Simeon's Smith: I want the Illini job

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Simeon's Smith: I want the Illini job

After winning five IHSA state titles, more than any other coach in Illinois history, Simeon head coach Robert Smith has his eyes set on a loftier goal -- filling the recently vacated head coaching position at the University of Illinois.

Thats something I would definitely be interested in if the opportunity presented itself, said Smith on Thursday before the schools championship pep rally.

But hes not just interested. When asked if he was actively pursuing the position, the usually stone-faced Smith cracked a smile before admitting he is indeed making an effort to make it known that he wants the job. Despite winning five titles in seven years, and fostering the development (both on and off the court) of some of the most talented players in the country, there is a contingent who feels Smiths success at the high school level doesnt merit a promotion to the collegiate level.

A lot of people say youve been in high school so long, but I run this like a college already. Its not a typical high school, as you can see argued Smith. Ive coached some great kids, Ive had some talent, so I understand how to coach talent.

Some talent is a bit of an understatement. Smith won his first two titles in 2006 and 2007 with the help of future number one pick Derrick Rose. He brought in the last three with the help of the nations top junior, Jabari Parker, along with top Illinois senior and Marquette-bound Steve Taylor.

While there are plenty of arguments both for and against how Smiths high school success would translate to the next level, theres one trait he carries that few others in the country can claim as strongly as he can -- a deep and rich connection with the Chicago basketball community thats needed to keep the states best players from leaving to play college ball out of state.

The state of Illinois has produced a bevy of supremely talented players over the past several years, but few have decided to stick around. Jon Scheyer, Sherron Collins, Derrick Rose, D.J. Cooper, Anthony Davis, Iman Shumpert, Ryan Boatright, Wayne Blackshearthats just a tiny sample of the number of athletes who call the state of Illinois home, but went on to attend schools like Duke and Kentucky. Smith feels that if hes given the opportunity, he can reopen the pipeline from Chicago to Champaign and keep the states best players at home.

Youve got to have good relationships. To Smith, its that simple. You have to be able to get into the communities, not just the players and the parents. The community has to feel comfortable with you as well, so when theyre talking up Illinois, the community is talking up Illinois as well. If youre a great player, theyre saying you should go to Illinois. You dont hear that inside the communities.

Smith thinks a lack of Chicago connections is one of the likely culprits behind Shaka Smarts Illini denial. Its kind of tough when youre not from the town, you dont know the town, and you get the negative stuff from everybody else, but Im here, I see it, and I know it.

You dont have to go far to see just how vital this connection could be. Jabari Parker, who many feel is the top overall player in the country as a junior, said hes keeping a close eye on whats happening with Coach Smith and the illini.

I pay attention pretty much a lot, because that would be a future coach I would be interested in playing for. If they happen to recruit me, then I have to do my research as a player to see where I can fit in their system.

Parker went on to say that even though the Illini are currently coach-less, hes still interested in the school because representing his home state is important to him, and if Smith were to get the job, it would be special. Steve Taylor, who committed to Marquette in the fall and is regarded as one of the top senior forwards in the country, echoed Parkers comments and said he thinks Smith would be a good fit.

The University of Illinois doesnt really get kids from Chicago, said Taylor. If Coach Rob was to get that job, he would be able to bring in a lot of talent from Illinois.

Junior guard Jaylon Tate continued the praise, adding, Hes an amazing coach. Hes a good disciplinary person. Hes just a good person. Hes a real good coach. I think at any level hell be a great coach.

The discipline Tate speaks of starts simply with keeping players in a routine during an extremely rigorous season (the Wolverines played as far away as Springfield, Massachusetts), but also means Smith knows when to punish his players for violating team rules. After nine players left their shoes on the court after defeating Proviso East for the 4A title, Smith promptly suspended them for the first game of next season. In February, Smith suspended five players for two crucial games during the teams run in the Chicago Public League playoffs. He commands respect from his players, they give it to him unflinchingly, and more often than not it turns into state titles.

With his ability to keep players in line (perhaps he could have been the mentor Jereme Richmond needed) and his deep roots in the Chicago Public League, Smith at least deserves to be in the conversation for a position at Illinois in some capacity. Its unclear, however, if he would be willing to accept a position as an assistant. Either way, Smith has made it clear that he is confident he has the tools and the know-how to restore the waning Illini basketball program.

As Smith himself put it, Lets take a chance on this guy and see what could happen.

Week 5 Big Ten previews: Michigan meets Badgers in top-10 showdown

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Week 5 Big Ten previews: Michigan meets Badgers in top-10 showdown

Another week, another titanic Big Ten showdown featuring the Wisconsin Badgers.

Now up to the eighth-ranked team in the country following their dominating performance in a big win over Michigan State, the Badgers make another trip to the Great Lakes State this weekend for another battle with a top-10 team. Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines await, and though their schedule hasn't been as tough as many, they're playing as well as any team in the country right now on both sides of the ball.

It's another much-anticipated bout. But will it live up to the hype?

Here's a look at the entire Week 5 slate in the Big Ten. All games are on Saturday, Oct. 1, and as always all times are Central.

Northwestern at Iowa, 11 a.m., ESPN U

It's clear Iowa has yet to get back on track after that Week 3 loss to North Dakota State. Last weekend's win against Rutgers was an ugly one short on scoring and won thanks mostly to a fourth-quarter fumble that swung momentum and set up the game-winning score for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has to find away to get its offense cooking again after getting out-gained last week and mustering just 355 yards of offense. And that was against Rutgers. It'll be even more challenging now that No. 1 wide receiver Matt VandeBerg is sidelined for the foreseeable future. And on the defensive side of the ball, the Hawkeyes need to find a way to slow the run. They allowed 193 rush yards to Rutgers after allowing 239 to North Dakota State — and Northwestern has one of the Big Ten's best backs in Justin Jackson.

Northwestern, meanwhile, takes a trip to always-imposing Kinnick Stadium at a bad time. Just 1-3 through the season's first four games, the Cats are making mistakes left and right. Gifted two goal-line fumbles in last weekend's game against Nebraska, Northwestern couldn't do anything with them and lost by double digits. But that was just one of many screw-ups, with missed kicks, penalties, turnovers and a defense that was shredded for 556 yards shouldering plenty of the blame, too. Pat Fitzgerald vowed to get things fixed. We'll see how much progress he's made in just one week.

Rutgers at No. 2 Ohio State, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

The Buckeyes finally get to open conference play following a bye week last weekend. Ohio State has looked as good as any team in the nation, and that No. 2 ranking is a good indication of that. J.T. Barrett, Curtis Samuel, Mike Weber and now Noah Brown — who you might remember had four touchdown catches against Oklahoma — form one dangerous offensive unit. But it's that defense, currently coordinated by former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano and formerly coordinated by current Rutgers head coach Chris Ash, that's making the biggest impression, ranked ninth and 14th in the country in scoring defense and total defense, respectively.

Rutgers will have to figure out how to do something against that tremendous defense, and that is made much, much harder without Janarion Grant. The Knights' top playmaker was knocked out for the season after suffering an injury last weekend against Iowa. Grant took a pass and ran 77 yards inside the Hawkeyes' five-yard line, but that was the last explosive play he made in the game and the last one he'll make this season. The offensive cabinet isn't completely bare, however. Robert Martin is currently the Big Ten's leading rusher with 358 yards in three games.

Purdue at Maryland, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

It's been quite the start for DJ Durkin at Maryland, and though his undefeated season probably won't last too deep into Big Ten play, it certainly could last past this weekend with lowly Purdue on the schedule. The Terps have quietly been one of the country's best running teams through the season's first four weeks, racking up 800 yards in three games for a 266.7-yards-per-game average that ranks 11th in the FBS. A fleet of running backs has been getting the job done, with no member of what's being described as a "five-headed monster" ranking in the top 10 in rushing in the conference.

That's not great news for the Boilermakers, who rank next to last in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing an average of 387.7 total yards each week. But there is the slightest bit of momentum in West Lafayette after last weekend's win over Nevada, Darrell Hazell's second win over a non-conference FBS opponent in 11 tries as Purdue head coach. And thankfully for the Boilers, they have a potent rushing weapon of their own. Markell Jones had just 47 yards in a loss to Cincinnati, but his 105.3 rush yards per game rank third in the Big Ten.

No. 8 Wisconsin at No. 4 Michigan, 2:30 p.m., ABC

The Badgers are banged up heading into this weekend's biggest game, there's no doubt about that. Already down linebacker Chris Orr for the season, Wisconsin this week announced that kicker Rafael Gaglianone will also miss the remainder of the campaign, and a Thursday report indicated star linebacker Vince Biegel will miss this game and some more following foot surgery. That being said, the Badgers' defense has been absolutely terrific through four games, all wins, two of which came against top-10 teams. After keeping Michigan State out of the end zone last weekend and holding the Spartans to just 75 rushing yards, Wisconsin ranks seventh in the country in scoring defense (11.8 points a game) and 12th in total defense (277 yards a game). The Badgers intercepted quarterback Tyler O'Connor three times and scored on a 66-yard fumble-return touchdown.

Thing is, Michigan's offense has been sensational so far this season. The competition hasn't been, necessarily, but that hasn't stopped quarterback Wilton Speight, an elite corps of pass-catchers and a seemingly unending stream of ball-carriers from piling up 208 points on 1,871 yards in four blowout wins. The Wolverines rank fourth in the country in scoring offense after last weekend's 49-10 pasting of Penn State. Five different running backs combined for six rushing touchdowns in that one, while Speight has nine touchdowns on the season.

Wisconsin has its own noteworthy quarterback after Alex Hornibrook impressed in his first career start against Michigan State. His stat line wasn't outrageous, but he made some mighty impressive plays, dropping passes into his receivers' hands and threading numerous needles. He also led the Badgers to an excellent 9-for-18 mark on third and fourth downs. Teamed with receivers Jazz Peavy and Robert Wheelwright and tight end Troy Fumagalli, the Wisconsin passing attack might finally be something to be reckoned with along with the Badgers' usually dominant run game, this year featuring another star in Corey Clement, who's scored five touchdowns in the three games he's played.

Finally, though, that Michigan defense has been every bit as good as Wisconsin's. In fact, the Wolverines place even higher in the national rankings when it comes to total defense, ranking 12th with 269.8 yards allowed per game. They're not too shabby in scoring defense, either, not far behind the Badgers at No. 13 with 13.8 points surrendered per game. Last weekend's effort vs. Penn State was a smothering one, Michigan allowing just 10 points on 191 total yards, forcing a pair of turnovers and sacking quarterback Trace McSorley six times. With so many playmakers on that side of the ball for the Wolverines, you wonder if the Badgers will be able to keep up on the scoreboard.

Illinois at No. 15 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m., ESPN 2

The Huskers are coming off another win and vaulted into the top 15 thanks to their perfect 4-0 record. That record is expected to move to 5-0 when they welcome in Illinois on Saturday. Nebraska continued to light it up on offense in last weekend's win, two goal-line fumbles erasing 14 points against Northwestern that would've made the score far more indicative of the way the Huskers shredded the Wildcat defense. Tommy Armstrong's fused rushing and passing numbers looked like this vs. Northwestern: 378 yards and a touchdown. That's a week after he had five total touchdowns in the win over Oregon. Along with Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Armstrong is the class of the position in the conference.

Meanwhile, the Illini haven't played in two weeks but still have the awful taste of that blowout loss to Western Michigan lingering. After throttling an FCS opponent in their first game of the season, the Illini have been outscored, 82-33, with the defense surrendering almost 900 combined yards of offense in two losses, both coming at home. Illinois gained a shocking three rushing yards — three! — against Western Michigan. With all that pressure on Wes Lunt, it'll be tough to navigate the challenging Nebraska secondary, which has nine interceptions on the season, one off the national lead.

Minnesota at Penn State, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

The Gophers are flying pretty high, averaging nearly 40 points a game in their three wins. Now, wins over Oregon State, Indiana State and Colorado State do not a title contender make, but give plenty of credit to Minnesota's offense, which has looked more than just capable this season, it's been downright prolific. The Gophers are averaging 228.3 yards per game rushing, with just one Big Ten team scoring more rushing touchdowns, and that's Michigan, which scored six last weekend.

And who did those six rushing touchdowns come against? Penn State, making this week's matchup not a good one for the Nittany Lions. They looked just miserable against the Wolverines, and while the Gophers are not the Wolverines, they can provide similar challenges for a defense that has failed multiple times at stopping the run this season. Penn State was gashed for 341 rushing yards in a loss to Pitt and gave up 326 rushing yards in the loss to Michigan. It could be another headache of a day trying to slow the running back combo of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brook plus quarterback Mitch Leidner.

No. 17 Michigan State at Indiana, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network

If any team could use a blowout win, it's Michigan State, which still remains a bit of an unknown a week after getting dominated on both sides of the ball by Wisconsin. Thing is, a week earlier the Spartans looked terrific in a road win at Notre Dame. The Irish haven't helped Sparty's cause, losing to Duke last weekend, and Mark Dantonio's squad has a Jekyll-and-Hyde element to it through only three games. Best way to fix that? Beat Indiana. The Spartans' defense would be the key to that after Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow threw five interceptions last weekend, but can that unit play well down a pair of starting linebackers? Jon Reschke will miss this week and beyond, while Riley Bullough could still be out following his surprising sit-out last weekend.

Lagow, despite the turnovers, showed last weekend that Indiana's passing attack is still as explosive as ever, passing for a school-record 496 yards in the loss to Wake Forest. The problem there is "the loss to Wake Forest," and those five picks played a big role in it. Michigan State's defense is a good one, when healthy — which it isn't expected to be this weekend — but between Lagow and his new big-play connection in Nick Westbrook and a reliable running attack with Devin Redding out of the backfield, there's no reason the Hoosiers can't score some points in this one. And Spartans quarterback Tyler O'Connor pitched three interceptions against Wisconsin, good news for an Indiana defense that's played better this season than in seasons past.

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Week 4

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Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Week 4

The CSN Chicago fantasy crew looks ahead to Week 4 in the NFL and gives their take on which players should start in your lineup and which players should remain on your bench. Host Slavko Bekovic with Scott Krinch and Ryan McGuffey.

Listen to the latest Fantasy Football Fix Podcast.