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Illinois needs a real football coach: His name is Bobby Petrino

Tim Beckman had two above-average seasons Toledo before coming Illinois. | Seth Perlman~AP

Tim Beckman had two above-average seasons at Toledo before coming to Illinois. | Seth Perlman~AP

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Updated: December 13, 2012 10:37AM

It’s a simple question directed at the Illinois football program: What do you want to be?

You are a laughingstock. You have mastered embarrassment.

The Big Ten is evolving, yet the Illini still are struggling with the concepts of fire and the wheel when it comes to football. That’s what the hiring of Tim Beckman was. Illinois grabbed a hot coach from the Mid-American Conference, then basked in how smart it would look in three years.

One problem: Beckman’s sample size was two above-average seasons at Toledo.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten coaching bar was set in Columbus when Ohio State hired Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes are unbeaten after a disastrous 2011 season in which they lost seven games.

It’s not a coincidence. College football is about the coach as much as the recruits. When Illinois is serious about having a real program, there is one person to call.

Alabama’s Kirby Smart is out of its range. Former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino isn’t.

Sure, you have to get past the skinned nose and the neck brace at the news conference and all the visuals dealing with motorcycles. But beyond that, Petrino is an elite coach with SEC pedigree who’s looking for a second chance. He likely will get one soon if the Illini don’t act.

And please save the moral high ground about Petrino’s recent troubles or the idea that it’s too soon to bring him back into coaching. He eventually will get a job. That’s the business. Cut through the process, hire him now and do so with a contract that calls for him to pay money back if he leaves to go elsewhere or has any incidents deemed embarrassing.

What do you want to be, Illinois? It’s a simple question.

◆ This would be the best seeding for the eight-team playoff that college football should have had up and running by now (ineligible teams included): 1. Oregon, 2. Alabama, 3. Kansas State, 4. Ohio State, 5. Notre Dame, 6. Florida State, 7. Georgia, 8. LSU.

Players of the week

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: There were players all over the place who had bigger numbers than “Johnny Football,’’ who threw for 253 yards and ran for 92. But none of them beat Alabama.

DE Meshak Williams, Kansas State: The Wildcats stayed in the BCS title-game picture as Williams had a team-high seven tackles, three tackles for a loss and two sacks in the victory over TCU.

Big number

1987 The last, and only other time, that a freshman quarterback beat the Associated Press’ top-ranked team on the road. Manziel pulled it off Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Key games Saturday

Stanford at Oregon, 7 p.m.,
Ch. 7: Very little stands in the way of the Ducks and an invitation to the BCS title game, and Stanford is it.

Ohio State at Wisconsin,
2:30 p.m., Ch. 7: Otherwise known as the “Bad Blood Bowl.’’ Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is one of several Big Ten coaches who have whined about Urban Meyer’s recruiting tactics.

USC at UCLA, 2:05 p.m.,
Fox-32: It still matters in California … and for those programs that like to deflate footballs during games.

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