Big Ten

It might not last long, but future is set for Bill Cubit, Illini

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It might not last long, but future is set for Bill Cubit, Illini

For the first time in months, Illinois knows its future.

How long that future will last, though, remains to be seen.

The Illini announced Saturday morning that Bill Cubit would lose the interim label he’s had all season and become the team’s permanent head football coach for the next two seasons.

Of course, the fact that Cubit received just a two-year deal makes any observer wonder just how permanent this hire will be. It’s odd for a college football coach to receive such a short contract, as it’s difficult to recruit when you can’t guarantee prospective student-athletes that you’ll be around for their entire collegiate career. It’s hard to win football games when you can’t bring in recruits. And that means Cubit — through no fault of his own — could be in another state of mystery surrounding his job security not too long from right now.

That’s not bothering Cubit, though, at least not publicly. After he ended his first season as the Illinois coach with a 24-14 loss to Northwestern on Saturday at Soldier Field, he expressed his excitement about the challenge ahead and his happiness to still be coaching these players, who gave him a standing ovation when told he'll be coming back as the man in charge.

“To me, they asked. And I told them many times, I love these kids, it’s all about them. And when it was presented to me, the bottom line was I asked myself, ‘Why do you coach?’ And I coach because I love being around players like this,” Cubit said. “For me, it’s a challenge, I know it’s a big challenge. But I’m looking forward to it.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern beats Illini for 10th win of season]

Keeping Cubit on was a controversial-enough decision. The Illini didn’t play well against quality competition this season, and the four FBS teams they beat finished with a combined 17-31 record. The offense — Cubit’s area of expertise — was especially ineffective almost the entire season. Chalk it up to a rash of injuries on that side of the ball, sure, but poor play was just as prevalent.

Giving Cubit just a two-year deal, though, shows a particularly ridiculous level of indecision.

Paul Kowalczyk, the interim athletics director who was a part of extending Cubit for just two years, said as much Saturday. After it was reported earlier in the week that a Cubit extension could be the result of an unorganized and time-crunched search for a permanent athletics director, Kowalczyk flat-out said that a two-year deal was decided upon so whoever the new AD is can make his or her own decision about Cubit in the near future.

“Obviously the university’s in a situation with interim tags on a lot of different people. The feeling is that it’d be best for a permanent AD to make a decision that they can live with, somebody of their choosing, whether it be Bill or somebody else,” Kowalczyk told reporters at Soldier Field. “So that position right now is important to fill. So now it’s, OK, this will get us to where we need to be in order to make that decision.

“Obviously it’s not ideal. But for now, I don’t think it’ll put a dagger in the heart of the program. The program’s too strong, Bill’s recruiting, there’s not going to be a stoppage in what he’s doing, what he’s trying to accomplish, so we’ll just try to keep things moving in a positive direction.”

When an athletics director announces the appointment of a new head coach and says “it’s not ideal,” that’s not ideal, to say the least. Illinois couldn't put itself in a position to find a new athletics director in time to make the appropriate call on Cubit. So the people in charge bumped the decision down the road, leaving Cubit with practically zero long-term security in the process.

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern seniors cement legacy with second 10-win season]

There are plenty of positives about Cubit, of course, and he truly has earned a shot at the full-time gig. Cubit kept the team and the program together after Tim Beckman was fired a week before the start of the season, something that could have caused everything to fall to pieces. Instead, Cubit led the Illini a win away from a bowl appearance in a competitive Big Ten.

Cubit brings plenty of head-coaching experience to the job, having coached at Western Michigan for eight seasons. That’s certainly as much experience as and actually far more than most prospective candidates from outside the program would have brought.

He’s also been a terrific face of the program in times of turmoil, bringing a positive attitude, getting emotional when talking about his players and working hard to rally the community around a team that hasn’t been the easiest to support in recent seasons.

So is a two-year contract ideal? No. But Cubit, as he has throughout this season, is looking on the bright side.

“Compared to what I was thrown into (earlier this year), it gives you a lot more time,” he said. “When you go in a week before the season, there’s some things you can change in terms of practice, organization, stuff like that. And then there’s a lot of other things you can’t, so it gives you an opportunity to put your stamp on the program. It’ll be nice when you look at all the kids working back (from injury), we held them out for redshirts and we really did it for them. Now, to be honest with you, it’s going to be beneficial for us when we get those guys back. I think it’s really optimistic.”

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

Cubit’s best attribute is likely the stability he brings. While Illinois will welcome in a new recruiting class next season, it will have three or four still remaining who played under Beckman. Cubit, having spent two seasons as Beckman’s offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach, provides more of the same — in a good way — for these players, who won't be thrown into a transition they want no part of.

“It brings stability, and I think that’s important in college football, just with recruiting and really getting to know your players and being a player’s coach. And I think that’s what coach Cubit is,” quarterback Wes Lunt said. “Just having a head man like him and to know what his expectations are is good looking to the future.”

“I feel really happy for the juniors that are going to be seniors next year,” offensive lineman Teddy Karras said. “A coaching change is kind of a freak-show time. No one’s spot is there. Guys don’t really like each other sometimes because you’re fighting to get a spot. I’m just really glad for Bill.”

Cubit’s situation is not ideal. Illinois’ situation is not ideal. And certainly a 5-7 record and another underwhelming season is not ideal. But regardless of how he got to this point — and it seems it was because the school just couldn't get done what it needed to get done in time — Cubit deserves this chance.

Cubit is going to be Illinois' head football coach next season. After that, though, who knows?

“I’m looking forward to it. I’ll start tomorrow. I’ll be in the office at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning," Cubit said. "They entrust me with this title. I’m going to go out there, and I’m going hard. I really am. So you could take two, three, five (years). It don’t make a bit of difference because in this day in age, you better start winning quick.”

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.