College

Hoge On College Football: Pressure Building At Illinois

Illini helmet logo. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Illini helmet logo. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

(CBS) When Illinois announced the hiring of Tim Beckman, I could only think of one thing:

Northern Illinois 63, Toledo 60.

That was the infamous “no defense” game played on national television last year in which the only way Beckman’s Toledo defense could have looked worse was if it never stepped on the field.

I tried to give Beckman the benefit of the doubt when Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas made the hire, but it was nearly impossible to ignore Beckman’s background as a defensive-minded coach.

In his three seasons as Toledo’s head coach, the Rockets allowed 37.7 points in 2009, 28.5 points in 2010 and 31.7 points in in 2011. Now, it’s the MAC, where defense is optional and the recruiting crop is limited.

So what about when Beckman was the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2007 and 2008? The Cowboys allowed 29.5 points per game in his first season and 28.1 points per game in his second season. Then, after Beckman left for Toledo, Oklahoma State’s defense only allowed 21.7 points per game in 2009.

To be fair, it can be dangerous looking at general numbers like that because we don’t know the specifics. And, again, that’s why I tried to give Beckman the benefit of the doubt when he was hired in Champaign.

But five games into his first season at Illinois, there’s very little evidence to suggest Beckman’s past history is misleading. In fact, Illinois is allowing 27.8 points per game so far this season, which is right in line with what Beckman’s teams have done in the past. Then there’s Illinois’ offense, which ranks 97th in the country with just 22.6 points per game.

Granted, Beckman isn’t the coordinator of either the offense or the defense, but he is the head coach of a team that has enough talent that it shouldn’t be getting blown out by the likes of Arizona State, Louisiana Tech and Penn State. Losing to those three teams is one thing, hardly competing is another.

It’s still small sample size, but Beckman looks outmatched leading a program in what is actually not that good of a conference.

But who looks the worst in this situation? Mike Thomas. The A.D. struck out multiple times in his pursuit of a football and basketball coach and so far, his football hire looks like a disaster. Rumblings from Champaign indicate that some big boosters are already second-guessing the hiring of Thomas as athletic director.

He better hope John Groce wins some basketball games this year.

Geno HeiSmith

I still don’t understand how West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith put up the numbers he did last Saturday against Baylor. He completed 45-of-51 passes for 656 yards and eight touchdowns. Oh, and zero interceptions.

I realize Baylor basically has a high school defense, but these numbers immediately put Smith far ahead in the Heisman race. I keep hearing people say, “Those are video game numbers!” That’s not true though because there isn’t enough time in a video game to put up those kind of numbers.

Smith takes his show to Austin, Texas this weekend and so far, he’s making West Virginia a lot of fun to watch in the Big 12.

Wisconsin’s QB Situation

Before last weekend’s game at Nebraska, I gave Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema credit for “coaching his ass off” this season. He lost Russell Wilson, three starting offensive linemen and six assistant coaches. He didn’t hesitate to fire his new offensive line coach, Mike Markuson, when the line couldn’t block anything and he didn’t hesitate to bench transfer quarterback Danny O’Brien when he kept coughing up the football. The result was a better — but still far from polished offensive line — and the discovery of what appears to be a legitimate quarterback in redshirt freshman Joel Stave.

Then Nebraska happened.

After the Badgers blew a 27-10 lead and were trailing 30-27 late, Bielema put Stave on the bench because O’Brien apparently was running the two-minute drill better in practice. What happened next? On fourth down, O’Brien inexplicably tried to hand the ball off to Montee Ball on a called naked bootleg. Fumble. Ball game.

I can’t remember the last time everyone in the huddle knew the play call except the quarterback — you know, the guy telling everyone what the play is.

I still think Bielema is having a great coaching season, but he definitely over-coached in Lincoln. He’s found a very capable quarterback in Stave and there’s no need to confuse things by trying a two-quarterback situation late in games. The coaches later said Stave took a hard hit and that factored into the decision, but it wasn’t the only reason.

What’s more, Bielema named Stave a co-offensive MVP on Monday. So in other words, he benched his MVP in the final minutes when the game was on the line?

I’m as confused as you are.

Boiler Up

OK, I’ve been telling you about Purdue since July. The Boilermakers were my sleeper coming into the season and with Wisconsin looking vulnerable, Purdue could be making the short drive down I-65 for the Big Ten Championship Game in December.

But the next two weeks will tell us how good the Boilermakers really are. They have back-to-back home games against Michigan and Wisconsin and both games are winnable. Of the two, the Wisconsin game is much more important. With Illinois a complete disaster, the Big Ten Leaders Division is now realistically down to Purdue and Wisconsin. What a mess.

Extra Points

- In his bowl projections this week, CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm has West Virginia playing Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. The over/under is already set at 120. Please happen.

- We’re all still wondering how good Northwestern really is. This Saturday’s game at Penn State is one the Wildcats should win, but it would be so Northwestern for them to lose to the Nittany Lions. Penn State is playing inspired football under Bill O’Brien and I think the Lions will pull off the win at home.

- Just for the record, I’ll take Purdue over Michigan, Ohio State over Nebraska, Wisconsin over Illinois and Michigan State over Indiana.

- Get ready for an exciting Saturday of football. LSU at Florida, Georgia at South Carolina, West Virginia at Texas and Miami at Notre Dame should all be good games. Just stay away from the Big Ten.

- Speaking of the Catholics vs Conflicts game at Soldier Field, I’m interested to see how Notre Dame looks after two big games and a bye week. The Irish should be able to handle Miami without much of a problem, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Notre Dame plays down to the Hurricanes’ level.

I’ll be hosting Saturday night with Wayne Randazzo on 670 The Score and 670TheScore.com. We should have plenty of college football talk so be sure to tune in.

adam hoge 2012 small1 Hoge On College Football: Pressure Building At Illinois

Adam Hoge

Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.