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.

Posted on: November 17, 2010 10:44 am

Ron Zook does/doesn't think about the bowl game

Posted by Chip Patterson

Illinois head coach Ron Zook has always been one of the animated characters in college football.  His praises have been occasionally overshadowed by his downfalls, and from time to time his dealings with the media provide an entertainment value not usually included in postgame press conferences.  

For the Fighting Illini, one win stands between them and bowl eligibility.  A win that could have been picked up at the expense of a struggling Minnesota team.  So after Saturday's 38-34 home loss to the Golden Gophers, Zook took the podium with a loquacious explanation for why the Fighting Illini lost to a team that had not yet won a conference game.  Unfortunately, an unexpected flash from a camera set off a charge in Zook's mind that replaced half of his argument with the phrase "bowl game."

Seriously, he uses the phrase six times in 17 seconds.  Does he think about the bowl game?  Does he not think about the bowl game?  Are YOU thinking about the bowl game? BOWL GAME! BOWL GAME! BOWL GAME!

Okay I'm done. Video below.

Posted on: November 16, 2010 11:10 am
Edited on: November 16, 2010 11:11 am

We have answers about Wrigley Field

Posted by Tom Fornelli

I posted that photo yesterday with some doubts in my head about its authenticity.  I had plenty of questions about whether or not those uprights were actually attached to the brick wall, and about how the ivy could look so green in mid-November and have Allstate logos so nicely placed on it.

Well, thanks to the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein, I now have the answers.   Turns out everything in that photo is real, except for the ivy itself.  You see, the uprights are attached to the brick wall, but that green ivy isn't actually ivy.  It's padding to look like ivy.

Why do they need the padding on the wall?  Well, look at this photo from Greenstein and do the math.

That's a tight fit.  Now, while it's nice, and the smart thing to do to put up the padding, I don't see how much it's going to help.  Go running into that end zone at full speed and see if the padding absorbs the blow of running head on into a brick wall.

Posted on: November 15, 2010 1:27 pm
Edited on: November 15, 2010 1:34 pm

Goalposts grow from ivy

Posted by Tom Fornelli

That's a rather odd photo of one of the end zones at Wrigley Field for this weekend's game between Northwestern and Illinois.  It seems that the football field is a tight fit in the old baseball stadium, and there wasn't enough room for the goalposts, so they had to be attached to the brick wall.  Though, to be honest, I'm not entirely convinced that this photo is real.  There's a few reasons for this.

First of all, I don't know how the ivy on the walls at Wrigley is still green this late into November.  I live in Chicago, and if that ivy is still actually green, it's just about the only plant in this city that is.  It usually starts dying in September, just like the team who usually calls Wrigley home.

There's also this Wrigley Field seating chart of the field from Lake the Posts that shows there should be more room behind the end zone than there currently is.

Though it's possible that the seating chart could be wrong.  After all, this other photo from Lake the Posts that shows the field from atop the right field bleachers does indicate that there isn't much room between the back of the end zone and the brick walls surrounding the field.

All I know is that if that photo is real, and there really is only that much space between the field and the wall, I wouldn't go running into the end zone all that hard on Saturday.  I mean, I can run through a brick wall, sure, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.

Posted on: November 15, 2010 11:34 am

Illinois LB arrested for battery, suspended

Posted by Tom Fornelli

It's been a pretty frustrating last few weeks for Illinois football.  The team was at 4-4, and only had to split its final four games against beatable teams like Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Fresno State to get back to a bowl game.  So far the Illini have dropped one to Michigan in triple-overtime, and just lost at home to Minnesota -- a team that had won one game and fired its head coach earlier this season.

So, it would be hard to blame anybody on the team from being upset, but even so, that doesn't mean you should go out and beat the crap out of somebody.  Which is apparently what sophomore lineback Evan Frierson did.  Frierson was arrested for aggravated battery, and has been suspended indefinitely according to a team spokesman.

Frierson has played in limited duty this season, playing in nine games, but only making six tackles.  He played more as a freshman last season while helping to fill in for Martez Wilson, who missed most of the 2009 season with a neck injury.
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