Big Ten

Illini's Karras on Cubit: 'It's time to pop the interim tag off'

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Illini's Karras on Cubit: 'It's time to pop the interim tag off'

CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois athletics department is going to wait until the season ends to make a decision on Bill Cubit’s future and the future of the football team’s head-coaching position.

Interim chancellor Barbara Wilson and interim athletics director Paul Kowalcyzk had no answers for reporters on what the future holds for the school’s most-visible position when they announced the removal of Mike Thomas from the athletics director job earlier this week.

But ask the team itself, and the time for a decision on the football coach might be now.

“I think it’s time to pop the interim tag off,” offensive lineman Teddy Karras said after Saturday’s 28-3 loss to Ohio State. “I think that should be Kowalczyk’s first business decision. (Cubit’s) our leader. He’s led us to 5-5 going into the last two games. It would’ve been nice to get this one and kind of force the hand to pop it off. But who are we really waiting for with all the coaching opportunities that are open this year. I think Bill’s the guy and he should be solidified here soon.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini offense silent as Buckeyes get big day from Ezekiel Elliott in win]

Strong words from one of the team’s leaders, a guy who’s started a lot of games and played a lot football for the orange and blue.

And he’s got a point. Few would’ve been able to do what Cubit has done, taking over for the fired Tim Beckman a week before the start of the season. The win total isn’t terribly impressive, and he needs to win once in the team’s final two games — against Minnesota and Northwestern — to reach bowl eligibility.

But Cubit’s achievements aren’t easily measured by the team’s record. He’s provided stability while also injecting a new attitude into the program. His positivity at press conferences has been commended by observers, and he’s worked hard to get the community to support a team that hasn’t been easy to get excited about in recent seasons.

Plus, his passion is beyond evident. He’s become emotional on numerous occasions when discussing his players and the opportunity to coach this team. He wants his bosses, as interim as they might be, to know that it’s going to be tough to find someone else like him.

“I think they see the passion from me, and then it’s up to other people to figure out (whether he deserves to stay). Do I think I’m the guy? There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Cubit said Saturday. “And I know these kids got my back, and I’ve got their back.

“They know what they want. I know what I want. I think everybody out there, if they can’t see it, there’s not much I can do. What they’re going to get, they’re going to get 100-percent effort from me. I think right now we’re probably a breath of fresh air around here with everything that’s going on. They come out there and see a bunch of kids fighting their butts off for the Illini. And that’s how I’m going to do it, too.

“I’m giving it everything I got. I don’t think they’re going to find another guy that loves this place like me.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern wins as Purdue can't capitalize on turnovers]

Cubit’s resume is certainly as good as any other candidate’s would be. He coached Western Michigan for eight seasons before taking over as the Illini’s offensive coordinator ahead of the 2013 season. He did a great job in his first season, working with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to turn an ineffective unit into one of the Big Ten’s most explosive.

And the passion and positivity has been contagious. Cubit’s players notice it. They praised his attitude, even in the wake of a four-score defeat.

“You want to play for coach Cubit, you don’t want to let him down,” Karras said. “I feel like we let him down today. Every time, if we go three and out or don’t put up a bunch of points like we did today, you feel like you let Bill down a little bit. And he’s the guy we play for. He’s our leader, and we rally around him.”

“He brings a different thing to it. He’s an old-school guy, and I think that’s just something different. He really is a player’s coach,” quarterback Wes Lunt said. “He gives us a lot of say, which is huge to a player, when you know you have your coach’s trust and he thinks you’re responsible enough to make the right decisions. Having coach Cubit and this whole staff here has been a blessing after all we’ve been through.”

Even if 2015 hasn’t been a resounding success — and certainly no one is jumping for joy over a .500 record — Cubit believes the progress is evident. Under the circumstances of Beckman’s firing, perhaps five wins wouldn’t have been expected in the preseason. Additionally, the Illini have dealt with more than their fair share of injuries, dating back to a rash of season-enders before the campaign even started.

Cubit argued that with his team at full strength, with a year of his leadership under its belt, Illinois could be a very different squad next season.

“You get a lot of kids back,” Cubit said. “Could I have gotten some of those guys back? Probably, but it’s not right. Those kids deserve a full season.

“And then you get a little bit more comfortable with some things, my style. You’re talking about a style that came in here (and has only been going for) 10 weeks. That’s all it’s been. All the things they were going through for three years, four years, it changed because I’m doing what I think is more comfortable on my end.

“I think you can see the fruits of what’s happening with these kids, they’re buying in. If we can move this far in 10 weeks, how far can we go when we get some more guys coming back and everybody’s comfortable with what we’re doing? To me, pretty good.”

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Fighting Illini gear right here]

We’ll have to wait to find out Cubit’s fate. It’s unknown if Kowalczyk will even be the one making the decision. There’s an opening at athletics director, too, and if that’s filled swiftly, perhaps that new person will be making the call on whether to keep Cubit or whether to bring in someone new.

Certainly there are good arguments to be made for a fresh start with someone different. It would wipe away the entirety of the Beckman Era, one that ended in ugly fashion with an investigation uncovering all sorts of wrongdoing relating to treatment of players.

But Cubit has done a remarkable job holding things together and leading a team through a unique situation that could’ve caused the program to crater this season.

Instead, there’s fight and positivity, two words that might as well be at the top of Cubit’s job application.

“If you don’t see the passion in these kids, somebody’s blind,” Cubit said. “These kids are playing their butts off and against a lot of odds. It’s up to the coaching staff every time to come up here and be positive, it’s up to them. And they look to the leader. If I’m negative, they’re negative.

“I’m not being negative.”

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 11 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (9-1)

The Sooners probably won’t be No. 1 in the Playoff rankings, as the committee will almost surely move Bama up a notch. But OU has an incredible resume, one much better than the Tide’s, with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Okie State. No one in the country can compete with those wins.

2. Miami (9-0)

The Canes are too legit to quit after pulverizing Notre Dame on Saturday night. That signature win teamed with the prior week’s win over Virginia Tech makes that near loss to lowly North Carolina seem like forever ago. Welcome to Miami, indeed.

3. Alabama (10-0)

A great win on Saturday night by the Tide in what seemed like their first actual game of the season. The schedule has been soft as silk, but now Auburn’s status as an SEC juggernaut makes the Iron Bowl a colossal clash.

4. Georgia (9-1)

Knocked off the top of the college football mountain, the Dawgs still deserve to be in the Playoff field, just a one-loss team with that one loss coming to another top team and that still-excellent win at Notre Dame. The resume’s still there, but now the SEC title game will be for all the marbles.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Bucky’s sitting pretty after making Iowa look like an FCS team on Saturday — especially impressive considering what Iowa did the week prior. Expect Michigan and Minnesota to provide decent enough challenges, but it seems like Wisconsin’s set up for a Big Ten title-game date with Ohio State.

6. Clemson (9-1)

Miami is the king of the ACC, but thankfully the ACC title game looks to be a Playoff play-in game between the Tigers and Canes. The champs still have as good a shot at this thing as anyone.

7. Auburn (8-2)

Two-loss Auburn in the Playoff? It’s not crazy at all after what the Tigers did to Georgia on Saturday, destroying the No. 1 team in the country and setting up what will be another titanic Iron Bowl meeting with Bama.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

The Irish’s Playoff hopes sank like a ship in Biscayne Bay thanks to the demolition Miami dolled out on Saturday night. ND’s resume is still fine — two losses to two Playoff-caliber teams. But with no conference title to play for, a two-loss ND team might as well be a six-loss ND team.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Guess who's still lurking in the Playoff race? It seemed Brutus was dead as could be after getting woodshedded by Iowa last weekend, but then Ohio State put a whooping on Michigan State and everyone’s ears perked up again. Appearing destined for the Big Ten title game, things could get interesting.

10. TCU (8-2)

The Frogs will most likely still get a crack at a Big 12 title — and revenge on the Sooners, who picked em apart on Saturday — but the Playoff might be out of the cards now.

11. Oklahoma State (8-2)

You know who’s still really good despite having losses to the two top teams in the Big 12? Okie State. That was some game between the Pokes and the ‘Clones on Saturday. If only the Mullet could be unleashed on the Playoff. Alas.

12. USC (9-2)

Dramatically overrated in the last batch of Playoff rankings, the Trojans now seem to be the cream of the unimpressive Pac-12 after Washington’s loss. All sorts of madness would have to occur in order for USC — or any Pac-12 team — to land in the final four.

13. Penn State (8-2)

Great job beating up on Rutgers this weekend, Penn State. Now what? With games against Nebraska and Maryland left, will any preseason favorite (outside Florida State, of course) get less attention down the stretch than the Lions?

14. UCF (9-0)

Central Florida is that Group of Five team this year. If it beats USF in the regular-season finale, people you know will be like, “Why shouldn’t UCF be in the Playoff?” And you’ll just have to give them a look and walk away.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Wazzu has to win one game and it’ll play USC for a Pac-12 title. Despite the lack of Playoff stakes, the Cougs winning a conference championship would be a pretty big deal.

16. Washington (8-2)

Of course, standing in Wazzu’s way is Washington, which tripped up against Stanford and could follow up last year’s Playoff appearance with absolutely nothing.

17. NC State (7-3)

The ACC and SEC seemed to have flipped roles overnight. The once-mediocre SEC now has three playoff-caliber teams and a couple other decent ones. The once-awesome ACC now has two of the best teams in the country and then … NC State.

18. Mississippi State (7-3)

The Bulldogs put up one heck of a fight against Bama on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for that ridiculous sequence of play-calling following Bama’s missed field goal, they might have won. Oh well.

19. LSU (7-3)

LSU beat Arkansas on Saturday, which isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. 2017 will go down as a “what if” year for the Bayou Bengals. As in, what if they hadn’t lost to Troy?

20. Stanford (7-3)

Two of Stanford’s losses have come against ranked teams. It’s now beaten Washington and could beat Notre Dame in two weeks. It has one of the best running backs in America. So shouldn’t Stanford be better?

21. Memphis (8-1)

Since losing at UCF, Memphis has rolled everyone, winning five straight by an average of 47.8-27.2. Good job, Memphis.

22. Arizona (7-3)

The Wildcats are 7-3 this season and have scored at least 45 points in every one of those wins. That includes last weekend’s win over Oregon State, in which Khalil Tate ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dude's good.

23. Northwestern (7-3)

Meow. The Cats are winners of five straight, even if their overtime streak came to an end. The quest for a 9-3 finish is on, with only Minnesota and lowly Illinois left on the regular-season schedule.

24. Michigan State (7-3)

Two losses in three weeks for Sparty, who got absolutely steamrolled by Ohio State this past weekend. Michigan State will likely be rooting for Michigan in The Game as it would figure to wrap its regular season with wins over Maryland and Rutgers.

25. West Virginia (7-3)

The ‘Neers have only lost to Virginia Tech, TCU and Okie State, which is not too bad. But that’s a couple losses too many in the high-flying Big 12.

Others receiving votes:

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Things have bottomed out for the Hokies, who have lost back-to-back road games to Miami and Georgia Tech after a 7-1 start. Without the loss to the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s resume would look real nice. But alas.

Iowa State (6-4)

There was almost another Attack of the ‘Clones this past weekend in a thriller with Okie State. But the Pokes came out on top, sending Iowa State to its fourth loss. That dream Big 12 title game featuring the ‘Clones? A fantasy. Sigh.

Michigan (8-2)

Michigan only has two losses, which means it has to be kinda good, right? Well, it’s lost its only two games against ranked teams and its best win is Florida, so … no, I guess not.

South Florida (8-1)

Way to beat UConn, South Florida.