The 90 Illini #1: Chase Brown
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I know a guy in Louisiana. He knows absolutely nothing about Illini football. He is an Ole Miss grad and mostly pays attention to SEC stuff.
He sent me a text a few weeks ago, asking me "what's the one thing I need to know about Illini football this year?" That's easy. Our best offensive player is Chase Brown, and our best defensive player is his identical twin brother.
That is 2022 Illini football. That's the whole thing in one little bundle. If we're successful and we make it to a bowl, and there's a gathering of Ole Miss fans at some bar in Natchez the night of our bowl game, and they see the Illini on the TV above the bar, the thing they'll tell their friends is "you know, Illinois' two-best players are identical twins".
This is different from "Nick Smith is the tallest player in Illini history" or "Mike Tisdale is on a 6,000 calorie diet." Those are the tidbits announcers will repeat over and over. And yes, like last year, announcers will mention "you know, Sydney and Chase are identical twins". But this is different. This is The Thing About That Team. TTATT.
I can give you a lot of information about teams in the Big Ten West, but I don't know much about, say, some Big 12 or SEC team. For those teams, I basically only know their TTATT.
Arkansas? They have that great linebacker named Bumper Pool. South Carolina? Spencer Rattler transferred there from Oklahoma. Syracuse? Can they build around one great tailback and draw from Syracuse seasons of the past? Pitt? Pat Narduzzi mocked the playcalling of the offensive coordinator (the one who is now at Nebraska) after he delivered them a top-5 offense last season. Utah? They somehow didn't start Cam Rising at the beginning of last season, instead choosing their other QB for their first three games (meaning Rising, maybe one of the 10 best players in college football, was a second-stringer this time last season).
Illinois? Their best two players are identical twins from Canada. That's 2022 Illinois football. It just is. Isaiah Williams is probably the most talented player on the team (although Chase makes it close), and if we're being honest, having a quarterback who can make it all go (or not) is maybe the #1 concern here (meaning that Tommy DeVito might be the "most important"). But I'm a big believer in identity, and the identity of the 2022 Illini, to me, is simple.
We will go as far as the Brown twins can take us.
1. Chase Brown
Uniform number: 2
Year in school: Junior (without the Covid waiver, 1 year to play 1; with the Covid waiver, technically 2 years to play 2)
Height: 5'-11" -- Weight: 205 lbs.
Hometown: London, Ontario
High School: St. Stephen's Episcopal
Transfer from: Western Michigan
Five best offers: Indiana, Syracuse, UCF, Western Michigan, South Dakota
Tom Cruise rating:
2021 statistics: 170 carries for 1,005 yards and 5 touchdowns; 14 receptions for 142 yards.
This is the last one I'm writing, so this is the last time I get to go link the LLUOI article and take a peek at what I wrote. For Chase, I could do the evaluation in person because we learned that he had transferred to Illinois when he showed up at training camp in 2019, transferring in from Western Michigan to join his twin brother. I watched him that first weekend I visited training camp and here's what I wrote:
Yes, Sydney Brown's performance as a true freshman has a lot to do with why I'm excited about Chase Brown, but I really do think this kid has serious potential. I've only watched him take minor reps here and there (when you're a sit-out transfer, you're not going to get many reps because they need to prepare the players who can actually play), but from what I've seen, I'm really excited about this kid. As far as training camp surprises, I'd put him in the top five. Hey let's make a Training Camp Surprises list.
- Casey Washington has fantastic hands.
- Chase Brown looks like a legit Big Ten running back.
- Tarique Barnes might be ready to contribute at linebacker as a true freshman.
- Keith Randolph might be ready to play right away at defensive end.
- Jakari Norwood might be a thing at tailback in a few years.
And maybe a few more lines from that LLUOI because my fingers are tired of typing words and I still need to SOC tonight.
The trick here is to not give him the same Tom Cruises as his brother. This can't be a "seeing double" thing where "Sydney at safety = Chase at tailback". So give me a second to look up Sydney.... OK, 3.75 Tom Cruises. I still stand by that. Kinda wish I would have pushed it to four.
And I'll put Chase just below that. I think he's a big part of our running game in a few years. Epstein and Bonner graduate after 2020, so I'm looking for big contributions from Chase in 2021 and 2022.
Chase Brown - Three and a half Tom Cruises
Seems so dumb that I didn't give them the same Cruise rating. Should have done it. Because here we are in 2022 and I think they're the two most important players.
I wrote the running back part of the preview late at night and I don't have the best recollection of what I predicted but I think I said 2,000 yards from Brown + McCray was the stretch goal. Maybe that was on a podcast? The last two weeks are a blur.
But that's the stretch goal. Get Brown from 1,000 yards to 1,250 yards. Get McCray from 550 yards to 750 yards. And if they combine for more than 2,000 yards, our offense is back on track.
If they combine for 2,800, see you in Pasadena.