Relevant observations, pertinent notes, questions, minutiae, and Huskie Trivial Pursuit from your local, retired sports information director:
Observation No. 1: The sorry state of University of Illinois football. Believe me, there’s a ton of frustration and angst involving our state’s flagship institution and its Chicago Cubs-like gridiron program.
Question No. 1: But why pass on that frustration (and blame) to DeKalb?
The Background: If you can stomach the discord, just read some of the bloggers’ comments on various websites. To say the last, the can’t-get-no-satisfaction Illini Nation is not too happy with the current 2-5 start (0-3 in the Big Ten Conference), head football coach Tim Beckman or athletic director Mike Thomas (or their respective predecessors in Ron Zook and Ron Guenther).
Look, I understand completely. As a Northern Illinois alum, I worked through too many 0-11, 1-10 seasons and 23-game losing streaks. It’s disheartening to the student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and the fans. It hurts to lose with such regularity. It filtered down to the SID and his staff, too.
The most recent Illinois futility and “Chawgate” pushed the underachievement issue downstate to the brink, so far that long-time Champaign News-Gazette sports columnist Loren Tate finally addressed the obvious earlier this week in a missive titled “If NIU can do it...”
I don’t know if Tate’s eight paragraphs can do justice to the resurrection of Huskie football that started with head coach Joe Novak and has continued through the tenures of Jerry Kill and Dave Doeren. Northern Illinois has had a heckuva 21st Century (division and league titles, bowl triumphs, BCS rankings, All-America selections, NFL draftees, facility expansion, etc.) as a mid-major compared to our downstate cousin.
Tate’s analysis and NIU flattery only go so far. Read these two paragraphs from his column.
“How are they doing it? Former administrators and media followers offer interesting observations. Let me enumerate their thoughts,” Tate wrote.
And, here comes the expected cheap shot (and lead item on his list):
“ - Admissions welcome marginal students, including junior college transfers, and they tend to stay eligible.”
“Marginal students.” Sorry, that sticks in my mental craw. I must surmise Mr. Tate is not familiar with the facts or the NCAA’s Academic Progress Ratings that were created to track student-athlete academic progress, eligibility, retention, and graduation rates. The NCAA hierarchy is serious about these. In the near future, some major-major programs will be denied bowl opportunities due to sub-par APR scores.
According to the 2012 APR football scores, Northern Illinois (987) earned a Public Recognition Award for the second year in a row, ranked No. 5 nationally and in the Top 50 with six Big Ten gridiron programs - national leader Northwestern (995), No. 4 Ohio State (988), No. 15 Wisconsin (975), No. 23 Penn State (971), No. 33 Nebraska (966), and No. 36 Indiana (964). Oh, did I mention that Illinois (953) rated No. 51 on the same list.
Question No. 1: Just who are these “former administrators and media followers” and what do they know about NIU’s admission standards or football program in general? Anonymous attribution went out with “Deep Throat” in the 1970s.
Question No. 2: JC transfers? I counted seven on the 2012 pre-season Huskie roster. I’m sorry, but I don’t think Novak recruits such as Ryan Diem, Justin McCareins, Josh Haldi, P.J. Fleck, Nick Duffy, Thomas Hammock, Michael Turner, Garrett Wolfe, Chandler Harnish, etc., fall into any kind of “marginal” category. How or why did Illinois miss the boat in recruiting such successful young men?
Let's change subjects, folks.
Observation No. 3: Yes, America is starting to recognize the nation’s No. 1 rushing quarterback this side of Michigan’s Denard Robinson (NIU’s Jordan Lynch for Mr. Tate and other non-believers). But what concerns most Huskie loyalists is last week’s No. 2 rusher versus Buffalo was tight end Luke Eakes with 32 yards on one carry off a fake punt. What happened to our tailbacks?
Observation No. 4: Stop the presses! After 27 seasons as the Huskie Radio Network’s football analyst, Mark Lindo heads to the other sideline. It’s true, folks, but only temporary. You see, after working the Northern Illinois-Massachusetts football game on the IMG network with Bill Baker and Casey Kohler on November 3, Lindo will wear his
Aurora University “cap” at the Convocation Center the same evening when coach Mark Montgomery and Northern Illinois men’s basketball open the season with an exhibition against the Spartans. “This is going to be tough,” said Lindo, who starts his third season on the AU staff under head man Jim Lancaster. Who will be sitting next to Lindo on the Aurora bench? NIU Hall of Famer and All-Century pick Rodney Davis (1984-88),
another Lancaster aide.
Addendum No. 1: Before I forget much longer, I have to correct a mistake going back to the “Boneyard” column. In talking to Joe Novak and Bill Mallory recently, both mentioned that the Northern Illinois football “burial ground” tradition began with assistant coach George “Buck” Suhr. It was Buck's idea to bury opposition artifacts in the "Boneyard." A Sycamore product, Suhr served on Pat Culpepper’s Huskie staff as linebackers coach. Remember MAC Players of the Year Frank Lewandoski and Mike Terna? He was also on Mallory’s staff here and at Indiana. Suhr still lives in the Bloomington, Ind., area and was doing radio color for the Hoosiers.