It's often very difficult to draw any kind of honest comments from college football coaches nowadays, especially ones regarding their conference opponents. It's usually a lot of, "Well they do ____ very well" or "They're a very solid football team" regardless of whether it's Purdue or Ohio State they're talking about.
In order to get the most accurate statements they could from Big Ten coaches, Athlon asked them to speak anonymously about their conference foes. Though we don't know which of the other 13 coaches have said these things about Illinois, there are some pretty interesting quotes.
- "They were athletic. They've had their ups and downs. Maybe in Year 3 they will have both sides of the ball clicking at once. They haven't had that yet."
- "I loved Nathan Scheelhaase. He was a really good football player. He probably didn't get enough credit but he moved the ball."
- "They have some good-looking skill players and are on the verge of potentially taking the next step I thought they were coached well but we were able to make some plays against them. You can get some big plays on them early in the game and then they'll eventually make plays, but then they are too far behind. Just seemed to play from behind a lot. Hard to win that way..."
- "I thought personally it was a physical team and they did some good things. Settling into what they want to do on offense and defense will be key, because they have quite a lot of things going on schematically, especially on offense with the passing concepts, so that takes time. But they are right there."
- "You have a team that's close but not close enough yet. If they catch fire and believe they can win, that's infectious."
- "Their wideouts are good looking. It's not like you're looking at players that don't look the part."
- "I haven't heard much about the new quarterback (Wes Lunt)."
- "No defensive players necessarily jumped out at you - a few good inside backers are gone now."
I think one of the most interesting comments was that our players "look the part." That's something I've never heard anyone else touch on. Now does that translate to success on the field? Obviously not. But just like Tim Beckman seems to have undergone a change in perception after Big Ten Media Day, maybe our players' perceptions have changed in the eyes of other Big Ten coaches too. Multiple other quotes say that they think "they're right there."
It seems as though the other coaches as a whole think that if the Illini can look the part (including feeling good in their new uniforms) and believe that they can win, anything can happen. And that is most certainly an encouraging sign.
And just as a bonus, here's some of the most interesting things said about other Big Ten teams:
- On Indiana Hoosiers: "Their offense is scary as hell! They put up a gazillion points and still only win five games. It's sort of strange."
- On Maryland Terps: "They aren't overly impressive on the offensive line. Just normal there. Nobody stood out."
- On Penn State Nittany Lions: "They are not a team where you look at them and think, 'Oh my gosh they've been on NCAA restrictions.' We'll see how they do without O'Brien's playcalling."
- On Rutgers Scarlet Knights: "They will not be dynamic enough to win consistently in the Big Ten, and will struggle to stay near .500 on that east side. It's hard to say how good Leonte Carroo (their new QB) can really be because their recent quarterback play has been so bad."
- On Minnesota Golden Gophers: "Minnesota's a really tough place to play when it's colder than hell, soldout crowd and they're hanging in there. They are a difficult team to play at their place."
- On Wisconsin Badgers: "You have to be able to throw the ball against them. You can really get some big plays against them throwing the football."
The Maryland quote is informative because this was when Tom Brattan, our new offensive line coach, was coaching the o-line for the Terps. According to another coach their play was "just normal there." Hopefully a change of scenery will lead to a change in success at the line under Coach Brattan.
Another UNCONFIRMED quote was later submitted via e-mail to the Athlon staff but not published in the article:
On Northwestern Wildcats: "Well that Team Up North really struggled to close out games last season. In other words they choked. We think we've pretty well locked up the 'State of Chicago' because it's our state and our team and anything those crazy cats in Evanston say is false. By the way, do you happen to know who the Northwestern Bagman is?"
Again, it is unclear which Big Ten coach made that statement but the Athlon writers are doing their best to figure it out.