Posted on: November 21, 2010 4:36 am

What I learned from the Big Ten (Nov. 20)

Posted by Adam Jacobi

1. Wisconsin fans shouldn't necessarily buy tickets to Pasadena, but they should at least be pricing them. We're sure that Badger fans weren't terribly excited to see their nemeses in East Lansing complete the comeback today, leaving the Big Ten title picture still in some measure of doubt, but Ohio State 's own comeback against Iowa later that day means that barring a sensational boost in the BCS rankings for the Buckeyes, Wisconsin is one win away from the Rose Bowl. Considering Northwestern -- the Badgers' last opponent -- clearly misses injured QB Dan Persa and struggles to stop the run, the likelihood of an upset at Camp Randall seems slim. Famous last words, yes, but still.

2. Don't mention fourth quarters to Iowa fans for a while. Or do if you want to anger them. In the Hawkeyes' game against Ohio State, the Buckeyes weathered Iowa's defense for three quarters before making a heroic drive in the last few minutes of the game to take the lead and win. For the Iowa fans, it was a broken record that desperately needs to stop; in each of Iowa's four losses, the vaunted Iowa defense has given up a go-ahead touchdown with less than five minutes on the clock, at which point the Iowa offense has failed to answer under pressure. In fact, Iowa would have five losses of that exact nature if Indiana wideout Damario Belcher hadn't dropped an easy fourth-down touchdown two weeks ago. It's to the point where "small sample size" just doesn't work as an excuse anymore: the Iowa defense clearly doesn't have the juice to play for 60 minutes, and that painful fact has snuffed out the high hopes of the Hawkeye faithful in Iowa City.

3. The Spartans might not be going to the Rose Bowl, but their season's pretty special anyway. Barring an Ohio State loss to Michigan next week, Michigan State will not be going to Pasadena; the fact that MSU and OSU didn't play each other this season means that their tiebreaker would be BCS ranking, and OSU was already comfortably ahead of the Spartans even before OSU took down a ranked Iowa team while MSU struggled with very-not-ranked Purdue. Michigan State's season-ender at Penn State isn't a gimme, but even if the Spartans lose, this is still just the third time in program history that MSU has hit 10 wins on a season (1965, 1999). The Spartans have never won 11 games in a season, and they have two opportunities to do that now.

The accomplishment isn't that much of a stunner, as the Spartans looked on paper to be at worst a darkhorse contender for the league title. It's just, well, they barely ever do this, so it was hard not to wonder how MSU would screw it all up this year. But credit Mark Dantonio and his staff for keeping the team on track, even through Dantonio's heart attack and other off-field problems, and en route to its best Big Ten record its best conference record in at least 11 (and maybe 45) years.

4. Okay, so football at Wrigley can be pretty cool -- even if one of the end zones is sort of a death trap. The Big Ten got it right when it forbade Illinois and Northwestern to run offensive series toward that now-infamous east end zone at Wrigley, and when Northwestern defensive back Brian Peters took an interception to the house, he had to be tackled by teammates before hitting that wall. No, he wasn't three yards away from certain doom, and the tackle by his pals was also nice and celebratory, but still: he was only about three or four yards away from impact before being taken down as he slowed from his sprint. Running offensive plays (like fade routes) toward that wall would have been just begging for injuries -- and lawsuits.

But past that, the fans in attendance got to see a special occasion, even if Illinois absolutely worked the Wildcats. Wrigley Field is one of the most hallowed sports arenas, and to see its famed scoreboard used to show Big Ten football scores and its marquee painted purple must have been a thrill for Northwestern and Big Ten fans in Chicago. Ron Zook said he'd "absolutely" have his team play there again, and Pat Fitzgerald was equally effusive in his praise of the event. Should the two teams play their rivalry game there every year? Well, that seems like an abuse of the novelty of it all, but have you ever actually seen Memorial Stadium or Ryan Field? Not exactly cathedrals of the sport, those. It might -- just might -- be worth keeping Wrigley on the table going forward.

Posted on: November 20, 2010 7:29 pm

Football at Wrigley: Let's play two

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Going in to Saturday's game between Northwestern and Illinois at Wrigley Field, all the talk surrounded the way the field was situated inside the stadium, and the fact that both offenses would move towards the west end zone due to safety concerns about the right field wall located directly behind the east end zone.

Because of all this, people were saying that the first football game to be played at Wrigley Field would probably be the last.  After seeing Illinois beat Northwestern 48-27, I'm not sure that should be the case.  Were there some odd circumstances surrounding this game?   Of course, when you're playing inside a 96-year old baseball stadium, things are going to get a bit weird.

The truth is, though, that once the game kicked off, there wasn't anything all that different from a game that had been played in Champaign or Evanston. Fact is, there may not have been as many people in the seats had this game been played at either school's home stadium.  Chicago is a big city, with a large contingent of college football fans. Fans that, for the most part, don't have much of a college football selection to choose from in town.  The most popular team in the city, Notre Dame, plays it's games over two hours away from the city.

So having this game at Wrigley Field, in a city that many Northwestern and Illinois students and alumni call home, gave those fans a chance to see a game and sleep in their own bed that night.

Besides, did having both teams move towards the west -- The Manifest Destiny Bowl -- really hurt the game?  Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald didn't seem to think so.

"I don't know how it looked on television," said Fitzgerald.  "It didn't affect the flow of our game."

There's no doubt that Illinois running back Mikel LeShoure would want to play in Wrigley one again, either.  The Illinois running back brought back memories of Gale Sayers running around Wrigley Field, rushing for 330 yards and two touchdowns.

LeShoure would love to come back next season.  "I think it'd be fun," he said. "Especially after this game."

I can't help but agree with him.
Posted on: November 20, 2010 6:10 pm
Edited on: November 20, 2010 6:14 pm

The east end zone remains a mystery

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Does it make me a bad person if I'm somewhat disappointed that nobody has run into the right field wall at Wrigley Field?  We're through three quarters of action, with Illinois leading 34-24, and there hasn't been a single concussion caused by that wall.  Not even a bruise!

Considering all the hoopla surrounding the wall in the week leading up to this game, it seems only right that somebody should get hurt because of it and allow everyone in the media a moment of "See?  I told you so!"  Yes, we have had a touchdown scored in the dark and mysterious east end zone, thanks to an interception return by Northwestern's Brian Peters, but I want to know if he was scared.

At any point, while streaking down the sideline, did he think to himself "Slow down, Brian.  That wall is coming up quick."  Did he not care?  Did he consider stepping out of bounds at the 1-yard line just to be safe?

These are questions that the world needs answered.

Another question I'd like like to ask Peters following the game: did Mikel LeShoure have a sign that said "I'm a brick wall" taped on his chest, because your defense sure treated him like he did.  

If Mikel LeShoure ran full speed into that brick wall, could it stop him? 

We've still got 15 minutes to go in this game and LeShoure has 230 yards and two touchdowns. The Illini have 366 rushing yards as a team.  Unless that wall starts playing defense for the Wildcats, this one may be over.
Posted on: November 20, 2010 5:02 pm
Edited on: November 20, 2010 5:03 pm

Fans enjoying the Wrigley atmosphere

Posted by Tom Fornelli

You know, if it wasn't for the football field inside Wrigley Field, the fact that the weather is a bit chilly, and that fans are clad in orange and purple instead of the usual blue and red, you might forget that there's a football game going on instead of a baseball game.  Make no mistake about it, the fans in attendance are still having a good time, and it doesn't feel all that different from a Cubs-Cardinals game in July.

I don't even think the Northwestern faithful realize their team is losing, just that if they do, they don't seem to care all that much.  The party rages on in the seats.  I decided to go out amongst the masses and see if I could get a feel for what folks felt about coming to Wrigley Field to watch a football game, and how it was different.

Most people rushed by saying things like "It's awesome!" or "Go Cats!" Seems that Northwestern's heralded Medill School of Journalism only teaches its students how to ask questions, not answer them.  Still, after some time I got lucky.

I saw one Illinois fan standing alone on an ramp, waiting for a buddy to get back from the washroom.  He was in blue jeans and a blue hooded sweatshirt with the orange Illinois on the front.  He told me his name was Kevin, and that he's a senior down in Champaign.  

"So what's the biggest difference between seeing an Illinois game here at Wrigley compared to Memorial Stadium in Champaign?," I asked Kevin.

"Beer!  They serve beer here!"

It seemed Kevin has been served very well so far, so I asked him if anything else felt different, aside from the free-flowing nectar of the gods.

"No, not really."

I then began walking around the concourse and found a man in a Northwestern windbreaker who told me his name was Steve.  I asked him the same question I'd asked Kevin, except this time about the difference between Wrigley and Ryan Field.

"I've never been to Ryan Field."

"So you only came because the game is at Wrigley?"

"Yeah.  I live out in Aurora, so don't have much of a chance to get to the home games, but I didn't want to pass this up."

The next most sensible person to talk to, in my opinion, was somebody who was here all the time.  So I talked to an usher name Keith outside the press box what the biggest difference between working a Cubs game and this game had been.

"A lot more college kids.  Usually they're out in the bleachers or in the lower decks, but they're everywhere today."

"What question do you get asked the most?"

"Oh, that's easy. 'Where's the bathroom?'  That's been the same today as during any Cubs game.  When I write a book it'll be called 'Next Aisle Over'."

No matter who is playing on the field, beer goes through us all just the same.
Posted on: November 20, 2010 2:52 pm
Edited on: November 20, 2010 2:52 pm

Odd setting here at Wrigley

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Growing up in Chicago, I've been to Wrigley Field many times in my life.  Mostly for Cubs games, but I've seen a Chicago Blackhawks game here as well. As amazing as that spectacle was, walking into the stadium and seeing a goalpost, is a bit startling, and when you set your eyes upon the chalked outline of a football field, and see a giant purple "N" in the middle, your immediate reaction is to think you've shown up at the wrong place.

You're not, but honestly, sitting here about an hour before game time, I'm still not convinced I am in the right place.

It just doesn't feel right to me.  Maybe it's the fact that only one end zone is technically in play, with the east end zone being so close to the brick wall in right field that both schools and the Big Ten deemed it a safety hazard.  Judging by that photo, you can see why.

Still, walking down around on the field, you feel like you're more at an event than at an actual football game.  It's more surreal than anything else, particularly when you're sitting in the press box dining room and ESPN analyst Bob Davie just sits down across from you to eat a hot dog. You don't know whether to say hi or to provide color analysis on the way he's eating the hot dog.

So far, the dining room has been the most popular place as fans just started filing in a little while ago, and it's been mostly media inside the stadium since the Gameday crew left.  I'm having a hard time figuring out what the media craves more: the access to the game, or the free food that comes with it.

As for the game itself, it seems to be playing second-fiddle to Wrigley Field.  Not something all that unexpected considering the history of the Friendly Confines -- emphasis on the Confines this weekend. I can only wonder if that will change once Illinois and Northwestern finally kick off.
Posted on: November 19, 2010 6:24 pm

Saturday Meal Plan: Week 12

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.

We're less than a week away from Thanksgiving, and apparently the NCAA has taken that into consideration with this week's schedule.  It seems they're kind enough not to give us anything too heavy this weekend so that we're able to gorge ourselves to death on Thursday.

The NCAA: always concerned about the fan and their digestive limitations.


Main Course - Michigan vs. #6 Wisconsin - Noon - ESPN

Listen, people, if Bret Bielema can put up 83 points on Indiana, then surely he can do the same against a Michigan defense that has been the polar-opposite of stout this season.  I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Badgers shoot for 100 this weekend.

First of all, they need a win a win to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive, and second of all, the Badgers have some BCS computers to impress.  What's more impressive than 100 points?

There's also the fact that Bielema has already gotten Tim Brewster fired this season, and may have added Bill Lynch to his tally last week as well.  Why wouldn't he take a shot at Rich Rodriguez?

Side Orders: Not much else of importance on Saturday morning, but there are options.  Oklahoma State goes to Kansas looking to stay atop the Big 12 South division, and West Virginia will try to keep its slim BCS hopes alive on the road against Louisville.   There's also the battle of North Carolina when the Tar Heels take on N.C. State.   Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Michigan State looks to maintain its spot on top of the Big Ten hosting Purdue.


Main Course - #21 Iowa vs. #8 Ohio State - 3:30pm - ABC

We have a couple of games featuring ranked teams during the afternoon, but in my opinion, this one should grab top-billing.  Iowa saw its chances at winning the Big Ten ruined by Northwestern last week, so what could be better for the Hawkeyes than to ruin Ohio State's chances?

After all, it was Ohio State that beat the Hawkeyes last season and ended their hopes of going to the Rose Bowl, so why not return the favor?

If nothing else, it's just another chance for Ricky Stanzi to spread the message of loving America and hating hippies throughout the country.

Side Orders: The other ranked game this afternoon features Miami and Virginia Tech.   Miami has a very slim chance to win the ACC Coastal division, but in order to keep those hopes alive, they have to knock off a Hokies team that's won eight straight since dropping that game to James Madison.    There's also some Les Miles fun on the mothership when LSU hosts Ole Miss, and seriously, after all that's gone on surrounding the game, how can you not tune in to Illinois and Northwestern at Wrigley Field?  I'll be at that game witnessing the insanity from the press box.


Main Course - Maryland vs. Florida State - 8pm - ABC

The game that would decide the ACC Atlantic! 

Who saw this one coming?  Essentially, the winner of this game will be going to the ACC Championship Game in a few weeks.  Now, while seeing Florida State in this position doesn't come as much of a shock, the fact that Maryland is here is rather surprising.

Though that's just the way the ACC rolls these days.  One minute you're terrible, and then the next you still aren't very good, but you're good enough.  Seriously the ACC should adopt the motto of "Hey, at least we aren't the Big East!"

Side Orders: If ranked teams are more your thing, then you can check out Texas A&M and Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers look to hold on to their ticket to Dallas while the Aggies -- who have done a 180 this season -- still want a chance to buy one.  Mississippi State and Arkansas will be going at it in Starkville as well.  Also, if you're into football games being played in baseball stadiums that use two end zones, Notre Dame and Army continue their annual rivalry on Saturday night, but this time from Yankee Stadium.  Show up and chant Derek Jeter's name for no reason!

Late Night Snack

Utah has not had a good November.  One week its getting pasted by TCU at home, and the next it's getting beat up on the road by a mediocre Notre Dame team missing half of its offense. Now they get to take on a San Diego State team that played TCU much better than the Utes did.
Posted on: November 19, 2010 11:22 am
Edited on: November 19, 2010 11:25 am

Only one endzone to be used at Wrigley

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Earlier this week we posted a couple of photos that showed how snug a fit the football field inside Wrigley Field for this week's game between Northwestern and Illinois was.  I had mentioned that there was no amount of padding that could be placed on the brick walls in the east end zone that would save a player should he run full-speed into them.

Seems that both schools have figured this out as well.  Now, it's too late to move the game back to Northwestern's campus, so they've decided on the next best thing.

Only one end zone will be used during the game on Saturday.

This was first reported on Waddle and Silvy, a Chicago radio show, and was confirmed on the show by Illinois SID Kent Brown.  Brown said that the Big Ten plans on confirming the news on Friday afternoon.  Essentially, with player safety in mind, the two schools came to an agreement that all offensive drives will head with teams heading towards the west end zone -- home plate -- rather than the east, because there is more room behind the end zone there.

So it looks like Saturday's game at Wrigley Field will be a bit more unique than any of us expected.

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein
Posted on: November 17, 2010 2:39 pm

Fitzgerald: Wildcats planning for Wrigley

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

By now, you've probably seen the photos out of Wrigley Field as it prepares to host this weekend's Northwestern -Illinois game, and in all likelihood you've followed up with some kind of "guess they won't be running many deep routes on that end of the field" joke. Of course, all joking aside, it appears that the Arena-league-style lack of sideline behind the east end zone -- on a field much, much larger than Arena League regulations -- could be a major injury hazard if the teams aren't very aware of their surroundings when driving towards that right-field wall.

The good news is that Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald is aware of the situation , at least, and really isn't planning on running deep routes in that end of the field:

"It will definitely be a factor," Fitzgerald said on "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000. "I don't think we're going to be trying to run a lot of go routes. It's a recipe for disaster.

"We talked already about [having a] 'Going-east red-zone game plan', [and a] 'Going-west red-zone game plan.' You have to adjust to it. It's kind of like having the elements, whether it's rainy or snowy or windy, sometimes you have to adjust your game plan."

The game promises to be a huge moneymaker and attention-getter for a Wildcat program that has always struggled to make a dent in the Chicago sports consciousness, so it's no surprise that Fitzgerald is ready to make some excuses for the layout and celebrate what does promise to be a unique experience for his team and the Wildcat fans on Saturday. But there's a big, big difference between a little bit of wind and a brick wall only a few feet from the playing field; put simply, the former's not going to concuss anyone. It's also not like this was some kind of unforeseen problem :

A spot near the southwest corner of the field is about 6 feet from a padded brick wall.
Cubs president Crane Kenney called that a "pinch point" and said the team could not bulldoze it down to create more space.

"The brick wall is a landmarked feature," he said, "so that's not coming down."
Said NU athletic director Jim Phillips said. "We had risk managers out here. We had civil engineers, safety engineers. We had so many people look at it because nobody wants to put the student-athletes in harm's way.
"We vetted it through all the experts at both universities and felt like everybody was comfortable with the dimensions."

This sounds fine today. But if the constricted dimensions of the Wrigley layout lead to any injuries on Saturday, it will be well worth asking if "everybody was comfortable" because they actually were comfortable with them or if they overrode the discomfort in the name of squeezing the game into the venue. We should all hope that when Fitzgerald swears not to risk running players full-speed into the back of that end zone, he means it.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com