You're busy. I'm busy. So let's break down our midweek look at Big Ten football into bites you can consume one at a time or all at once.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman's job security:
Two years ago, Illinois finished seventh nationally in total defense. But after a six-game skid in the second half of the season, the Illini fired Ron Zook and hired Beckman from Toledo.
Beckman is known as a defensive specialist, having worked as a secondary coach under Jim Tressel at Ohio State and as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.
So why, as Illinois' Big Ten losing streak hits 19 games under Beckman, has the defense slipped to 54th nationally last season and 116th this season? Another clunker of a number: Beckman's specific position group — the secondary — has two interceptions, tied for second-to-last nationally.
Illinois was so inept last year, going 2-10, that Athletic Director Mike Thomas issued a statement near season's end that Beckman would get a second year.
Now, Thomas is getting more hot-seat queries as the Illini (3-6, 0-5) head toward a 20th consecutive Big Ten loss against No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday.
Thomas told the Chicago Sun-Times he won't talk about what-ifs or ultimatums.
“Is the program developing and getting better? I think it is,” Thomas said. “I'm looking forward to continuing progress in the program. (But) we don't want the streak to become the focus. I think we need to start winning football games.”
Unlike at some blueblood programs, money is an issue at Illinois.
Beckman is in the second year of a five-year deal worth $9 million. Also, the school already is paying three coaches Thomas fired in his first three months on the job. That buyout figure: more than $7 million.
If you really want to know Beckman's future, pay close attention Nov. 23 when Illinois plays at Purdue (1-8, 0-5). That needs to be a “W.”
Michigan's stagnant offense:
In the past two games, Michigan has snapped the ball 122 times. On 50.8 percent of those snaps, the result of the play has been no gain or minus yardage.
I had to count it twice to believe it myself.
Yet UM coach Brady Hoke continues to say he likes the play calling from offensive coordinator Al Borges.
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“Al and I meet twice a week to talk about the plan,” Hoke said. “Maybe I didn't handle (last) Tuesday's meeting as well as I could with the kids. Maybe there wasn't enough — I don't know — motivation. That's not a great answer, but that's what it is.”
Hoke told me Tuesday some credit must go to the Michigan State and Nebraska defenses. “At the same time,” he said, “we all have to take a big chunk of it.”
Wisconsin in the shadows:
Gary Andersen doesn't own a soapbox. Even if he did, the Badgers coach said Tuesday he wouldn't stand on it to brag about his team, which arguably is the most underrated in the country.
“That's not my style,” he said. “We're going to keep on grinding away. I know this is a good team, and we have an opportunity to be known as a great team.
“But we've got to go out on Saturdays and win. If we do that, we'll get the recognition we deserve.”
One of the losses for Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) involved a controversial finish at Arizona State, where an officiating decision prevented UW from attempting a potential game-winning 32-yard field goal. The other setback was 31-24 at No. 3 Ohio State.
The Badgers are in the mix for a Bowl Championship Series at-large spot. But they must rise to at least No. 14 in the BCS standings. This week, they are No. 22.
Minnesota avoids the big head:
Newfound success, like the kind Minnesota is experiencing this season, can lead to newfound cockiness.
But coach Jerry Kill, back on the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday for the first time in six weeks, praised his team (8-2, 4-2) for its level-headedness during the school's best run in 10 years.
“It's hard to describe,” Kill said. “From the coaching staff to the players, it's been a great group effort. Everybody has been good listeners to the coaches. There is a trust factor. It's been fun to see.”
Kill has put his ego aside while dealing with his epilepsy this season. He has worked from the press box since the Northwestern game, which was the start of the current four-game winning streak.
Having a veteran coaching staff — seven of Kill's inner circle have been together at least 13 years — helps immensely.
“We all said, 'Hey, it don't matter. We all want to win,' ” Kill said. “We're truly blessed to have our ties and all of us together for a period of time. It helps when you're turning a program around.”