Illini seek consistency after decades-long ride

Andrew Logue

Hey, Iowa football fans.

If you think a roller-coaster season is tough to stomach, imagine what the Illinois faithful have endured the past 30-plus years.

No Big Ten program has experienced the same sort of highs (six top-25 finishes, two Rose Bowls and a Sugar Bowl appearance since 1983) and lows (16 losing seasons during that span) as the Illini.

"It has been kind of an issue here," coach Tim Beckman said, "maintaining consistency."

Illinois brings a 4-5 record into Saturday's 11 a.m. game against 6-3 Iowa.

If the Illini can win twice in the final three weeks of the regular season, they'll become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011.

If not, then Beckman may be dismissed after just three years on the job.

"We've had to play a lot of youth on our football team," Beckman said. "We had to start freshmen the first year.

"Right now, if you look at our depth chart, you'll see there's a lot of juniors and redshirt sophomores who are playing a lot for us."

The Hawkeyes experienced the extremes of routing Northwestern 48-7 and losing to Minnesota 51-14 in consecutive weeks.

For Illinois, rebuilding cycles come every three to five seasons.

Mike White coached the Illini to a 10-2 record in 1983, but went 4-7 and 3-7-1 in 1986 and '87.

John Mackovic matched that 10-2 mark in 1989, but left to take over the Texas program after going 6-5 two seasons later.

Ron Turner went 10-2 in 2001 and 1-11 in 2003. Ron Zook took Illinois to its last Rose Bowl in 2007, but stumbled to 3-9 in 2009.

Since 1979, Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz have been Iowa's only coaches, posting a combined record of 257-171-6 (a .592 winning percentage).

The Illini have had seven full-time coaches (not counting interims) who went 183-227-7 (.439).

You might think it would be the other way around.

The Illinois campus is less than 2½ hours from Chicago, 2:43 from St. Louis and 2 hours from Indianapolis.

Add it up, and the Illini own a clear recruiting advantage.

"We have (academic) standards here that are above some of the other standards, at least that I've been involved with at other Big Ten institutions or in the Big 12," Beckman said. "Our students are required to be a little bit more test-worthy and academically worthy.

"That's probably the biggest thing we fight throughout our state and what we call Illini Nation."

Northwestern is generally considered a solid academic institution, and the Wildcats' roster includes more than 30 players from Illinois.

The Hawkeyes' starting lineup includes linebacker Reggie Spearman and defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat (both from Chicago) as well as Buffalo Grove, Ill., native Mark Weisman (who has 2,331 career rushing yards and 30 touchdowns).

"Consistency comes through time," Beckman said. "I think we've gotten better each year in what we're doing.

"One of the things we look for is to get players involved in our program who believe in the same things we believe in, and are willing to meet the demands that we want."

OSKALOOSA, Iowa (AP) — Former New York Giants safety Tyler Sash has pleaded guilty to a charge stemming from a scooter chase in Iowa.

Online court records say that on Oct. 29, the 26-year-old Sash was convicted of public intoxication and fined $65. Prosecutors dropped a charge of interference with official acts in exchange for Sash's plea.

Sash, who played at Iowa, was arrested May 10 in Oskaloosa. Police say Sash led officers on a four-block chase with a motorized scooter before running into a wooded area. Officers say Sash was shocked with a stun gun after he refused to be handcuffed.

He played for the Giants in 2011 and 2012.