Thursday, November 28, 2013

I've Got Your Back...Way Back

When I was younger one of my favorite activities was playing a Nintendo game called Tecmo Super Bowl. Now it is ok the feeling you are having right now is just that spark of nostalgia. It was the early 90's and my friends and I would play that game for days on end. I mean daaaaaaaays on end. You would play it at home hour after hour and like most games you would get really good at it and need to changes things to make it more challenging.

One of the ways I would give myself a different experience was to replace all the starting quarterbacks with back-up quarterbacks. For example, I would bench Troy Aikman in place of Babe Laufenburg. Or I would bench Joe Montana for Steve Young. Or I would bench Warren Moon for Cody Carlson.

At this point you get the idea.

The changes made would give me a much harder road to hoe in order to win games and ultimately win the Super Bowl. The differences for each back-up quarterback was extremely visible. Their ability to scramble and be fleet of foot was much slower. The zip on their passes were "lobbed" more than like a frozen rope.

The defenses were able to react quicker and the likelihood of throwing a touchdown was less and the likelihood of throwing an interception was much greater.

It made playing the game harder and much more stressful. It changed the entire ability of what you were used to and made you adjust to their strengths. Some teams had other skill players to compensate for this weakness and others didn't.

It was not much different than what is going on in the NFL right now.

I am not sure what team, you the reader, are a fan of but chances are you have sat through either a half, full game, or stretch of games with your starting quarterback holding the clipboard while the back up took the snaps on the field.

The problem with this is there really is only a few "elite" level quarterbacks in the league right now.

You can count them easily and they are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Rothlisberger. There are large group of good quarterbacks such as Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Cam Newton, Russell Westbrook, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, and Eli Manning.

The rest of the bunch are a group of quarterbacks that you can win with or lose badly with. Some of them you probably couldn't pick out of a line up. The Tecmo Super Bowl game had naming issue with some quarterbacks to not use their names such as QB Bills, QB Eagles, and QB Browns.

There are some teams that might as well use this same terminology to describe their QB. Because you might ask someone who is quarterbacking the Oakland Raiders these days and they would probably say, "I don't know somebody named McLovin?"

He is not "McLovin".

He is Matt McGloin!

Unfortunately not much different in their ability. He is just lucky he plays for a terrible Raidaz team and is able to see the field.

There is a plethora of below level talent that is roaming the sidelines these days which is an even bigger endorsement for how bad of a QB Tim Tebow was. Did anyone watch the Packers vs. Lions match up Thanksgiving Day? The Packers offense is abysmal without Aaron Rodgers. What patchwork/smoke and mirrors they have gotten away with by having an elite QB running the show.

With Aaron Rodgers out they have gone through Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and now bringing back Matt Flynn.

Yes that Matt Flynn. The Matt Flynn that cashed in on his couple game success a few years ago and Seattle thought he was the next coming of Aaron Rodgers and paid him bank.

Teams need to stop evaluating back-up quarterbacks by a couple of games of experience and remember what they were doing all the other weeks that made them not good enough to take the job outright without an injury to the starter.

It is nice to have a back-up that is capable of weathering the storm and then when the starter is fully healthy give the reigns back and let him do his thing.

The Chicago Bears are having that experience right now. Josh McCown is handling the situation very well and has stated to everyone he can come in contact with he is the back-up and Jay is the starter. He knows his role.

When there starts to be confusion with the starter and back-up or even in some cases the back-up's back-up then you ave what everyone seems to want a good old fashioned quarterback controversy. This does nothing but destroy teams and sends them quickly to "on the clock" status for the next NFL Draft.

This is a quarterbacks league.

There is a direct correlation between having an elite/good quarterback and having success in the NFL. If you look at the teams vying for playoff spots and that have a realistic chance to win a Super Bowl this season in the AFC they are as follows: New England Patriots (Tom Brady), Denver Broncos (Peyton Manning), Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck), Kansas City Chiefs (Alex Smith), and Cincinnati Bengals (Andy Dalton). In the NFC it goes as follows: Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson), New Orleans Saints (Drew Brees), Carolina Panthers (Cam Newton), Dallas Cowboys (Tony Romo), and Detroit Lions (Matthew Stafford).

The teams listed above have a select group of elite QB's and the rest are all good to very serviceable. If you have a quarterback that has elite to good ability then you will put yourself in position to have a very successful season and potentially win the Super Bowl.

Teams don't want to be in the discussion for WHO is going to be our quarterback. They all want to have someone in place with ability and confidence to lead their team to the promised land.

If they don't they all hope to have a back-up in place that can manage the game and not send them and their season spiraling out of control.

This was evident last season as the Washington Redskins did this when they drafted Robert Griffin III. That very same year they drafted Kirk Cousins as their back-up. They liked them both and felt they needed an upgrade at the quarterback position not only at starter but at back-up. It paid off as RGIII was injured during last season and Cousins managed the team in his stint and they ultimately made the playoffs.

So as I am writing this I am watching the Baltimore Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Flacco is leading the Ravens and Rothlisberger is leading the Steelers. The game is entertaining and business as usual but in the back of my mind I still think of my days playing Tecmo and what it would be like with the back-ups playing instead.

Imagine for a second if it was Baltimore led by Tyrod Taylor and Pittsburgh led by Bruce Gradkowski.

Doesn't sound as good in real life now does it?

So the next time your quarterback goes back to pass just pray he gets it off successfully and doesn't pull a hammy or get concussed by the defense because the alternative is a much lesser product than the original.

Teams have back-up plans for when things go south but unfortunately for some teams that plan doesn't bring them back from the dead it usually leaves them way back of the pack.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Does A Fan Say?


If you havn't been fortunate enough to hear the viral video and song of "What does the Fox Say?" by Ylvis.   Just take a few minutes out of your day and Youtube it sometime. 

Spoiler is supremely annoying.

Which brings me to this point. 

What does a fan say? 

In particular to when his favorite team is punked on national signing day.  Let me give you a hint. 

It starts with a d and rhymes with ram.

The past week Illini Nation took one on the chin with the announcement of Cliff Alexander and Quentin Snider ultimately choosing to continue their "education" elsewhere in 2014.

This happens year in and year out with schools and recruits.  Commitments and decommitments.  It just becomes commonplace for teenage athletes to try and make decisions that impact their lives forever without hurting someone in the process. 

It just sucks when it happens to involve the team for which your loyalties lie. 

The day started off like any other when the sun came up.  Illini fans everywhere were preparing for a celebration of the hard work John Groce has put in during the short time he has been on campus.  His time has been short but his efforts have been mighty. 

He and his staff worked the state of Illinois and city of Chicago diligently and respectfully.  They were classy in their approach to the kids they were recruiting.  They were building relationships that seemed to be genuine from all parties involved.

Then the first bomb dropped. 


Quentin Snider has recommitted to Illinois and has chosen to sign with Louisville. 

Damn #1.

The point guard of our future was giving us a sequel to the "Eric Gordon" fiasco.  At first I was upset and angry.  After an hour of fuming with other fans I took a step back and thought about being in his shoes.  He was from Louisville and had committed there initially and was committed for a few years until they had another point guard commit. 

He felt jilted and wanted to look elsewhere.  He decommitted and looked at his options outside of Louisville, Kentucky.  He decided upon Illinois and everything seemed headed in the right direction for him and Illini faithful. 

This changed when the point guard who committed then changed his mind and decommitted and opened his recruitment up.  Are you sensing a pattern here?

Teenage kids make decisions at times that make you scratch your head and then you remember what you were like as a kid and it becomes crystal clear. 

Snider loves where he is from and wanted to represent his state.  I can't fault him for that.  It is the same situation the University of Illinois wants for the players here.  We want our best players to stay home.  Represent their state.  Have a sense of pride for where you come from.  Not take your talents to another state and institution. 

I have to give Quentin credit for doing what he felt was right.  At least he did it now and not half way through next season if he was unhappy.  If her truly didn't want to be an Illini then better to say goodbye now rather than later.  

At the end of the day he didn't want to be at Illinois and Coach Groce has been very clear he wants good people and players that want to be at the University of Illinois. 

This brings me to Damn #2. 

The day had gone from culmination of hard work and reaping the rewards to a potential disaster if and only if Cliff would decide to sign with someone other than Illinois. 


That scenario became a reality when in front of a national television audience on ESPNU Cliff picked up that Illinois hat, then oh wait, I mean then picked up the Kansas hat and the proverbial shit hit the fan. 

I have a great deal of respect for Cliff and his talents.  He is a monster player and will be a high lottery pick in the NBA draft someday.  What I hope for him is during his year in college I hope he takes an ethics class and learns what is right and what is wrong.  I again go back to the fact he and his entourage thought this was a funny way to make the television experience better.  It is the Twitter and Facebook universe and these kids don't think before they act. 

Once you make a decision and put yourself out there it is out there forever.  There are no "do-overs" in life.  Eminem said it best, "You only get one shot do not miss your chance to blow because opportunity comes once in lifetime."

The battles in recruiting are as stressful on a coaching staff than anything they will do in their professional life.  It single handily gets coaches hired and fired for their ability to build relationships with teenage phenoms and their representatives.  The amount of time and effort put in on each and every player is mind boggling.

The lack of respect given to all the other coaches and institutions of higher learning by Cliff Alexander and this stunt by faking to pick up one hat for the other was asinine.  It was a low class move towards others and the feeling was felt throughout the Illinois Fighting Illini faithful.

Don't get me wrong here.  I am not a hypocrite.  Had Cliff chose Illinois and done that to another school I would have felt the same way.  I would have been elated he chose Illinois and thought of better times watching my favorite team but still you don't disrespect others on national TV like that. 

You certainly don't do it you your home state and where you come from.  You have to come back home eventually and his will only be after one year of college.

This is the hardest part for me to understand.  I guess that is just the "Chicago way". 

Coach Groce, as he has always been, handled the situation with class.  His press conference was inspiring and made Illini fans feel proud to be affiliated with this team and coaching staff.  He emphasized the additions made and not the subtractions from what was once considered a top 14 recruiting class.


Leron Black & Michael Finke. 

The 2014 Illini recruiting class.  We look forward to seeing these fine young men represent the Fighting Illini in the future. 

I wrote before that the train is coming.  This is still true.  There are just a few stops and starts along the way. 

So the question posed earlier was "What does a Fan say?"

They say, "I am proud to be an Illini fan and I will follow my team through thick and thin."

Yeah, that sounds pretty good to me.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

All Aboard...


The college basketball season is just a few days away but the recruiting season is always on topic.  This is never more evident right now for John Groce's Fighting Illini.  I wrote last year about Groce's ability to recruit and if given time, with his track record, the fruits of his labor would grow. 

This past few months have been a whirlwind of recruiting and has resulted in terrific results.  Just yesterday the Illini coaching staff have secured a commitment from 2015 prospect D.J. Williams.  This is a huge "get" for Groce and his staff. 

It shows the connections and relationships he has made in the Chicago market have been genuine.  This 6' 7'' small forward has now created a Simeon pipeline of sorts with his commitment.  The addition of Williams gives this team yet another Simeon product to go with Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate. 

One of the greatest recruiting beds has always been Chicago and the coaching staff is staking their claim early in John Groce's tenure. 

The  news gathered yesterday from this very talented player doesn't stop there.  The Illini have already secured a stellar class for next season as well.  The 2014 class has been rated by some as a Top 15, i.e.  The players with whom Coach Groce has put his time and effort into to attend the fine institution of learning that is the University of Illinois goes as follows. 

They started it all off with local product Michael Finke out of Champaign Centennial.  He took the leap of faith to join his favorite team and wants to bring Illini basketball back to where it rightfully should be.  A top tier Big Ten and national program.  If he can do for the Illini what Brian Cardinal did out of Tolono for Purdue basketball I think everyone in orange and blue will be very happy. 

The Illini coaching staff worked very hard to bring in the next two players for this years class and went out of the state to do so.  It shows everyone that not only the state of Illinois has talent but the rest of the country can ball too. 

Coach Grace added PF, Leron Black out of Memphis, TN.  He is a long and athletic player with great ability to run the floor and get to the rack with ease.  Leron can get his own shot but what team is really a team without he addition of a quality ball handler.  What better one to get than Louisville, Ky point guard Quentin Snider. 

Snider was a late addition to this class as he originally committed to Louisville but had a change of heart and opened his recruitment.  The Illini swooped in and sold a quality education, quality coaching, and the ability to compete for a role on this team as a freshman.  He is rated as the 5th best point guard in the 2014 class and Groce sees everything he likes in floor general in Quentin.

Now most fans would be happy with Coach Groce's second recruiting class and be content to look towards the 2015 class and the new addition of D.J. Williams as stated above. 

But this is not the case. 

There is one more big fish out there that is waiting to be caught. 

For those of you who are unaware of who I am speaking of his name is Cliff Alexander, or Big Cliff if your nasty.


The 6' 8'' backboard breaking powerhouse is a consensus top 5 player in the 2014 recruiting class and would be a humongous get for the Illini Nation.  They have already struck it rich with the players they have committed at this time but if they can add Big Cliff they would strike recruiting gold.

Guys of his ilk don't come around very often.  He is a post presence who is a complete and total game changer.  You add a player like Cliff to your current roster and the season can go from being good to potentially being all time great.

He is the type of player national championships are built on. 

And the Illini are right in the thick of it.  

He has taken his official visits to DePaul (8/24/13), Kansas (10/4/13), Memphis (10/18/13), and Illinois (10/26/13).  He didn't take an official visit to Michigan State but by reports he took an unofficial there.  It should feel good for Illini fans to have this guy on campus.  Groce has shown an ability to close the deal with recruits when he gets them on campus now that he has had ample time to entrench himself within this university. 

The Illini are waiting for this final countdown of days until Cliff decides to make his choice.  He has made one choice, which is certain, that is the decision will be made on his birthday, November 16.  This is just around the bend.

The Illini have fallen short in the recruiting game before which led to the firing of Bruce Weber.  They have fallen short with must get players like Jabari Parker last year.  But this to me feels different. 

Cliff has kind of done his own thing and been his own man playing his high school ball at Chicago Curie.  He could have moved to one of the perennial power schools like Simeon but he chose to stay home.  There is a great deal of respect in that decision.  It seems to me he wants to create his own niche.  This is what Groce is burning into his brain as bright as the orange uniform we hope to see him wear in Champaign. 


Groce is selling relationships and a new culture.  Cliff decides to play at Illinois and if he leads them to the promised land then he just might have a statue built in front of the newly named State Farm Center. 

Since the addition of John Groce as Illini basketball coach things have changed for the positive.  His positivity and optimism are infectious.  The kids be brings on campus love what he is all about. 

He is getting the Illini Nation to be proud of their basketball team again.  He is working diligently to restore this program.  He is the conductor of this train and it is rolling down the tracks once again.

Illini fans everywhere should climb aboard because I believe this is going to be one very smooth ride and the next stop just might be a national championship.