My responses to Tom's questions are here. Tom's answers to my questions are below.
1. What are your thoughts on what you have seen from Tim Beckman and his staff so far, and your thoughts on the process that led to his hiring.
While I'm not a part of that faction of fans who already want to see him fired, I'm also not incredibly impressed with what I've seen from Beckman either. I'm hoping that a lot of the problems stem from a staff that doesn't have a lot of experience working together getting to know each other, and that things are going to improve. Of course, I can't help but think that if Beckman had been able to bring his offensive coordinator Matt Campbell -- who stayed at Toledo to become head coach -- with him to Champaign.
As for the process behind his firing, like many fans Kevin Sumlin was my favorite. And from what I've been told by people I trust is that Sumlin got a pretty nice offer from Illinois that was very competitive money-wise. He then used that offer to get a better one from Texas A&M. Now while I found that disappointing, I wasn't exactly angry about Beckman's hiring.
2. QB Nathan Scheelhaase has been plagued by injuries this season. Do the injuries explain his struggles or is there something more. Are you comfortable with him as the starter, or would you prefer to see Reilly O'Toole get the nod?
I like to think that the injuries have affected Nate's play, but I honestly don't know for sure. He's never been an efficient quarterback to begin with. A part of me does wonder though if this team wouldn't be better off with O'Toole playing full-time. He doesn't bring the same kind of running threat that Scheelhaase does, but he's also not in and out of the lineup with injuries. I feel like Nate going in and out is a big reason why this offense hasn't been able to find any kind of rhythm.
Meanwhile Reilly is completing 75% of his passes and has twice as many touchdown passes as Scheelhaase in 75% of the attempts.
3. The defense seems to be what is holding the Illini together for now. Who has really impressed you on that side of the ball so far?
While Ashante Williams has been the glue, the entire linebacking corps has actually played pretty well. He leads the team in tackles, but more than that, when you watch the tape, he's nearly playing a perfect season as far as assignments are concerned. With all the injuries this unit's had it can't afford to have Ashante making mistakes and he's just not.
Then there's Jonathan Brown who is a stud in his own right, but he's been battling through injuries all year long and been playing well. Beckman says he's finally healthy again which means he could have an even stronger finish. Then there's the freshman Mason Monheim who has been a pleasant surprise.
4. Finally, how do you see Saturday's game playing out?
I see this as being a game in which turnovers are going to play a huge role, and I also see a bit of a high-scoring affair coming our way. And while I'm not very confident in this pick -- as this team hasn't given me much reason to feel confident -- I'm going with Illinois to pull it out 31-27.
5. Now, a basketball question. What do you expect from Illinois this season. What do you think of John Groce so far?
I'm not really going into this season with expectations for how the team should do. Obviously I'd like a tournament appearance, but I'm not going to need that to be pleased. More than anything I just want to see Groce at work for a season and this team getting better. At the moment I just don't think there's enough talent on the roster to expect us to compete with Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State over the entire course of a season.
As for Groce, I was told by friends who know Ohio basketball that we had gotten a steal, and considering how well he's come in and already started recruiting, I'm certainly optimistic that this program is back on its way to being a contender year in and year out in the Big Ten.
Thanks, Tom, and welcome to SB Nation! Let's hope your first opportunity to write about an Illini win is postponed, however.
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