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Tag:Illinois
Posted on: December 29, 2010 10:08 pm
 

Bowl Grades: Texas Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Ron Zook got the first bowl victory of his career as Illinois handed Baylor a 38-14 loss in Houston.

Illinois


Offense: This was likely Illinois' best all-around performance of the season since it beat Penn State, as both the offense and defense performed extremely well.  We already knew that Illinois could get the job done on the ground, but Nathan Scheelhaase showed everybody why he has such a bright future on Wednesday night.  The freshman completed 18-of-23 passes for 242 yards, while contributing 53 yards and a touchdown rushing.  Of course, 55 of those yards came on one play in the closing seconds as he kept the ball on a bootleg and nobody from Baylor followed him.  Still, as good as Scheelhaase was, Mikel LeShoure was the star of the show.  LeShoure rushed for 184 yards and 3 touchdowns to set the Illinois single season marks for yards in a season and touchdowns.  The Illini just had their way with Baylor all night long, racking up 533 total yards.  Grade: A

Defense: Illinois' defense hasn't gotten as much respect as it probably deserved this season thanks to some rough games against Michigan and Minnesota, but this unit isn't nearly as mediocre as most people think.  Case in point: On Wednesday night the Illini held a Baylor team that had averaged 32.6 points per game and 478.5 yards per game to 14 points.  Corey Liuget and the defensive line were in Robert Griffin's face all night, and most importantly, got off the field on third down, allowing Baylor to convert only two of ten third downs.  Grade: A

Coaching: After last season Ron Zook decided that if he wanted to keep his job and turn the Illinois program around he was going to have to start over.  So he overhauled his coaching staff and brought on Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning to run the offense and the defense.  Well, it paid off.  Zook has the first bowl win of his career thanks to the game plans his coordinators drew up to stop Baylor, and suddenly things are looking good in Champaign again.  Grade: A

Baylor


Offense: Robert Griffin is a remarkable kid. I feel the need to make this point because I'm sure a lot of college football fans don't get the chance to see Baylor play all that often, but I assure you, the Robert Griffin you saw tonight was not the Robert Griffin the Big 12 saw most of the season.  I'm not sure whether Baylor was nervous playing in its first bowl game in so long, but the Bears just didn't have it out of the gate on Wednesday night.  They showed some flashes on offense in the second half, but they were few and far between, and just not in time.  Any rhythm the team did pick up was quickly thrown off by penalties or bad decisions, and the Baylor offense that had shown up all season just never made its way to Houston.  Some of this has to be attributed to Illinois' defense, but Baylor didn't do itself any favors.  Grade: D

Defense: Was there that kid in your grade school that liked to beat up on younger, smaller kids during recess?  You know, the fifth grader with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove to the second grader?  Well, Illinois' offense was the fifth grader on Wednesday, and Baylor's defense was the second grader just lying on the ground hoping that a teacher would show up to break up the fight before he was dead.  You got the feeling that Illinois could have let Baylor know what it was going to do before every play and Baylor still couldn't have stopped it.  Grade: F

Coaching: There Baylor coaching staff isn't going to find much on the game film to be happy about when they get back to Waco.  It was just a bad night and the coaching staff deserves some of the blame for the Bears coming out so flat to start the game.  Still, considering what Art Briles has done at Baylor during his three years, and where this program could be going, it's hard for me to give Briles and company a terrible grade.  Grade: C

Final Grade


I was hoping this game would be a shootout that would come down to who had the ball last, or at least the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.  Instead it was a game that was pretty easy to figure out early, and felt more like a three and a half hour Illinois coronation ceremony.  Which is nice for Illinois fans, but for the impartial observer, it's rather boring.  Grade: D
Posted on: December 13, 2010 12:52 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2010 6:24 pm
 

Big Ten updates logo, annouces division names

Posted by Adam Jacobi

With the Big Ten adding Nebraska to the fold earlier this year, the old Big Ten logo with the subtle "11" embedded was suddenly rendered obsolete. The Big Ten's response? A Big Ten logo with a subtle "10" embedded. Here's the new logo unveiled by commissioner Jim Delany on the Big Ten Network today:

As for the division names, yes, they're "Legends" and "Leaders." The announcement was made after a five-minute presentation about alumni of each and every school doing good things, and as the image above indicates, the split is like this:

LEGENDS

  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Michigan State
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • Northwestern

LEADERS

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Ohio State
  • Penn State
  • Purdue
  • Wisconsin

There'll be a time and place for editorializing about the new branding, but for now, here's what it all is. Reactions go in the comment section below.



Posted on: December 4, 2010 4:22 am
 

Big Ten schools looking in-conference for coaches

Posted by Adam Jacobi

There are, as of now, two job openings in the Big Ten: Indiana and Minnesota. Those two programs are generally regarded as being among the three worst in the conference (Illinois being the third, but at least the Illini go to a Rose Bowl every now and then), so a head coaching spot at one of these places probably isn't going to be terribly attractive -- or a recipe for success -- unless the candidate in question is familiar with the Big Ten, its style of play, the recruiting grounds, etc., and wants to spend years and years in the conference.

It's no real surprise, then, that both Indiana and Minnesota are reportedly interviewing candidates from other Big Ten schools -- and really, both schools are looking at superb hires. Minnesota has reportedly interviewed Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. You may remember Wisconsin's offense from such hits as 83-20 over Indiana, 70-21 over Northwestern , and 48-28 over Michigan. Sure, it's not like hiring Chryst is all it takes to get the Gophers dropping 50 on everybody that walks into TCF Bank Stadium, but at least they'd be getting a guy that knows how to do that at this level.

Meanwhile, over in Indiana, the Hoosiers apparently have their eyes on several coaches with Big Ten ties. Michigan State assistant head coach Don Treadwell is going to be the name that's most familiar to Big Ten fans, but watch out for Oklahoma OC Kevin Wilson -- previously Northwestern's offensive coordinator for three very productive years. Treadwell was the de facto head coach for Michigan State while Mark Dantonio recovered from his heart attack, and it's worth noting that the Spartans stayed undefeated while Dantonio was either out or operating in a limited capacity. If Treadwell was auditioning for a head coaching spot, it's hard to imagine he got anything but an A+.

Still, Wilson is considered the leader in this race, for whatever that's worth; if so, Indiana hiring away Bob Stoops' OC would be nothing short of a coup, especially considering Wilson was the winner of the Broyles Award for the top college assistant in 2008. He's got almost 30 years of tutelage under Randy Walker and Stoops, dating back to his college football playing days, and he's still only 49. Frankly, it's something of a surprise that Wilson hasn't been hired already. If he or even Treadwell is seriously considering a Hoosier offer, the future just might be bright in Bloomington. If, however, the interest isn't totally mutual and Indiana's forced to go the route of, say, Iowa OC Ken O'Keefe instead, well, that'd be just a little more depressing, if not exactly surprising.

Posted on: November 27, 2010 4:36 pm
Edited on: November 27, 2010 4:38 pm
 

Wisconsin smells roses

Posted by Tom Fornelli

With wins by both Ohio State and Michigan State on Saturday morning, Wisconsin came in to its regular season finale against Northwestern needing a win to grab a share of the Big Ten title and possibly punch its ticket to Pasadena.  So far, things are going according to plan.

The game is still early in the second quarter, but the Badgers aren't having any trouble with the Dan Persa-less Wildcats.  Montee Ball has three touchdowns in the first 18 minutes of action, as Wisconsin has jumped out to a 21-3 lead.  Not helping Northwestern's case are the three turnovers that it has already committed.

Illinois gashed Northwestern for over 500 yards on the ground last week at Wrigley Field, and it looks like Wisconsin may be able to top that.

This win is huge for Wisconsin not just because of the Big Ten title, but because if the Badgers do win, they'll likely be bound for Pasadena and the Rose Bowl.  With a three-way tie atop the conference, the BCS standings will be used to determine which team gets to go to the Rose Bowl.  Up until this week Wisconsin has been ahead of both Ohio State and Michigan State, and that's not likely to change considering the way things are currently going in Madison.

Update: As I hit publish on this post, Scott Tolzien hit David Gilreath for an 18-yard touchdown pass.  It's now 28-3 Wisconsin.
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.
 
 
 
 
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