Illinois hoping Big 10 season provides identity

893775.png

Illinois hoping Big 10 season provides identity

CHAMPAIGN -- Who is Illinois? The schools new slogan is, "Our State. Our Team," but is this a team that even knows its identity?

The Illini are struggling to stay healthy in coach Tim Beckmans first year, which has led to many young players, including true freshmen, playing significant minutes. The biggest health issue, however, is at quarterback.

Junior signal-caller Nathan Scheelhaase returned to the starting lineup on Saturday for the first time since Illinois' win over Western Michigan on Sept. 1. His time behind center was brief, however. After a pair of turnovers, Beckman pulled the starter in favor of sophomore Reilly OToole.

After the game Beckman refused to be drawn into commenting about the quarterback controversy. He toed the party line, insisting that the starting position will be won over the next few days.

"We will evaluate the film and practice next week and make a decision against Penn State. We will make sure we have the one who performs best throughout the week at quarterback," Beckman said.

Likewise, the players played down any notion of a controversy at quarterback. OToole even praised his counterpart in advance.

"Scheelhaase just didnt have his burst tonight. He's close; hes getting better every day and next week, hell be great," the sophomore said.

As far as team identity goes, however, the players were not concerned that their non-conference season would define them. Likewise, the lack of clarity at the quarterback season was not going to distract the Illini from their goal of reaching a Big 10 championship.

"The only thing that affects the team is how many points we put on the board. Thats the only thing that matters at the end of the day," Scheelhaase said. "Everyones confident in what were doing at the quarterback position and we just have to go out as quarterbacks and execute."

Receiver Ryan Lankford echoed that sentiment, citing personal improvement as the key rather than consistency behind center.

"We have to do our job, we cant be worrying about who is starting. Youre one-eleventh of the team, youre just the position you play," he said.

The Illinois players indicated an eagerness to view the start of the conference season as a fresh start for the team. Each player mentioned 12112, the date of the Big 10 championship game in Indianapolis, as their primary goal and the only thing they want to focus on in the coming weeks.

Its still early, we have a lot of football left and we havent played our best yet, OToole said.

To get to their best football Lankford says the team should look to each other for support.

"Were a new team, this is a new era. We have to do things better, we have to come together. Were all weve got, so we have to band together," he said.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Toews still out, Bulls pull out win over Spurs

jonathan_toews.jpg

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Toews still out, Bulls pull out win over Spurs

In the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Kap on the panel. Jonathan Toews is still not back at practice. Is it time to panic?

Meanwhile, the Bulls beat the Spurs. And Rajon Rondo compliments the coaches? Is all well in Bulls-town?

Plus, Dexter Fowler is Cardinal. Should Cubs fans be angry?

And finally, is it good idea for Jordan Howard to get the ball less for the rest of the season?

Check out the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: 

Lucas Giolito striving to contribute to White Sox 'as soon as possible'

Lucas Giolito striving to contribute to White Sox 'as soon as possible'

At one point, it was looking like Lucas Giolito could be headed to the White Sox in exchange for Chris Sale.

But when Sale was dealt to the Boston Red Sox, Giolito's name was in the clear of rumors — until 29 hours later, when the Nationals' top prospect would be headed to Chicago in a different trade, which sent outfielder Adam Eaton to Washington.

“It’s kind of like the world we live in now. Social media is always out there and everything is on Twitter,” Giolito said in a conference call Friday. “I saw my name being mentioned on Twitter for Chris Sale. I know with the winter meetings all sorts of stuff being thrown around. I was just trying to focus on what I’m doing in this offseason which is lifting and all my workouts. Kind of just whatever happens, happens. 

“It’s funny that Sale ended up going to the Red Sox and something else happens that I’m going to the White Sox now with a couple teammates. It’s really interesting stuff but I’m super excited.”

The move for Rick Hahn & Co. to acquire Giolito was the second major trade to begin the White Sox rebuilding process. But Giolito didn't come alone.

In addition, the White Sox received Reynaldo Lopez — who Giolito has played with since 2014 — and the Nationals' 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning.

"I definitely think it’s amazing to be coming over to the White Sox with a bunch of young talent," Giolito said. "I think it’s a great opportunity for us to all develop and get better and hopefully put a really good team together in Chicago. Definitely excited to be coming over with a couple guys from my previous organization."

[MORE: Rick Hahn, White Sox prepared to make more 'painful decisions' if the price is right]

Giolito went 6-5 with a 2.97 ERA and 1.28 WHIP across three minor-league levels this past season. He admitted his mechanics weren't quite in sync and is looking to improve on that.

"Sometimes things get out of whack. I believe I let too much get out of whack last year," Giolito said. "So this year with my training program I have in this offseason — lifting and Pilates and everything — I’m just trying to make sure that I can stay as athletic as possible so I’m able to repeat the right delivery more often. Once I start playing catch and doing bullpens and everything these next few weeks, right before spring training, I’m going to make sure I put that all together so I can repeat my delivery as best as possible."

His struggles continued when he got to The Show.

In his major-league debut on June 28, Giolito held the New York Mets to just one hit over four scoreless innings before a rain delay cut his night short. That turned out to be his most effective outing of the season as he finished the year with an 0-1 record, 6.75 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in six games with the Nationals, four of them being starts.

"(My MLB debut) didn’t go as well as I would’ve liked it to go, obviously, as you look at the numbers and everything," he said, "but I feel that with the White Sox now (and) getting traded and everything, it’s kind of like a fresh opportunity and a new start to get up to the big leagues again and contribute and do everything I can to stay there as well."

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Despite his low numbers, the 22-year-old Giolito believes he's ready to play on the White Sox main roster as soon as next season.

"I’ve had some experience in the big leagues last year," Giolito said. "Especially last year, I took a lot positives away because I did experience such a good amount of failure in a lot of I’d say like hardship when I made it up and didn’t perform up to what I believe is my best capabilities.

"I’ve pitched a good amount of innings in the minor leagues and I’ve had a little experience in the big leagues so I’m just really looking forward to making it up in the big leagues with the White Sox and contributing as soon as possible."