The 90 Illini #49: Michael Marchese

Sep 23, 2020

I've been intentionally dragging my feet with posts on the site the last five days. My fear: subscribers struggling with login issues wouldn't be able to read the articles they were paying for. We completed a big long list of customer service tickets this evening, and we got through last night's thankfully brief "subscriptions aren't pairing with payments" crisis, but I still have this need to see that everything is 100% before I could feel comfortable. I just don't want a single "Robert I paid for your articles and I can't read your articles" email (although I know it's going to happen at some point).

And I'll probably say it in every post this week but I'm going to keep saying it: if you're having any issues, please email me ( or DM me on Twitter. Our system is this: If I can answer your question, I'll answer your question (the answer will be lengthy, but I'm me). I can talk you through most processes. If your concern is deeper than that, I make a ticket for Brumby (I put it on a list for him) and he takes care of it. I'm your point of contact, but he does everything. I'm just, like, the automated system that tries to help before sending you to the guy who solves all the issues.

I finally decided last night that I should just make all recent articles click-less until I feel comfortable with my personal No Subscriber Left Behind initiative. I want to write and not feel all of this anxiety about paying subscribers not getting what they paid for. I'm good at this, but I'm not very good at this.

And I do need to write. The backlog is growing. I have to finish The 90 Illini series, I have a few LLUOI posts that I haven't written, basketball season is coming, I need to write a 28,000-word football preview - there are a lot of words coming. Starting now.

Astute observers will note that I left off with this series at #53, Kyron Cumby. And now we're at.. #49? Yes, it's going to be The 87 Illini this year. Here's why:

Since we last visited this series (the 90 most important Illini players for this season), four of the next 52 players are no longer playing. I had already removed guys like Ricky Smalling (and bumped everyone up one spot, installing a walkon in the lowest spot still available). But that exercise exhausted most of the walkons that would still make sense (I can't take some freshman walkon wide receiver and put him 27th or something).

In the last month or so, we learned that:

  • Dawson DeGroot was opting out of the 2020 season.
  • Blake Jeresaty had shoulder surgery and will miss the season.
  • Louisville transfer TreSean Smith didn't make it to campus.
  • Juco transfer Lavar Gardner didn't make it either.

All four guys were going to be in the top 50. Gardner was going to be #50, while I had Jeresaty 23rd and TreSean Smith 19th. We're past the point where I can move everyone up one spot and insert a random walkon in the lowest spot, so I have no choice but to just skip over some spots. We did learn in the last month that Missouri transfer Khmari Thompson received his waiver, so I do have one player to add (I didn't have him on the list initially because he was going to be sitting out). That means I'm skipping over 52, 51, and 50 and restarting the series at #49 with... a walkon.

49. Michael Marchese

Uniform number: 42
Year in school: Senior (2 years to play 1)
Height: 6'-4" -- Weight: 210 lbs.
Hometown: Vernon Hills, Illinois
High School: Stevenson HS
Five best offers: N/A - was a walkon
Tom Cruise rating: N/A - was a walkon

2019 statistics: Played in 12 of the 13 games with five tackles and an interception.


Here's a fun fact. Career interceptions:

Nate Hobbs - 2
Michael Marchese - 2

That's not a shot at Hobbs or anything. It's more a "not many walkons have one interception, let alone two". I can remember both of them. One was in the Western Illinois game in 2018. And one was at UConn last year.

Which should tell you why I have Michael Marchese in my top-50. Yes, he's a walkon, and yes, walkons usually don't make the top-50 here, but he's played a lot of football in Champaign. And now he's a senior and looking to be a special teams superstar.

Remember, when that stat gets thrown out that 22 true freshmen played in 2017 (a ridiculous number), that was 21 scholarship freshmen plus one walkon freshman: Michael Marchese. He's been on nearly all kick coverage units for three years. And he's played a fair bit of safety, too.

2020 Outlook

There are questions at safety. Just today, Tony Adams said on the Zoom call that he had moved back to safety (which means the coaches are at "not sure if any of these guys can do it" with the other safeties not named Sydney Brown). So there are a lot of unknowns. Here's how I'd have the three-deep with Adams moving back there.

Sydney Brown | Kerby Joseph | Quan Martin
Tony Adams | Derrick Smith | Michael Marchese

So I think I really do need Michael Marchese hovering here right around #50, somewhere just outside the top-44 (which is the two-deep at 22 positions). Cornerback seems set, even with Adams moving to safety. I just removed TreSean Smith from my list, who I believe would have kept Tony Adams at corner, so yeah, safety is a concern (besides Syd The Kid).

My goal for Marchese his senior year: 10 special teams tackles (one a forced fumble) and one more interception.


PosterNB12 on September 23, 2020 @ 07:11 AM

Safety is by far the position that scares me the most. I recently bought a subscription to PFF’s college grades (recommended) and it was eye opening.

Of the returning defensive players who played 50 snaps last year, 4 of the 5 lowest graded defensive players were safeties (Sydney Brown, Kerby Joseph, Quan Martin, and Marchese). That also jives with my observations of us getting torched consistently in the middle of the field. Even more depressing is that Derrick Smith graded as Miami’s worst defender in 2018, with grades just as bad as Sydney Brown, including a brutal coverage grade.

The good news is that Tony Adams has good grade across the board, including at safety over the past two years (don’t buy the narrative he is better at CB).

But our safety play has been brutal, and we will need a massive improvement from whoever plays opposite Adams.

Separately, Robert I would love to see you with a weekly Nerdstat/game review column using PFFs grades/snap counts/etc.

IlliniBobLoblaw on September 23, 2020 @ 09:47 AM

Robert, you might consider eliminating some stress and dropping the player ranking aspect of "The 90 Illini", if not for the remainder of this season, then the next. I think most (all?) of us would be just as happy with your typical analysis in whatever order it comes. Plus, you're good, but is anyone really "this guy is definitely #7, not #8" good at ranking?

The other possibilities are endless: alphabetically, by two/three-deep projection, by birthday, by uniform number, by number of snaps played (or reverse), by hometown distance to campus, by random player generator, etc.

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