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You know the hallmarks.
A million emojis littering copied-and-pasted statuses. Sliding into your DMs even though you haven't talked to them since high school. Excited to sell you an essential oil that's supposed to help cure your asthma.
The Amazon documentary "LuLaRich" brought multi-level marketing -- MLMs for short, or more commonly known as pyramid schemes -- into the public consciousness, but they've always been around. I can remember my mom and aunts talking about Mary Kay parties when I was a child. Later, in high school, I knew some people who were deep in the PartyLite scheme. LipSense, doTerra, Scentsy -- the list goes on.
And they're all the same. The things they're hawking change, but the tactics are identical -- preying on the innocent, usually friends and family, with misdirection and the occasional hard sell. The products, predictably, are cheap and don't have the promised effect, but at that point you're already bought in and don't have much recourse, except to know better next time.
As I watched P.J. Fleck run down the sideline between the first and second quarter Saturday, it dawned on me -- he is a walking, talking MLM. The persona, the gimmicks, all of it. Nobody would be surprised if P.J. Fleck hit them up about some great Herbalife supplements he's been taking to boost his immune system.
Of course, when it works, it's great. One of the noteworthy things about the documentary on MLMs was that some of the people being interviewed were wise to the scheme but, since they were doing well, they weren't troubled enough to stop the grift. Minnesota fans surely love rowing the air boat and cheering as Fleck sprints out of the tunnel or down the sideline or on his treadmill at 4 a.m. or whatever. If Tim Beckman was consistently challenging for Big Ten West crowns, we'd all be eating lasagna right now.
The problem is, it has to work. If you're not one of the best grifters in the world, you eventually find yourself one of the more than 99 percent of MLM participants who lose money. It's called a pyramid scheme for a reason. If you're not first, you're last, Ricky Bobby.
Maybe Fleck has what it takes to stay at the top of the college football pyramid. In last week's Postscript, I said you don't have to like it, but you have to respect what the Golden Gophers have achieved under Fleck this season. Heading into Saturday's game, they were 6-2, nationally ranked and atop the Big Ten West standings. Perhaps Saturday was just a blip on the radar, and they can right the, er, boat en route to winning the division for the second time in three years.
When it doesn't work, though -- when the boat starts to take on water, or the grift loses some of its efficacy -- the world gets to see Blake Hayes snap an imaginary oar over his knee.
-There's an obsession, right or wrong, with figuring out a team's capital-i Identity.
It was a common refrain from the Lovie era. What was his team's Identity? The answer was, it didn't really have one, a cohesive one, anyway. On defense, I guess it was try to take the ball away. On offense, it was ... what? Run the ball with AJ Bush, but pass the ball with Brandon Peters? Shape your offense to your personnel and not the other way around? I don't think a direct line can be drawn between the lack of a true identity and the lack of success, but it was a talking point, at least.
Through five-sixths of Bret Bielema's first season, I think we can say they've established an identity. On defense, be aggressive but smart. On offense, run to pass. When it works, the two play off each other in a way the last regime didn't -- the offense grinds clock and avoids mistakes, as Robert noted over the weekend, and the defense bends but rarely breaks.
Here's hoping it works more often than it doesn't going forward, and we get more results like Saturday's.
-Did anybody make a better decision in the transfer portal than Owen Carney? After a breakout 2020 season, he's putting together an even better 2021 campaign. Six sacks and 36 tackles are both career highs, and there are two games still to be played.
-Another player really benefiting from Ryan Walters' defense is Sydney Brown, who Fleck likened to Troy Polamalu after the game. Bielema and company should be able to use Brown's freedom to make plays as a selling point to some defensive back recruits this week.
-One of the most interesting things that will come in the weeks after the season is how Bielema and Tony Petersen choose to try to replace Brandon Peters.
Peters was strong and efficient again Saturday, the second game in a row where he's looked like a different quarterback than the one who started the first half of the season. His being able to make good, quick decisions allows the offense to run more like Petersen, you assume, would like, and on both the first-half touchdown drives they used play-action to complete big passes.
That's the mold of a Bielema quarterback. It always has been. Scott Tolzien attempted 20.4 passes per game for the 2010 Wisconsin Badgers, a Rose Bowl team that went 11-2 and won a share of the conference title. When things are going as planned, the quarterback is a game manager who makes 90 percent of the throws he's expected to make and 10 percent of the throws he's not expected to make.
Who will that be? The transfer portal is so vast and fluid at this point that it's hard to even narrow in on who might be interested and would draw interest from the staff. I've given up on even looking at who's entered the portal because of all the variables that need to align for a guy to end up in Champaign.
I'll be fascinated to see who it is that they bring in, though, and how the position shapes up next spring.
-At this point, it's basically written in the stars that the Illini will slay another giant next week when they go on the road to Kinnick Stadium to face the Hawkeyes, then lose a heartbreaking rivalry game against Northwestern at home to fall short of bowl eligibility anyway. Don't get mad at me. I don't make the Illinois football rules.