The 90 Illini And Beyond

Jun 10, 2020

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I'll be honest - I haven't felt like writing very much. Or tweeting. With all that's going on in the world, some "here's what I think about a football thing" article or a tweet about future basketball schedules would feel out of place. As a result, I've written two posts in the last 10 days and have really tweeted since May 28th. All I've really done during this time on Twitter is retweet what a few Illini voices (Ayo Dosunmu, Ashton Washington) have been saying.

It's not that I haven't been on Twitter. According to my iPhone, my screen time was up 38% last week. I'm doing a whole bunch of reading - just not doing any writing.

As a result, I missed the beginning of the window for my yearly "90 Illini" countdown. I originally wasn't sure if I should even do it this year given the uncertainties around the season, but with momentum moving towards the college football season actually happening, I do plan to write it. Sunday was 90 days until the season (which is when I start the series), and I thought Sunday would be a good time to start it, but writing still felt off. So I stepped away for another 48 hours.

This is a lot of words to say "haven't written much, it didn't feel right, there's never a good time to start after a break like this but maybe tomorrow is the time".

Let's talk about the 90 Illini. I always want to make sure people remember that this is something I blatantly stole.

The first year of the blog was 2009. That summer, Bob Asmussen was doing a countdown of the 50 most important Illini players in the News-Gazette. This countdown would run until the first day of Camp Rantoul. I didn't agree with Bob's list, so I started a series I called "Dear Bob, You're Doing It Wrong". Yes, really.

A few comments on that series. First, the formatting is all screwed up on the posts we brought over from alioneye dot com to illiniboard dot com. But, at least they still exist. Two, it's funny to go back and see things written by "Critical Mass". I didn't use my name for the first year and a half because I was trying to keep my real job and my fake job completely separate. On Twitter it was just "ALionEye" and on the blog it was just "Critical Mass".

The next year I changed it to include all scholarship players plus a few walkons. That year, there were three walkons I thought would play so I called the series "The 88 Illini". (Formatting is better, writing is still bad.) The next year I expanded that to 89 and the following year it was just "The 90 Illini". I've done it every year since.

Actually, now that I type that, I don't think that's true. I believe I dropped it the year we went with subscriptions. I was doing it as a daily post back then (one post per day), and suddenly the series felt like clickbait. I put up a post every day to burn through your free reads and then BOOM you have to subscribe. I didn't want that, so I dropped the thing altogether.

There was then massive demand to bring it back the next year (maybe two people emailed me) so I decided to do it in chunks of 10. That way there's only three posts per month and nobody is burning through their free reads. That was hard to compile so I think the following year (2016) I went with one post every five days (with five players) and stuck with that for four years.

This year, I'm going back to one post per day. There's no subscriptions right now, so every post is free, and this is my "job" now which means I have all this extra time, so why not go with one player per day until the season starts?

At some point during those 90 (er, 87) days, after we get official word that there will be college football this fall, I'll dust off the subscription structure that was getting ready to launch on March 16th and put it back up. At that point, yes, the whole "one post per day" will be burning through your free reads. But given that this will be my income at that point (and not just a subscription structure to get my expenses covered), I won't feel the same guilt about clickbait that I felt in 2014. I mean, by then we'll probably only be weeks away from "top 7 Illini fails of all time OMG CLICK HERE CLICK HERE" posts as I try to actually make money.

To recap:

  1. The News-Gazette did this first and I totally stole it.
  2. I'm starting late so there's going to have to be a few doubled-up days to catch up.
  3. Subscriptions will probably happen at some point in the next 90 days so get ready for this series to feel like clickbait.

One final comment and then I'll publish something for the first time in a while and maybe start up Twitter again. This is easily the hardest 90 Illini list I've put together in the last 11 years. I always joke about agonizing over the final few spots (which is more or less which walkons get left out), but with several walkons expected to play key roles on special teams this year, the 2020 list will be the first time a scholarship player doesn't make The 90 Illini.

And it's not just overall numbers - it's also very hard to rank the players. This is the most I've ever struggled with it. Part of that is 26 seniors. I'll put a senior 52nd on the list and then think "wait, almost all seniors always play, so he needs to be higher", but I can't find players to move lower.

This doesn't necessarily mean much. If I did this for Ohio State, I'm sure I'd struggle like crazy to compile a list like this ("the five-star freshman is ranked SIXTY FIFTH?"). I'm just saying that this is something I've done ten times now, and this is the deepest list by far. (Which makes sense - it's the most experienced team of the last 10 years.)

The 90 Illini. Starting tomorrow. Hopefully leading up to a full, 12-game season. Actually, it better be 13. Do I hear 14?


Nashvegas Illini on June 10, 2020 @ 11:04 AM

Hey Robert. I appreciate you and any other person that feels the weight of this moment. As a human first but also as a 40 year old black man I feel horrible for the world that my kids are inheriting. I don't know if this is the place to go thru any of this but I thank you anyone else that doesn't know how to feel but knows its not right.

Having said all that we still need you on that wall. To give us a momentary distraction from what we are going thru while helping us feel closer to something we love in Illini Athletics.

Lastly if anyone wants to talk about what they like or don't like about the protests or the Black Lives Matter organization please let me know. I am not an expert on it all but we need allies to change this. Only if when people look at each other as equals do we have a chance to change the world for the better.

Robert on June 10, 2020 @ 03:33 PM

Thanks for saying that, Nashvegas. That's been my struggle - when to restart the "momentary distractions" while still aware of the weight of the moment. I'm working on the first 90i post right now, so I hope the answer is today.

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