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Jon’s Postlife Crisis: Drew Pastorek of The Champaign Room - What About Fighting Illinois Football?

Is the the Illinois game a win for Nebraska?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Redbox Bowl - Cal v Illinois Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Drew Pastorek of the SBNation Fighting Illini site The Champaign Room joins me for this episode. We talk (mostly) about 2020 Illinois football.

Drew and I discuss:

  • His reaction to the Big Ten cancelling football
  • Brandon Peters, Quarterback
  • A rundown of the Illinois offense
  • The Illinois defense
  • An outsider’s perspective on Nebraska
  • If Covid has the effect of keeping everyone closer to home, does Illinois get an advantage in recruiting?

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A Story of Resilience

Jon Johnston was an active, healthy adult when he dropped dead suddenly of a widowmaker heart attack. He was not expected to live, after being dead for more than 20 minutes, but if he did survive, his brain would forever be damaged due to oxygen deprivation.Alternating between humor, sadness, and anger at his body’s betrayal, Jon takes us with him as he puts his life back together. At the beginning, he sees the trauma as a minor inconvenience and expects a speedy recovery. As he realizes the damage to his heart is permanent, he is hit with another setback when he is diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, leaving him with memory loss, debilitating headaches, and a loss of identity. Tasks that had been trivial had become onerous endeavors, and his life became an unexpected challenge.

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About the Transcript

Keep in mind that the following is a transcript. I use a service that automates the first draft. As much as “artificial intelligence” is included in the description of every bit of technology these days, it’s clear that computers understanding human speech is more artificial than intelligent. The transcript has been edited to take out human speech bites, you know, um, okay, uh, but it’s not been edited to be an “article”.


Welcome to Jon’s Postlife Crisis. I am your host, Jon Johnston founder and manager of, your Nebraska Cornhuskers, site of terrific fun. Even more fun that now football season is just two weeks away unless something horrible happens. And this episode, we’re joined by Drew Pastorek, a contributor at The Champagne Room. The Champagne Room is our SB Nation Illinois site. We’re going to talk about Illinois Fighting Illini football.

Jon Johnston: And we’re just going to get right into this. Drew, your first question. Are you ready?

Drew Pastorek: I’m here. I’m ready.

Jon Johnston: When the Big Ten shut down football, what did you think and what would your reaction to them just saying we’re not going to have football, we’re not going to have full sports. Everything looked fine just a few days before that with a revised schedule and suddenly we have nothing. Your thoughts?

Drew Pastorek: I mean, I think I was surprised like everybody else was, but I might get heat for this, but it really didn’t bother me all that much when they decided to to cancel it at first. You know, just I I liked the idea of and I wrote about this on the on the champagne room after this whole back and forth happened and they decided to redo the schedule and cancel and redo it.

Drew Pastorek: It was kind of nice to see just collectively the schools try to be schools first and not just be blinded by football and the athletics part of it. So, you know, it got to the point where I was just like, you know, whatever the decision is, whether you’re going to play or whether you’re going to not play, like just make that decision and stick with it. But I mean, I also I understand why folks would be upset, because football is a big part of, you know, our lives, especially in the late summer, early fall. Like we just we kind of set appointments to watching football and gathering and tailgating and just being around each other and rooting and cheering. So, I mean, I give both sides of it. But initially. Yeah, I mean, of course, when they’re making schedules and, you know, it just it seemed to me like it was heading towards that from the start, like, OK, you’re canceling the nonconference games, like Illinois was supposed to play Illinois State, for example, in the first I think it was the first game. And Illinois State and Illinois are forty five miles, 50 miles apart. And so it’s like you’re going to go to conference only. So you’re telling me that it’s. It’s not safe to play Illinois State, which is like a 45 minute bus ride, but it’s cool to drive on a bus to New Jersey and play Rutgers or go to Maryland. It’s like it just kind of I had that sense, maybe just because I’m very cynical. I kind of had that sense that that’s where it was headed, like you’d see a story every day. And it’s like, yeah, we’re not going to play. It’s just not going to happen. And so they canceled it. And then there is the backlash and the protests and picketing and people suing and all this other stuff. And it’s like. I don’t feel like people really wanted the transparency that was like the big word is like I think they just wanted their way, like they wanted it to like and it was a song I wrote about it on the champagne room is like. So your. Response to Kevin Warren caving is to have him cave, so it was just a very back and forth kind of thing, like none of it really made any sense. I do love football, so I’m glad it’s back. But there has been it’s been weird for me because it’s like. Honestly, like if they just said, we’re not going to play, I wouldn’t have really cared. So.

Jon Johnston: So you’re one of those, but you’re trying to be diplomatic about it?

Drew Pastorek: Yeah, I am. Because I can I can say that I’m excited for football because I am. But I can also be leery of them trying to play, if that makes sense.

Jon Johnston: Yet. It does. It does. As a Nebraskan, I have to say that I am very happy that Husker football is returning because by God it’s our lives. And and if I don’t say that, I think that somebody would come to my house and set me straight and they’d probably have, I don’t know, bats or pitchforks and maybe or worse maybe.

Drew Pastorek: That’s part of my perspective, too, is that I’ve seen like six decent football seasons in my entire life as an Illinois fan. So maybe that’s part of it. Maybe it’s like, hmm, you don’t really see Indiana and Rutgers and Illinois, like really Northwest are really complaining about it. Cancel it. That’s fine. I’m not going to bother us a bit. So maybe that’s part of it. Maybe there’s because of the the lack of tradition, I guess in the last twenty, twenty five years, we’re like whatever happens, happens,

Jon Johnston: So with that seque, let’s go into Illinois football. Yes, sir. They showed improvement last season. They knocked off Wisconsin, a game that shocked that everybody. They went on a four game winning streak. They had that amazing comeback against Michigan State. But then they finished the season losing the Iowa Northwestern. They went 6-6 in the regular season and then they lost 35 to 20 to California in the red box bowl to finish the season at 6-7. This is a new season for Lovie Smith. Everybody loves the beard. How is he doing? Well, Illinois standpoint,

Drew Pastorek: Well the beard is gone now. So that was a big story. It’s like, oh, my God, he shaved his beard off so we don’t have any more T-shirts to sell. So I think this is it’s kind of strange that this is sort of considered a make or break year since he had one, I think. Nine games, the first three years prior to last year, there’s a lot of roster churn with Illinois, so a lot of transfers, a lot of upperclassmen moving out after this year. And there’s a lot of uncertainty that they’ve not, for all the strength that they have with the transfer portal and bring in veteran players in from elsewhere the recruiting the last couple of years, as far as, you know, incoming freshmen or, you know, getting those high school recruits has been a little iffy if I’m being genteel. So we kind of have a feeling that. You know, yeah, we can build on that six win year feel like we still let a couple of slip away Nebraska last year being a perfect example of that. You know, they tried. Handing us that game several, several times a game that we really we being Illinois, probably had no business even being in if it weren’t for fumbles and just a sloppy game all the way around. So you look at that and like, man, that would have really, you know, but then it’s like the Wisconsin thing probably wouldn’t have happened. The Michigan State thing wouldn’t have happened. So it’s like, you know, Northwestern kills us.

Drew Pastorek: And I don’t know why, like Pat Fitzgerald, just Illinois’s daddy, for whatever reason. I don’t know. They just can’t seem to get over that hump and beat Northwestern, especially last year when they were just awful, like they were terrible. And, you know, in a game that we’d already secured bowl eligibility, Illinois was already like they knew they were going somewhere. And you’d think knowing that that would have given them some inspiration to kind of end the season strong and they just kind of fell flat. But it’s a weird it’s a weird situation because of what I said earlier. There’s a lot of veteran guys, a lot of really good veteran players. And then after that, it’s up in the air like we don’t really know what’s going to happen, so. With the nonconference being canceled, we were sort of at the site, we’re kind of saying, , Illinois is a really good shot to go and 3-0 heading in the Big Ten. And then I think it was Rutgers was the first game and then Nebraska. So I get a chance realistically of going at least four and possibly five. And so if you beat Nebraska and then it’s like you got to win one game in your final seven. And so that got canceled. And it’s like this is the most Illinois thing ever. We have a chance that we have. It looks like we’re going to be good. And then.

Drew Pastorek: It just gets yanked out from under us, so I think the way our schedule shook out, Illinois schedule shook out wasn’t terrible. It could have been a lot worse. As far as the crossover goes, Ohio State, it’s going to be a beast no matter who plays them. But getting Rutgers in that East Division crossover is very helpful and is a list other than Wisconsin. It’s been up for grabs in Iowa had that year and 15 where they went 12 and no, but no one’s really reached out and grabbed it. So I think if you get hot early and win a couple of games, can they you know, they can go two and seven or they could go five and four. And I really wouldn’t be surprised either way.

Jon Johnston: Everybody’s in the same position kind of in the West, we’re not really sure of what’s going to happen, what’s going to happen next. Wisconsin is the only program that seems to be consistent from year to year, Iowa’s consistently average and Nebraska and enjoy pointing that out whenever we can. You’re offense, you do have a quarterback, Brandon Peters, returning, that’s a pretty good quarterback. Who else is around him that’s going to be there to score points? Reggie Corbin, who was an excellent running back, has gone. Who’s going to replace him? Let’s hear about the offense.

Drew Pastorek: Yeah, I’m very, very excited about the offense. I really am. And that’s that’s strange. Again, based on what happened heading into last season prior to Peters getting there, I think it was it was at least five starting quarterbacks, maybe even six in a two year period after Wes Lunt left. So, Lovie Smith, to his credit, him and his coaching staff, they knew. You can’t compete, like you can have as as good a team as there is, but if the quarterback play is not there. It’s just not going to work like you’ve got to have somebody who can get the ball to somebody and make some plays and and Peters, it was a little tough early on in the season, but I think he did show that improvement, you know. Eighteen hundred nineteen hundred yards isn’t a ton. You know, he didn’t miss some time. He had some injuries, some concussions and some things like that where he missed some time. But you can tell he had a firm grasp of the offense. You know, he he’s not you know, he’s a game manager in the good sense that he’s not probably going to be the reason Illinois wins, but he’s not going to make that soul crushing mistake that cost you a game.

Drew Pastorek: So having that veteran guy in place. I’m a Bears fan. I love Jay Cutler, but he’s not he’s not going to do that. Or he throws the ball and it’s just it’s like, oh, my God, how do you make that throw? He’s just not that guy. You know, he’s a very mature player.

Drew Pastorek: He handles himself well. Teammates seem to like him. You know, he’s got a firm grasp of the offense. So going in, you feel good about him behind him. You’re not really sure if he has a situation where he’s not healthy and he misses some time, Matt Robinson was named the number two quarterback, I think yesterday or today, Lovie Smith did confirm that, that he is going to be the number two quarterback and, you know, he can run a little bit and move around a little bit, but he’s not shown that he can make plays consistently to, you know. It’s disappointing because it’s like, OK, so basically if our number one quarterback is gone, we don’t have a chance. That’s how it felt last year at times. So Peter’s being healthy now. Being there for the full season would be great. He’s got a lot of toys to throw the ball to. Luke Ford coming in from Georgia to sit out last year due to the transfer rules, him being healthy, him being available. I mean, he’s 6’6”. He’s 260. I mean, any team, any team in the country except for Georgia apparently would kill to have him. He’s he’s a game changer. He’s a physical freak. Josh Imatorbhebhe another transfer from USC came in last year, and it was pretty clear right away that he was the number one guy in the receiving corps. They’ve since added a couple other transfers.

Drew Pastorek: Kamari Thompson from Missouri was ruled eligible immediately this year. Brian Hightower used to play for Miami, was ruled immediately eligible as well. So there’s a lot of talent as far as the pass catchers go. Receiving corps looks really good to me. Daniel Barker was the starting tight end last year. You know, he’s not as good as blocking as Ford is. So you can see a lot of two, maybe three tight end sets, a matter of maybe his brother Daniel Imatorbhebhe maybe join the team as well. So, again, milking the transfer portal, getting those guys in, you know, if it’s only even for one or two years, you know, making an impact, helping this team win, that’s going to be big. The running back spot is up in the air. And typically Lovie Smith likes to do that ground and pound, ball control kind of style. And he doesn’t have Reggie Corbin, doesn’t have Dre Brown anymore either. Who is the second leading rusher, sixth year senior I believe. The guy who was going to be the number one running back coming into the year opted out due to Covid. So you have a couple of guys, Ra’Von Bonner opted out of the Covid as name escapes me for a second. But you have some guys, like a Mike Eppstein, who’s looked really, really sensational, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. He’s missed time all of his first three seasons due to injury, whether it’s a foot or a knee or whatever.

Drew Pastorek: He’s just had a hard time staying on the field. And then you have some other guys that were not. Expected to be number one backs, so that’s really where we’re skeptical as fans about who’s going to run the ball. If they can stay healthy, it’s going to be good. But you still need to use the run to set up the pass. So having all these toys to throw to is great. But you can’t just drop back 50 times and not run the ball. So that’s kind of the question mark is, is who’s going to be that that bell cow for Illinois. Offensive line looks pretty good. A lot of depth there. They did have another transfer from Wofford. Blake Jeresaty, who is was slated to start at right guard and he is going to have shoulder surgery missed the whole year. So now you’re kind of wondering where is that spot going to get filled? So that kind of takes part of your depth away when you’ve got to fill in another spot. So an overall veteran offensive line done a good job with the the run and pass protection. Running back, I think is the major question hanging into the season because the receivers, tight ends, O-line looks pretty good and we have a competent, satisfactory quarterback as well.

Jon Johnston: So the offense is going to be capable of scoring points.

Drew Pastorek: I think so I think, you know, I think they’d be doing the coaching staff, be doing the offense a disservice if they tried to run the ball more like they have a lot of guys that are big and long. And, you know, have you have to how you’d ideally build it. You have the possession receiver like you matter of maybe not a burner is not going to kill you. He’s not like a 4.2, 4.3, 4.4 guy, but he’s 6’3”, 215. He is like a Clydesdale horse. I mean, he is just like you see him and you’re just like physically he is a beast, like he’s incredible. And then you have some more speed. Guys. Thompson in Missouri was a was on the track team. He ran a 4.3 Forty. And you have Trevon Sidney, who played with Imatorbhebhe at USC, who is more of the speed slot receiver guys, mean they’ve got some dudes. You just got to find a way to get to the ball. And Rod Smith is a very creative play caller offensively. So, you know, we kind of trust that he’s going to come up with something. You know, there’s only one ball. You can’t throw it to everybody. Not everyone’s going to have 50, 60 catches, but there’s going to be enough to make everybody happy. At least that’s what I feel like going into the season.

Jon Johnston: So I take it the weakness of Illinois is on the defensive side of the ball, then.

Drew Pastorek: I think more so with rushing the pass. Are they up front? Can they impose their will on that side, you know, they had Oluwole Betiku Jr last year from USC for the first four or five games, looked really, really good and really led the nation in sacks for a brief period early in the year. Then he had some injury issues. And then once we got to the heat of the Big Ten season wasn’t really as effective. And he’s gone. He left early to go to the NFL and looks like that wasn’t a great decision because he didn’t get drafted. He didn’t really stick on with another team. So I think another year would have really helped him and help the defensive front overall. A lot of inexperience, a lot of changeover on that defensive line. So not really sure what that’s going to look like. I know, Moses Okpala, one of the defensive linemen was flipped to the O-line, so that could be another. And he’s 6’7”, 300 pounds. So that might be a better spot for him long term because he wasn’t getting a lot of reps on the D line. But it’s again, one fewer guy to roll out there, one less guy to try to lay out on the defensive front. So linebackers are pretty good. Jake Hansen back, one of the leading tacklers from a year ago. Milo Eifler was back and transferred from Washington and played last year.

Drew Pastorek: So linebackers, I feel pretty good. Secondary has some experience. I think they improved as the year went on last year. They’ve got some depth now. Marquis Beason, who was one of the more highly touted recruits coming into 2019, he had a knee injury, missed the whole season. So he’s back now. He said he’s all in. There was talks that maybe he was going to leave and go elsewhere. He is staying put, at least for now. And he figures to be an impact player. He is one of the best recruits as far as ratings, if you if you’re enamored with that kind of thing. He was one of the highly more highly rated recruits that Lovie Smith was able to snare and bring the champagne. So I think, you know, the passing defense is going to be OK and the defense wasn’t outstanding anyway. So I’m saying they’re saying they were great. Is is is not accurate. They were a good defense, you know, missed a lot of tackles. So the fundamental stuff, the the mistakes and like missed assignments that seem to plague them a lot. So if they can clean up that, you know, I think the passing defense will be OK. But rushing the passer, attacking the line of scrimmage, you know, winning that battle up front could be an issue.

Jon Johnston: When you started this, you sounded like, you know, oh, woe is me. I mean, maybe not that bad, but, you know, kind of an Illinois fan that’s... meh, whatever. But the team you’re describing to me doesn’t sound terrible. I mean, they sound like a bowl team, if we are in a normal year, they sound like a bowl team or maybe a possibly 7-5, 8-4 team. Do you think they’re going to get there? I mean, we’re not going to you know, obviously we’re not playing 12 games. But when you look at the season overall, what do you think’s going to happen with Illinois?

Drew Pastorek: Yeah, I would have very I would have easily penciled them in for seven wins at the start of the year in a normal year. Like I said, the the nonconference schedule is very favorable with Illinois State, Bowling Green and UConn all at home. First three weeks like that has a good chance to get your role and and get some good stuff going heading into Big Ten, because, you know, the Big Ten is going to be tough. It always is. We as fans, us among the site were kind of thinking, yeah, they probably have three Big Ten wins in a maybe four. So if they can start with that three wins, you know, all they’re going to need is three more. And then they’re kind of in the same situation that they’re in now. So seven wins now. I mean, if you if they went 7-2 or 6-2 in this format would be amazing. They’d be outstanding. But as we kind of touched on before, you know, the Big Ten West, it’s a lot different than the Big Ten East. You know, you’re not going through Michigan. You’re now going through Penn State and Ohio State. You know, there are a lot of games where, you know, it’s going to be kind of a coin flip kind of thing. It’s just going to be depending on, you know, field conditions or it’s going to be who’s injured, who’s healthy, you know, how well is the quarterback playing who you know who’s available? You know, I think I think I had them at four wins, you know, since they’re doing the the eight the eight game regular season. And there’s that Champions Week where they just kind of OK, you’re the second place team. You’re going to play second place team, that kind of a thing. So I had them at four wins, four and five after the nine weeks. And I did have them going to a bowl because honestly, I don’t know what the bowl season’s going to look like. I think that I think that just based on.

Drew Pastorek: What the bowls look for, I think they would take a 3-6 Big Ten team over a 6-3 conference USA team just based on fans traveling and supporting their team. They’re all thinking about money, thinking about gate, all those kind of things. Nebraska fans travel really well. Iowa fans travel really well. And, of course, Michigan, Ohio State, they’re going to have fans show up everywhere. So if Nebraska goes 1-7, but they qualify for a bowl, I think I think a bowl committee is going to say, you know, maybe we should put them in over Louisiana. Might be a better fit, might be more worthwhile for us. So I think. If they’re doing the format that we’ve heard about where everyone’s going to be eligible or there’s not really that, you know, that cap of being five hundred or better gets in, I think certainly if they’re in that four or five win range, they would certainly be in consideration for even if they won three, they might be in that in that conversation. I think four is probably a safer conversation, though. I look at. You know, I look at Purdue and Rutgers as the two that you’re probably going to win for Illinois. I have those penciled in as wins. And then I think there’s a combination of three or four other games where you could get two more wins out of that. I think Nebraska is one of those. Again, it just depends on what happens. You know, that was a really sloppy game last year that Illinois probably should have won even though they had no business winning. But they were gifted that when they couldn’t take advantage of it. So I think Illinois is certainly capable of stealing a win from a better team, like a Minnesota, Wisconsin, maybe even in Iowa. And then you have that inevitable clunker that they’re going to have where they should win a game and they’re probably going to stink it out. So, you know, they’re not a great team by any stretch, but they they can be, on average, an average middle of the road team. And in a pandemic shortened season, average might be good enough to get you into a bowl and a good one.

Drew Pastorek: Who knows?

Jon Johnston: Let’s say they make a bowl and let’s say they finish it. Let’s say they finish five hundred. What’s the outlook for Lovie Smith on that? Is this just a write off year where everybody goes, we’re not going to count anything? Or you think it adds or subtracts his ability to continue to have Illinois get better in the long term? Or what is the long term for Illinois? Does anybody know?

Drew Pastorek: Yeah, that’s that’s a great question. We really don’t know. It’s you know, the transfer portal has been very favorable to Illinois. I think they’ve, you know, other than, you know, Justin Fields going to Ohio State, that’s the obvious outlier. I think Illinois has really done a great job of coaxing players to come to Champaign. I think that they’ve done a really good job of. Using the transfer portal to their advantage to get some veteran guys who maybe didn’t get a chance to show elsewhere, Imatorbhebhe is a great example. You know, you see him on the field and these games against Michigan State, I mean, he was the best player on the field, hands down against Michigan State, just they had no answer for him. And so he’s making twenty twenty five yard plays, 60 or 70. He had I think he caught four passes in that game for like 160 yards. I mean, he just he’s unstoppable and you’re like, he’s not good enough to see the field at USC? Like what’s going on? So they’ve done a really good job of bringing in guys that fit and help them in the short term. And then we sort of I sort of talked about it earlier, the long term future. You know, we kind of had this two year thing like this year, last season was going to be, you know, we got to the ball game. That’s great. That’s an achievement in and of itself, especially the way the season started with losing to eastern Michigan. It’s just like, oh, my God, here we go again.

Drew Pastorek: Then you’re 32 point underdogs or something like that against Wisconsin. You’re like, yeah, homecoming. Great, have fun with that. And then somehow they you know, they hang with it. They and I think that kind of turn the tide and the Michigan game where. They were down big, early, but kept fighting and kept chipping away and made that a competitive game, you sort of saw the tide turn there, that maybe they’re getting this, maybe they’re starting to feel good, maybe they’re feeling better about themselves and the outlook of the team. You know, getting to the ball game was a big step. And now with a veteran team established, not a lot of guys, they have a lot of their core coming back. So this is one of those things where this season needs to be a good season because it does look sort of bleak moving forward because of the inexperience. We talked about lack of impact recruits coming in from the high school. And there’s going to be it’s going to look very similar to what it did the first couple of years of Lovie Smith tenure, where there’s a lot of freshmen, a lot of sophomores getting thrown in. And, of course, they’re going to have some that do really well. But it doesn’t bode well in the Big Ten rolling out 50, 60 kids that haven’t really played. You know, it’s it’s hard to win in a conference like the big time when you have, you know, 15 freshman starters or something to that effect. It’s just it’s just hard to do, you know, because they’re learning on the fly.

Drew Pastorek: And when you’re playing Penn State and Iowa and Ohio State and teams like that, they’re not going to feel sorry for you that, oh, you’ve got 20 freshmen that are starting on your team. You know, they’re they’re going to they’re going to pounce on you. So, yeah, this year, we as fans should try to enjoy it as much as possible because this might be. The last, best chance for a couple more years, but I don’t think Lovie Smith in any danger. I think Josh Whittman, the athletic director, is really,really enamored with him and it brings a very professional atmosphere to Illinois, he’s not some loose cannon head coach. He doesn’t have any real off the field problems. There’s not a lot of baggage there. Now, he’s it he is a coach that, you know, if you go into a recruit’s living room, the parents are going to fall in love with him and want their kid to play for him. So ultimately, that’s what you want. He has provided that kind of stability. So I don’t think he’s in any danger. But of course, you got to win. So if you’re going 2-10 every year, you can be the nicest, sweetest guy in the world. But it’s a bottom line business. So I think at some point it is going to get to that point where we just need a guy that can win games consistently. And if he can turn a corner this year and have some positive momentum, that might help him out. But in the near term, he’s fine.

Drew Pastorek: He’s not going anywhere.

Jon Johnston: One of the things that I brought up on one of our other podcasts, because we have a gob of podcast at, is this idea that because of this bloody virus, players are staying closer to home. Nebraska has lost some players in other sports, for example, women’s basketball, where one of them literally transferred to a one of our top players who was a very good player, transferred to like an NAIA team just so she could be in her hometown. I’ll give you a hypothetical. If that’s the case, if players are staying closer. To their hometowns, doesn’t Illinois have an advantage because of the Chicago area there, because of the population in Illinois, I mean, compared to like an Iowa or in Nebraska?

Drew Pastorek: Yeah, that’s that’s a tough one, Jon, because that’s been a big criticism of Lovie Smith and his staff. They’ve done a really good job of finding players in Georgia and Florida and Texas and elsewhere. But he’s had difficulty with the in-state players playing for them and coming to Illinois and committing. So, you know, the St. Louis area is a nice hotbed for Illinois that’s been successful recently, you know, because champagne’s not too far. You know, there is still a big alumni footprint in that part of the country as well, even though it’s not technically in state. It’s you know, it is a very, you know, alumni favorable region. You have Missouri there. And that’s the only real big power, five school within shouting distance. So it’s tough. I mean, in theory, that’s one of the reasons Luke Ford wanted to come to Illinois. You know, he did transferred to be closer to his ailing grandparents who didn’t get a chance to watch him play. And so he wanted to be closer to home. I suppose it’s possible that you would see that.

Drew Pastorek: But it’s been hard for whatever reason. Can’t really. I can’t explain it. Maybe somebody else that follows the team more closely than I do, that’s on the pulse and maybe like around know around the team more now can can kind of pinpoint that. But that has been a big issue. It was you know, a lot of those Chicago kids in theory are absolutely correct. And that is the Chicago pipeline. There’s Peoria, there’s St. Louis. There’s a lot of you know, even Indianapolis isn’t too far away. It’s a couple hours. So in theory, there’s, you know, some pretty good pockets to get some players and that aren’t too far away from from Champaign. But for whatever reason, he’s really struggled with that. And the coaching staff has struggled with that. It’s getting better. The offensive line. They’ve done a good job recently of bringing in some of getting some commitments from from offensive line prospects in St. Allen. Kruse’s son is an example who played for the Bears for many, many, many years. His son is obviously still lives in the Chicago area. His son goes to one of the the parochial schools in the Chicago area he recently committed back in the summer. That was kind of a big get, like, all right, there’s a Chicago guy. We’re bringing in those, you know, those kind of kids. But it has been difficult to bring those those top tier in-state recruits and have them stay in Illinois. So ideally, that’s what I would like to see. I know a lot of fans feel the same way.

Jon Johnston: An outsiders look at Nebraska because, I follow our fans as closely as I can, I follow our football team, obviously, but it’s I think it’s always good to get an outsider’s perspective. When you look at Nebraska, let’s first start with this. Let’s go back to the beginning and say, when you saw, like Desmond Howard or somebody saying, you know, Nebraska wants to leave the Big Ten, the hell with them, let them go. What was your reaction to that? First of all, that Nebraska wanted to leave the Big Ten, which we never did, but the whole Scott Frost tension, the Nebraska tension. Tell us about what you think of us.

Drew Pastorek: Is there a dump button on this thing? Do you want to go there? I kind of echoed that sentiment, and again, I’m this is I’m looking at it from ten thousand feet away. I’m not following the team. The way you obviously would be in the fan base is. So I just look at, you know, Twitter and Twitter is great and Twitter is also a hellscape at the same time. So you’re kind of seeing what you want to see a lot of times. But my reaction was, you know, if they if Nebraska really wants to leave that badly.

Drew Pastorek: By, you know, don’t let the door hit you on the way out kind of a thing, it just you know..

Jon Johnston: We haven’t become close friends. What the hell?

Drew Pastorek: This is an outsider’s view. So if I’m incorrect or if you have a different perspective, feel free to correct me. Just it seems like. From the get go. Nebraska seemed like they were leaving the Big 12 because they couldn’t get past the Oklahoma and the Texases and those kind of things, and they saw an opportunity. To kind of run roughshod over the Big Ten, maybe that’s how they felt initially, I don’t know how they feel now, but that seemed from our perspective as being around the big tent is what they perceived themselves as and what and how they perceived the conference and. I don’t feel that in Nebraska in the last 10 or 15 years has really. Earned the right to feel that way about themselves, if that makes sense, so they certainly have a lot of talent. They’ve had some some good squads. But I think most rational people would look at what’s happened with Nebraska the last year since they joined the Big Ten and say, like they’ve been just kind of a middle of the road team, like they haven’t really shown that they’re Nebraska. You know, it’s like the joke about Texas being back and are they are they not? And then they look like they are they have a stinker and it’s like, oh, so you’re not back. OK, that’s kind of how it’s felt from my point of view. Watching Nebraska is, you know, they have those games where they look like they’re pretty good and they have, you know, like the Colorado game last year. We’re just like really?

Jon Johnston: You bring that one up.

Drew Pastorek: You guys are back, totally. Like don’t need to convince anybody but yourselves. They’ve just they’ve kind of fit in that, you know, second tier of the Big Ten West, instead of being like a top two or three team in the Big Ten as a whole, they’ve kind of just been another team within the league. And so I think that’s the general perception that most of us don’t cheer for Nebraska have kind of seen. I think it’s good that they’re in the Big Ten. They do bring a lot to the table and more so than I think a Rutgers or Maryland. That’s that’s a whole other issue. We could probably talk about that for two hours on a another show. I think at least geographically, it’s a fits, you know, recruit’s you’re competing for kind of the same players as these other schools in the Big Ten. It’s not off the wall to think of Nebraska in the Big Ten. But, you know, I do think there was a little bit of of piety there where we’re Nebraska and because we were in Nebraska and Nebraska football was this juggernaut, you know, in the 70s, 80s and 90s that. That’s just going to be the way it is forever, and as an Illinois fan said, I’ve seen in my lifetime probably five or six decent seasons, so I’m a little skewed in that regard. Too late for me. Illinois goes 7-5, build Lovie a statue. That’s great. But for Nebraska, four teams that have higher expectations, that’s you know, that’s obviously a bit different.

Jon Johnston: Personally, I never expected us to walk into the big tent and kick ass because I lived in Minnesota since 1989 and I’m very familiar with the Big Ten. Now, that’s not true in the sport of baseball, but we’re not talking about baseball right now. Nebraska did expect to walk into the conference and kick the crap out of everybody in baseball, and that hasn’t happened, although I will say that we are responsible for lifting the barrier, lifting the bar for baseball in the Big Ten. And I cover I’ve covered baseball quite extensively over the last well. This will be my 14th year. I think at But the Big Ten just doesn’t really care about baseball very much at all. They have some good teams and you have some, Mike Anderson in Minnesota has to be one of the best baseball coaches the nation, but he’s constantly fighting that cold weather problem. Yeah, Illinois has had some good teams anyway. We shouldn’t go too far into baseball. I really you know, I’ll be honest with you, I’ll tell you a story. Last year I shoot photography sometimes and I’ve shot the Big Ten wrestling tournament was a lot of fun. Last year I did shoot the final four volleyball. Illinois was in the final four and volleyball. Nebraska knocked them off after they were up two sets to nothing. I was set to shoot the Big Ten baseball tournament, the NCAA wrestling tournament finals, the College World Series.And it really baseball season and all that stuff went away. And it was really, honestly pretty upsetting. I cried like a baby at one of my neighbor’s houses is talking about this.

Jon Johnston: The fact that we’re going to get any football at all, I think is a blessing. And I hope that it all turns out OK for the rest of us. You said you mentioned earlier that we should just be thankful to have this. And that’s probably the best attitude. But I you know, when actual football season started in my house, I watch football from the morning until the night, there hasn’t been as much of a but I was screaming at refs and I’m yelling at coaches that aren’t on my team. And my wife comes downstairs and she says, You feel pretty good now, don’t you? And I thought, yeah, this is what I want. I want to be able to bitch about my team and bitch about referees and officials and stupid coaches that coach other teams. And Bo Pelini, shitty defense at LSU. That’s what I want. It’s a part of my life. And I’m hopeful back here in two weeks, yeah. Anything else I’ve left out about Illinois that you would like to tell the faithful fans of Nebraska?

Drew Pastorek: I think we covered a lot of it. I hope, you know, obviously we haven’t played any games yet. So on paper, the offense looks like it’s going to be a fun team to watch. I do. I do think that they have enough power on offense to score some points and kind of make up for any mistakes that they may make. I do. I’m in the same boat as you. I do feel like we have a sense of normalcy. And I know what I said at the start of the interview, Jon, about kind of, you know, if it happens, fine, I’ll watch.

Drew Pastorek: I’m not going to say I’m not going to watch because I will because I’m a masochist, just like most sports fans are. But, you know, if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, you know, I’m just hoping basketball season happens. So for me, being an Illinois fan, I’m like, well, as long as I can play basketball and they don’t cancel that again, I’m OK. But yeah, like, as much as I love watching coastal Carolina, and it seems like that it is going to be kind of fun to to bitch about your own team for a change. So it is going to welcome a it’s going to be a nice change. And, you know, I, I think this is going to help in the long run with, you know, I wasn’t one of those people that’s like they should fire Kevin Warren and they should roast him on an open flame, like I wasn’t one of those people. Like, it’s an impossible situation. He was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. He was going to piss off people. Either way, no matter what his decision was, if he decided to not have the season, then it was going to be, oh, he’s playing politics. And if he doesn’t and if he does do the season, it’s all he’s only trying to get money. So you’re never going to win that fight. Like, I don’t want that job.

Drew Pastorek: Like, I wouldn’t want to have his job. Like, it’s an impossible situation. It’s just it just is. So I think from an Illinois perspective. You know, I think they’re going to be a fun team to watch from afar, and as a Bears fan who’s watched a lot of crappy quarterbacks and a lot of just inconsistent play over the years, if you’re going to be an average or below average team, at least be fun to watch. You know, if they lose the big 12 is a great example. You know, I love offense. If a game is 56-49, I’m happy with that. It’s an entertaining way. I’d rather watch that than three yards and a cloud of dust, 12-7 every week. So, you know, Ohio State shouldn’t be the only team allowed to score 40 points in a game. I think other teams should be able to join in on that fun. And I think Illinois has the firepower to do that. They might also give up 40. But again, if you’re going to be bad or average, at least make the games entertaining, at least give you a reason to tune in. So it’s the Jameis Winston effects. You know, he might throw 30 interceptions in a season, but he’s going to throw for five thousand yards and he’s going to throw for 40 touchdowns.

Drew Pastorek: So it’s never going to be boring. And I think the Big Ten is as less boring now as it’s been in a long time. And I think the the pandemic is really going to make it even more interesting because it’s kind of a level playing field for a lot of teams, because you don’t have a lot of home field advantages in some stadiums are going to let fans in, I think. I mean, eventually I think it will get to that point where there is, you know, 50, 60 percent or whatever. I think at some point that will happen.

Drew Pastorek: You know, but a lot of teams, unless you’re Penn State and Ohio State, you know, they feel like, we can we can sneak up on some folks and surprise some people and and, you know, kind of do what Illinois did last year. Once that Wisconsin game happened, it was like, oh, and the Michigan State game happened. And people were like, maybe this is something to watch, you know, down the road. So I think it’s going to be. Kind of cool, you know, we saw with baseball it made things a lot more interesting because every game was important. He didn’t have that little lull halfway through the season where, you know. All right, well, just do all star break and then we’ll start picking it back up. You know, it it kind of rubbed some teams up and it gives everybody a chance. And heading into the season in two weeks, I think that’s all you can hope for. Is your team having a chance? You know, it’s it’s weird not thinking that your team is going to be any good and then you still have to watch and cover the team and be like, well, this went as we expected because our team sucks. So I think at least I feel that way. I don’t know how other Illinois fans and Nebraska fans feel, but, you know, I think this is an opportunity to seize the moment. And Illinois has as good a chance as any to be in that...

Drew Pastorek: They’re not going to win the Big Ten West, I’m not going to be crazy. I’m not going to say, you know, they’re going to dethrone Wisconsin and Minnesota and those other teams that are ahead of them, but if they can finish third in the Big Ten West or fourth in the Big Ten West, I’d say it’s a pretty damn successful season.

Jon Johnston: All right, we’re going to end there. I thank Drew Pastorek The Champagne Room for joining me to talk about Illinois football. And I wish you a good 2020 football season, but not that good. And that’s it for Jon’s Postlife Crisis. Thank you for listening. And Go Big Red.

Drew Pastorek: Thanks for having me.