time my freshman year and part of my sophomore year, but you got to get over it, if you look at it too much, you read the blogs, the newspapers, all the negative criticism it takes a toll on you…even outside of football when you’re walking around, I’ve kind of let it go and learned from it,” Juice responded.

The flow of negative press is even more constant in today’s world of Web 2.0 and social media. Juice discussed not being online with Facebook, Twitter etc. too much. “You have to in order to be happy with your life, you got to get away from that,” Isaiah John Williams said.juice2willimas

Last year, the team slipped back a big step, going from a 9-4 BCS season to a lackluster 5-7, could the added media attention and pressure have had something to do with it? Perhaps the bright lights and constant TV cameras of the Big Ten Network’s Illinois Football: the Journey have had something to do with it? “I don’t think it hurt us at all. I think that it gave us an opportunity to showcase what goes on behind the scenes within our team.  It gave guys an opportunity to go out there and represent this University well. I think it was very beneficial to the program. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get the job done on Saturdays, but I don’t think having the cameras around had anything to do with it. I keep all the copies…of course the season didn’t go the way we wanted to, but you’ve gotta have all the videos for when you get older so you can show your kids, and your grandkids and your friends.  Especially with my daughter cause I can say, ‘Hey, you were on TV too.’ You have to have that stuff around,” Juice answered.

That was 2008. In 2009 Juice will get his final opportunities at collegiate glory. “We have to do our job. You have to count on the next man to do their job, and the next guy and the next guy, and you have to do yours, and all the parts to the machine really have to come together and operate. Once you do that you know, that’s when things start happening. You start getting the rushing yards, you start getting the passing yards, but most importantly, you get the W’s.”

Despite their awful record last season, Illinois was not a bad team. Almost all their losses were by narrow margins and came at the hands of teams that eventually played in the postseason. “Anybody who plays this sport is going to lose by just one or two points a few times and you can get very upset at that. But you have to just keep your cool and learn from it,” Williams said.

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Tune in tomorrow, where I’ll post part two of this exclusive. It will feature Juice thoughts on working out with Philadelphia Eagles QB and Chicago native Donovan McNabb, his thoughts about going on to the next level, and much more.

Big Ten QB Power Rankings

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By Paul M. Banks

The Big Ten has a historical reputation for being a “black and blue” type conference like the old NFC Central in the NFL. Woody Hayes and his “3 yards and a cloud of dust” comes to mind. But today, it’s all about the spread-option, and having a quarterback who can run the ball almost as well, or better than he can throw it. The Big Ten’s best are the guys who can beat with you with their legs in addition to beating you with their arm.

1. Ohio State- Terrelle Pryor.
He’s the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and will only get better. The only question remaining is, why wasn’t he one of the three players selected by THEEEEEE Ohio State University to attend Media Day in Chicago? Instead OSU brought one mediocre player, one guy that might not start, and another who’s scout team level in talent.

2. Illinois- Juice Williams and Penn State- Darryl Clark
It really is a toss-up between these two mobile QBs. Both have led their team to the Rose Bowl, both got smoked in that Rose Bowl, and both have developed towards the back-end of their collegiate career. Juice is a better runner and will put up bigger numbers this fall, but Clark is a better decision maker and commits less mistakes.

4. Minnesota- Adam Weber
Like the first three, he’s mobile and he’s got a gun. But does WR supreme Eric Decker make him look better than he really is? Guess we will find out next year when Decks is gone.

5. Northwestern Mike Kafkajuice-williams-arrelious-benn-440
He’s known as “the guy who broke that QB rushing record” to most, as he really hasn’t done much else outside of… the record shattering 217 yards he scrambled for in a season-defining win at Minnesota last fall. But he has potential, and now with C.J. Bacher’s departure, he has a chance to be the man and carry this team.

6. Iowa- Ricky Stanzi
Has high potential to rise above this spot; playing with the luxury of his stellar defense and the great blocking in front of him will help him get there.

7. Michigan State- Kirk Cousins/Keith Nichol
Cousins looked ok when he got some playing time in the Citrus Bowl last year (if the credit card company that bought the rights to that game wants publicity, they can give me a cut, until then it’s the Citrus Bowl to me!). Nichol is yet another qb transfer who bails on his program when he finds himself lower on the depth chart. But when you realize that he had to contend with Sam Bradford at Oklahoma, can you blame him? They’ll name their starter in a couple days.

8. Indiana- Ben Chappell
He’s got a good arm, but he’s no Antwaan Randle El. He’s not even in the same class as Kellen Lewis.

9. Purdue- Joey Elliot
He’s the like the Chester Frazier of Big Ten football- already focused on coaching once his college career ends. Last year, the Joe Tiller era ended. This year ends the era of Purdue QBs putting up good passing numbers and having draft potential.

10. Michigan ???
Familiar with the term “hot mess”? I don’t really know where to begin, expect by asking them to start over with whoever is the highest rated youngster at the position in their program.

11. Wisconsin ???
The Badgers deserve this spot simply because of what happened today with Bret Bielema’s “depth chart” release, an extreme let-down that said nothing. Junior Scott Tolzien and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips were listed as co-starters ahead of senior Dustin Sherer, who started the final seven games in 2008. They won’t bother telling us who’s winning the position battle. But we can figure out that Sherer is JUST AWFUL.