Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Five Good Questions with - Neil Milbert of The Chicago Tribune about Illinois

Today's "Five Good Questions" is with Neil Milbert of The Chicago Tribune....Neil covers Illinois sports for The Tribune and was nice enough to take a few minutes to respond to my questions about the Fighting Illini.....

Q1. For the first time in about six years, expectations are high with the Illinois football team. Has head coach Ron Zook really sparked a positive feeling around campus?
Illinois fans have high hopes but their expectations are tempered by what has happened during the previous four seasons. Ron Zook is positive thinking personified and he has justifiably gotten raves for his recruiting. But the fact remains that the Illini have won only two games the last four years (one under Zook's predecessor, Ron Turner, and one under Zook who came to Illiniois prior to the 2005 season). As last season wore on attendance at home games dwindled significantly.

Q2. Juice Williams (photo) begins his second season at quarterback. What do you expect from him this season? Is he a leader both on and off the field?
I think Juice Williams will continue to show improvement this season after becoming a starter in last season's fourth game. He has a tremendous arm and he can run the football. But his accuracy last season left a lot to be desired. His leadership qualities are a question mark because this is only his second season on campus. I think he can develop into a leader, both on and off the field. How soon remains to be seen.

Q3. Illinois shocked the recruiting world last year by snatching two stud high school stars in wide receiver Arrelious Benn and defensive lineman Martez Wilson. How much of an impact will they have on this year's team? How much of an impact will they have in getting the attention of other recruits down the road?
My expectations are that both wide receiver Arrelious Benn and defensive end/defensive back Martez Wilson are capable of making an immediate impact. Benn can turn some of Williams' incompletions into completions and Wilson will get playing time because the defense, which was much improved last year, still needs some help.

Q4. How does this year's defense look? Who are the players we should keep an eye on?
The defense should be even better because three members of the line and secondary and all of the linebackers will return. Linebacker J Leman is one of the best players in the Big Ten, Chris Norwell is a fine defensive tackle and Kevin Mitchell is a very good strong safety.

Q5. Do you think the Illini can pull an upset against either Penn State, Michigan, or Ohio State? Overall, what do you expect from this year's team? What will their final record be?
I don't forsee Illini upset victories against Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State, even though the first of those are home games. The team will be improved but the record for the last four years is indicative of how much improvement will be needed to get over the hump. I think the improvement will translate to a 5-7 record. If the Illini manage to win three of their conference games they have shot at being 6-6, which would be a tremendous improvement.

Q5a. I have to ask you this extra question. This will be the first football season without Chief Illiniwek. What is the overall views around campus now that the Chief is gone?
Alumni and students are still mourning the forced retirement of Chief Illiniwek. It will take years for many of them to get over it and some will never get over it. Illinois football and basketball games won't be the same without him.

Once again, I want to thank Neil for his time....

No comments: