Tag:Illinois
Posted on: October 29, 2011 7:30 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Penn State 10, Illinois 7

Posted by Adam Jacobi

PENN STATE WON. Another week, another close win for Penn State, who rallied late to snatch a 10-7 victory from Illinois in the snowiest game ever played at Happy Valley. The game stayed scoreless amid myriad errors until Illinois scored with 3:32 left in the third quarter; from there, it was 10 straight Penn State points and the Nittany Lions hung on for the win.

HOW PENN STATE WON: Penn State just committed fewer errors on Saturday, and really, that's not saying a lot. Penn State had "only" three turnovers, while Illinois had four. Both teams scored one touchdown and lined up for two field goals. Penn State's Anthony Fera made one of his two attempts, while Illinois botched the hold on one field goal and the usually reliable Derek Dimke put his game-ending kick square on the upright. 

WHEN PENN STATE WON: When the ball went doink. Illinois took over the ball with just 1:08 on the clock, but Nathan Scheelhaase drove his team into field position with just the time he'd been given. A make puts the game into overtime, but alas, that was not to be.

WHAT PENN STATE WON: Penn State, somehow, is 8-1 on the season, with its only loss coming to Alabama early in the season. In some ways, Penn State could probably lay a claim to a Top 10 ranking based on its record and resume of opponents. It wouldn't be a strong claim, mind you, but the case could be made all the same. You'd think the magic would run out soon, but we're three-quarters of the way through the season; we're long past the point that this winning stops being an anomaly and starts being the story of Penn State's season.

And as for what Joe Paterno won, the venerable old coach just passed Grambling State legend Eddie Robinson to assume the Division I all-time record for most career coaching victories, with 409.

WHAT ILLINOIS LOST: Illinois may have lost its last chance to avert disaster. This was the Illini's third straight loss after a 6-0 start; with Michigan and Wisconsin looming next on the schedule, that slide could easily hit five straight games coming into a season finale at Minnesota that looks a little bit tougher today after the Gophers' win this week over Iowa.

THAT WAS CRAZY: In the second quarter, Illinois took advantage of a Rob Bolden fumble to take over the ball at Penn State's 24. The Illini quickly pushed the ball inside the PSU 5-yard line, and had a 3rd and goal at the 3. Jason Ford appeared to score on the next play, but Illinois was flagged for illegal motion and the touchdown was nullified. Nathan Scheelhaase threw an incomplete pass on the next play, and on 4th down, holder Tim Russell bobbled the snap, came up with it before Dimke could kick it, and threw an interception. The Illini were awarded no points, and may God have mercy on their souls.

Also, Bolden should not be taking one single snap away from Matt McGloin anymore, but you knew that.
Posted on: October 28, 2011 2:53 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 9

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.

Last week's menu was full of surprises as both Wisconsin and Oklahoma fell from the ranks of the unbeatens, and this weekend could include a lot more of the same as Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Clemson all face challenges. Yes, we'll have to wait another week before LSU and Alabama are available, but there's plenty here this week that should help stem that hunger.

BREAKFAST

#13 Nebraska vs. #9 Michigan State - ESPN, 12pm ET

It's not often that the marquee matchup of the Big Ten kicks off before noon local time, but that's what we've got this week with Michigan State visiting Nebraska with an 11:00 CT kickoff time. The Spartans come off a stunning 37-31 win against Wisconsin, and Nebraska comes off a bye week; those factors combined with an early kickoff means it's going to be difficult not to come out flat in this contest. Whoever sustains a high effort from the first to the fourth quarter seems likely to get the win here. - Adam Jacobi

#16 Texas A&M vs. Missouri - FX, 12pm ET

These two teams will meet for the final time as Big 12 rivals, but that doesn't mean it will the the last time they meet in a conference game does it, Mizzou? Wink, wink, nudge. It's a big game for both teams as Texas A&M still has an outside chance at a Big 12 title and BCS game but can't afford another loss, and Missouri really needs a win or its bowl hopes could be in some trouble. - Tom Fornelli

Florida State vs. North Carolina State - ESPNU, 12pm ET

Florida State played themselves out of the national picture with three straight losses, dropping them from the polls and the ACC title race.  The Seminoles redemption tour welcomes N.C. State to Tallahassee on Saturday, with both teams at 4-3 hoping to move one step closer to bowl eligibility.  Since EJ Manuel's return to the lineup after suffering a shoulder injury in the loss to Oklahoma, the Seminoles offense has regained some the early-season production that had pundits talking "title contender."  But N.C. State boasts one of the league's best defensive playmakers in sophomore David Amerson.  Amerson leads the nation with eight interceptions, even returning one for a touchdown.  The Seminoles have a lot of talent on the outside, but Manuel (seven interceptions in six games) needs to be wary of where #1 is at all times. - Chip Patterson

Vanderbilt vs. #8 Arkansas - SEC Network, 12:21pm ET

At 4-3, the Commodores are just two wins away from doing something in one year under James Franklin they've done only one other time in their past 29 seasons--go to a bowl game. And with potential All-American corner Casey Hayward leading a secondary capable of keeping Jarius Wright and the Hog receivers (mostly) under wraps, the potential for a stunner is there. Is new quarterback Jordan Rodgers really up to moving the ball consistently against an SEC defense, though? - Jerry Hinnen

LUNCH

#3 Oklahoma State vs. Baylor - ABC/ESPN2, 3:30pm ET

Do you like to see a lot of points scored and very little defense getting in the way? Well then I've got good news for you, because Oklahoma State and Baylor are going to score a lot of points and not play much defense. This could truly be one of those games in which the first team to score 50 wins, and Baylor is just as capable of put points up in bunches. There's a chance that another Oklahoma school could suffer its first lost this Saturday. - TF

#10 Kansas State vs. #11 Oklahoma - ESPN, 3:30pm ET

Kansas State has been one of the biggest surprises in college football this season, getting off to a 7-0 start and even winning a couple of shootouts along the way. That being said, the real test for Bill Snyder and the Wildcats begins on Saturday when they face Oklahoma. The Sooners are likely to be a bit cranky following last week's loss, and will be looking to end Kansas State's unbeaten season as well. - TF

#22 Georgia vs. Florida - CBS, 3:30pm ET

CBSSports.com's Tony Barnhart has written that Mark Richt's job is on the line in this one, and given that the Dawgs won't win this year's well-water SEC East without a win Saturday -- begging the question of when he ever would win the East again -- we're inclined to agree. The good news is that unless John Brantley provides a serious spark to the Gator offense, he has the team to get the job done; the Gator front hasn't looked its best against straight-ahead power running games, and Isaiah Crowell gives Georgia plenty of pop in that department. - JH

#21 Penn State vs. Illinois - ABC/ESPN2, 3:30pm ET

Coming into the season, it seemed far more likely that these two teams would have three losses apiece eight games in than three combined. But even with the Illini fading, they're still 6-2, and PSU currently leads the Big Ten with a 7-1 (4-0) mark. As such, there are major consequences for both the Legends Division race and bowl positioning here -- not to mention two of the Big Ten's best wideouts in A.J. Jenkins and Derek Moye. Don't sleep on this game -- there'll probably be some late-game theatrics, and when Ron Zook's involved, that's a recipe for chaos. - AJ

DINNER

Tennessee vs. #14 South Carolina - ESPN2, 7:15pm ET

Can Justin Worley hack it? If the Vols' new true freshman starter can hang in there against Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Gamecock pass rush (no mean feat), the pieces could be in place for an upset. Carolina's ground game could be completely MIA without Marcus Lattimore, Connor Shaw looked awfully wobbly his last road game, and Tauren Poole has finally given the Vols a rushing game with a pulse. With Derek Dooley's seat growing ever-slightly-warmer and Carolina's East hopes on the line, this is a big one for both teams. - JH

Georgia Tech vs. #6 Clemson - ABC, 8pm ET

The primetime rematch of the 2009 ACC title game (which the NCAA will tell you "didn't happen") was a possible selection for ESPN's College Gameday two weeks ago when both teams were undefeated. But since two straight Georgia Tech losses, this game has lost some of the luster it once carried. That does not make it any less of a trap game for the undefeated Tigers. Clemson's BCS dreams could be erased in the dust clouds of Paul Johnson's grinding option attack, which when run effectively can eat up game clock and wear down opposing defenses. If ABC is broadcasting this game in your region, it should definitely be worth your time to watch for fireworks. - CP

#20 USC vs. #4 Stanford - ABC, 8pm ET

The first top 20 match up in the Coliseum in over three years, this has turned into the game of the week thanks to a marquee quarterback showdown featuring Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. This game likely comes down to defense - as in who can stop who - as the Cardinal has a trio of talented tight ends 6-foot-6 or taller and the Trojans have All-American candidate in wide receiver Robert Woods. - Bryan Fischer

Ohio State vs. #12 Wisconsin - ESPN, 8pm ET

If this game were in Madison, the Badgers would probably cruise. It ain't. Fresh off their first loss in their first game in a truly hostile environment, Russell Wilson and crew have to travel to Columbus to face a Buckeye team that's just finding its stride after injuries and suspensions rocked its first half of the season. And just to up the ante even further, this one's under the lights. What a way to end a great slate of Big Ten action. - AJ

LATE NIGHT SNACK

Washington vs. Arizona - Fox Sports, 10:30pm ET

Looking for a good old fashioned, late night, Pac-12 shootout? Look no further than the Huskies and Wildcats. Both teams have struggled defensively and Washington gave up over 400 yards rushing to Stanford last week. Keith Price and Nick Foles are two quarterbacks who are a joy to watch and they have plenty of weapons to get the ball to. Like offense? This is your game. - BF 
Posted on: October 26, 2011 5:01 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Wisconsin at Ohio State

Posted by Adam Jacobi

WISCONSIN WILL WIN IF: Russell Wilson hasn't lost his mojo. Wilson had a rough game in Wisconsin's 37-31 loss to Michigan State last week, complete with two very regrettable throws that ended up getting intercepted, but his stats still weren't very bad, and he's still the second-rated passer in the NCAA so far this season, barely trailing Robert Griffin III. That said, for as great as MSU's defense has been all year long, Wilson's not going to get much respite this week -- even though the Buckeyes' defensive production hasn't yet reached its overall talent level yet.

OHIO STATE WILL WIN IF: It gets four quarters of dominance from its defense. Ohio State's biggest win of the season came against Illinois, when it stifled the Illini attack and surrendered all of seven points for the game. In OSU's most embarrassing loss, the defense still only allowed 10 points to the same MSU team that just put 37 on the scoreboard last week. And for two and a half quarters, Nebraska had been bottled up by the Buckeyes, trailing 27-6. We know how that one turned out, of course, but that's the point: If the Buckeyes go hard for 60 minutes, they can effectively shut down just about anybody. And if OSU doesn't bring defensive intensity for the entire game, an offense like Wisconsin's is more than capable of racking up points in a hurry.

X-FACTOR: The crowd. Ohio Stadium has long been the paramount of the Big Ten's arenas, and it's not hard to see why: the place is huge, seating over 100,000 fans, and its double-tiered setup makes those rabid Buckeye partisans even more deafening, which they usually are. Usually. But with OSU's struggles, the fans have been muted at times, even turning downright hostile during the MSU 10-7 victory in the conference opener. If Wisconsin can jump all over the Buckeyes early -- particularly with defensive stops -- the crowd should be a little more hospitable for Russell Wilson and company to run their offense.
Posted on: October 26, 2011 2:08 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Illinois at Penn State

Posted by Adam Jacobi

ILLINOIS WILL WIN IF: Nathan Scheelhaase can figure out the Penn State defense. In the Big Ten, Penn State trails only Michigan State in every defensive metric except scoring defense -- and there, the Nittany Lions are ranked first. At the same time, PSU hasn't faced a quarterback nearly as dynamic as Nathan Scheelhaase this season, and it'll be crucial for Scheelhaase to make plays happen if Illinois is going to have any shot to pull off this road victory. Whether that means Scheelhaase does it with his feet on scrambles and option runs, or by getting A.J. Jenkins free in the secondary (a tall task for Ron Zook against a defense like this) remains to be seen.

PENN STATE WILL WIN IF: Silas Redd continues to wreck all those in his path. One of the biggest reasons Penn State is the only 4-0 team in Big Ten play is that all of a sudden, opponents can't stop Silas Redd and the Penn State rushing attack. In Big Ten conference games, Redd leads the pack in rushing yards per game with over 140 yards (Montee Ball and Rex Burkhead are close behind, while overall Big Ten rushing leader Denard Robinson's numbers have been curtailed sharply in conference play). This success forces defenses to key on the run, and that in turn opens up Matt McGloin and the passing game nicely.  

X-FACTOR: Will Good Zook or Bad Zook show up? Good Zook encourages his defense to play with maximum effort and puts his best players on offense front and center. Bad Zook loses track of the score, goes for it on 4th down when he doesn't have to, and has a team that comes out flat. Illinois has seen enough of Bad Zook in the last two weeks. 
Posted on: October 24, 2011 4:17 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 4:20 pm
 

The Poll Attacks: Week 8

Posted by Bryan Fischer

The latest college football polls are out and now it's time to rip them to shreds. Senior college basketball writer Gary Parrish has been calling out voters in the major hoops polls for thinking a little bit too far outside of the box when it comes to their AP ballots every week.

With the football season starting, I thought I'd steal take the baton on the idea from my colleague and keep all of the writers across the country who vote honest. I've come to know a good number of these people through time and twitter but relationships do not matter, bad votes do.

AP Poll           Coaches Poll           Harris Poll           BCS

(Details of AP ballots courtesy of PollSpeak.com)

Poll reactions: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC

Rodney Dangerfield "No respect" team of the week: Southern Miss

  The Golden Eagles are ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2004 in the Coaches Poll but are just "receiving votes" in the AP. Voters must not be aware of them shutting down June Jones' offense on Saturday, holding SMU to just three points and 330 yards. They're behind teams like West Virginia (blown out by Syracuse) and Arizona State (lost to Illinois, blown out by Oregon) for some reason. Yes, they're a Conference USA team so they have to fight for respect a lot more than others but they should be on everyone's ballot at 6-1.

Overrated: Nebraska

  To be fair, it's hard to figure out where to slot Nebraska because of the mediocre group of teams outside of the top 10-12 or so. The blowout loss to Wisconsin looks even worse now and having to come back and beat Ohio State is not a ringing endorsement for a top 15 team given their troubles in the passing game. We'll figure out if they deserve a high-ranking after Saturday but until then, they probably should be behind Virginia Tech and even Texas A&M.

California Craziness

A trio of voters from California (CSN Bay Area/CBSSports.com's Ray Ratto, San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner, LA Daily News' Scott Wolf) are an interesting voting block. Some would call them progressive, others would call them extreme and just about everybody else will call them crazy given their fluctuations in their ballots each week. All three are consistently in Pollspeak's group of "extreme voters" so we'll highlight the most baffling decision(s) out of each.

  I swear that Wilner just likes being the one in this space in order to gloat to his Bay Area compatriot Ratto. First off, teams that are on his ballot that shouldn't be: Auburn (17th), Washington (21st), Texas (23rd). Teams not on his ballot that should be: Houston, Michigan, Penn State. Also head-scratching: Auburn above USC, Kansas State 19th, Virginia Tech one spot behind Washington, Arkansas ahead of Stanford, South Carolina in the top 12, Georgia in the top 15.

What were you thinking? Desmond Conner, Hartford Courant

  Conner's top 20 isn't bad at all, aside from Nebraska being ahead of both Michigan State and Wisconsin. The bottom five is disastrous however. Arizona State is 20th, followed by West Virginia, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Illinois and Penn State. He was the only voter to rank the Fighting Zookers despite losing back-to-back games to Ohio State and Purdue and has one-loss Penn State dead last on his ballot. Conner is also the only one to leave USC unranked.


Posted on: October 24, 2011 12:48 am
 

Big Ten poll reactions, Week 8

Posted by Adam Jacobi

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the Big Ten fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.


(AP/Coaches)

9/10. Michigan State

Three weeks ago, Michigan State wasn't even ranked (and didn't deserve to be). Now, with a spree of wins over Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin, the Spartans have earned their way to the highest rank in the Big Ten and an inside track on the Legends Division title. If MSU had closed out the win on Saturday without any drama, I'd say this spot was too low; as it was, the finish was a little miraculous for voters' tastes, and this spot in the polls is just fine.

12/11. Wisconsin

The shocking aspect of Wisconsin's loss to Michigan State was that without Montee Ball, this Badger offense is rather pedestrian. Obviously, you can't pin a blocked punt and blocked field goal on Russell Wilson or anybody else on the offense, but still: with Ball out, the Spartan defense didn't have to sell out to stop the run, and what ensued was a full abdication of the "best quarterback in the Big Ten" throne by Wilson, and a loss to show for it. As for the ranking, you hate to see a team that loses on a miracle drop very far, but at the same time, Wisconsin never led in the second half and never had the ball with a chance to win. This spot in the polls is just about right, and will continue to be so until the Badgers beat a highly regarded opponent.

13/13. Nebraska

Nebraska keeps hanging around here in the mid-teens, and as long as it keeps winning, that's fine. We're still looking for a signature win out of the Huskers, and a home game against Michigan State this week will be a perfect opportunity for the Huskers to prove they belong in the upper echelon of the polls. Win this one, and Nebraska's got a major leg up in the division title chase. Lose, and what's really the difference between Nebraska and some borderline Top 25 school? The name on the uniform? The conference affiliation? What? Because it certainly won't be anything on the field.

17/17. Michigan

The Wolverines' loss to Michigan State in Week 7 actually looks quite a bit better now that MSU went out and dethroned Wisconsin the week after, but it still doesn't inspire much confidence in Michigan's ability to put up a ton of points on a very good defense. Still though, the rest of the polls are such a mess at this point that a one-loss Michigan squad ought to be a little higher than 17th in the land at this point.

21/19. Penn State

Don't look now, but Silas Redd is running roughshod on the Big Ten; in Penn State's 4-0 start to conference play, Redd is averaging 26 rushes, 141 yards, and a score per game. If he can keep up that kind of workhorse production against the back half of PSU's slate, it's going to make Matt McGloin's job a lot easier. That all said, it's rather Big East-ish to have a lone conference leader ranked around 20th in the nation, and it's generally a sign that the team's reign atop the conference is near an end. Still, this ranking is fair, and will be until the Nittany Lions dispatch a high-level opponent -- and no, Iowa certainly doesn't count.

Also receiving votes: Illinois (2 AP votes, 22 coaches votes), Iowa (14 coaches votes) 
Posted on: October 23, 2011 7:52 pm
Edited on: October 23, 2011 9:17 pm
 

SEC poll reactions, Week 8

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the SEC fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.


(AP/Coaches)

1/1. LSU

We'd like to think that even if Oklahoma had completed their failed comeback against Texas Tech, the Bayou Bengals' annihilation of a top-20 Auburn team (as opposed to a mighty struggle at home vs. an unranked team with two home losses) would finally resulted in their taking over as a consensus No. 1. But fortunately for clarity's sake, the Red Raiders finished the job. And even if Alabama wasn't on a bye themselves, that consensus wasn't going to change during LSU's off-week--the Tigers have a 49-10 advantage in first place votes in the AP, and a 41-18 edge in the Coaches.

2/2. ALABAMA

The Crimson Tide should have passed the decisively less-impressive Sooners weeks back, but there's no doubt plenty of thanks being sent Lubbockward after the Red Raiders made the Tide's consensus move to No. 2 it official. (Then again, knowing the relationship between the Tide fanbase and Tommy Tuberville, maybe not.) What's interesting is that the Tide have enough support for a short fall in the event of a loss to LSU--the 122-point margin between the Tide and No. 3 Oklahoma State is wider than the margin between the Cowboys and No. 6 Clemson.

8/8. ARKANSAS

The Razorbacks move up two spots in both polls but find themselves in the same broad position as last week: the second-highest one-loss team behind Oregon. It's a strong show of support for the Hogs that even after an unimpressive win over Ole Miss -- one that required overcoming a 17-0 first-half deficit and a last-minute interception to preserve the victory -- Arkansas still moved past plummeting Oklahoma and Wisconsin. But as we said last week, if forced to pick between the Hogs and Ducks in a one-loss head-to-head, we think the Hogs deserve the nod.
14/14. SOUTH CAROLINA

Oh, Coaches poll. We wish there was a better explanation for jumping Kansas State past the Gamecocks on the basis of a win over Kansas and Carolina's bye week than "Oops, we kind of messed up by having that undefeated team so low last week, better fix it" ... but we know there isn't. At least Michigan State's leapfrog past the Gamecocks makes more sense. The Spartans jumped the Gamecocks in the AP, too, but Carolina stayed put thanks to West Virginia's freefall. Given that the Gamecocks' loss came to a now three-loss team at home and that their signature win is a three-point escape at Georgia, they can't have any complaints about sticking at 14th.

22/21. GEORGIA

The Bulldogs didn't play this week, but still got a two-slot bump in the AP and leapt into the Coaches at No. 21. Guess it helps when so many bottom-rung top-25 teams -- Auburn, Illinois, Washington, Georiga Tech -- absorbed lopsided and/or embarrassing losses. But the Dawgs can't gripe about not being higher, not when their best win is still over 3-4 Tennessee.
Posted on: October 23, 2011 6:57 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: The fans at Spartan Stadium

The scene in East Lansing Saturday night was Big Ten football at its best: a packed house under the lights, a national audience, and two highly-ranked programs duking it out for all 60 minutes. The end of the Wisconsin-Michigan State game was phenomenal beyond comparison, of course, but even without the miracle touchdown from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol to finish the game off it was still probably the best of the year in the Big Ten. This time, there was no collapse, no widespread ineptitude, nothing but a mighty good football game.

So being that the fans at Spartan stadium were nice and loud (and probably, ahem, well-lubricated by the time of the late kickoff) and they got to see such a stellar effort by both sides, the myriad big plays by MSU -- including the blocked punt for a touchdown being celebrated above -- and the astonishing game-winning play, yes, they are all the winners here. I've personally been part of a home crowd who saw a game anywhere close to that once: Purdue at Iowa, 2002. That was an incredible, euphoric experience, and Saturday's MSU win hit those notes of amazement even better than the 2002 game did. Sparty fans, you don't need to be told this, but you just witnessed a game for the ages. Treasure it.  

LOSER: Russell Wilson's Heisman campaign

For the first half of the season, Russell Wilson looked like a great quarterback making fools of bad defenses (Nebraska included). His yards per throw not only led the NCAA, it was a full yard ahead of the pace to set a new FBS record, at 12.16. Wilson was a legitimate Heisman contender, and hey, with what Wisconsin was doing to everybody on its schedule, why not?

Unfortunately, on Saturday, Wilson looked like a quarterback who hadn't played a good defense all year, playing a good defense. The end result was several ill-advised throws, two picks, an intentional grounding call for a safety, and easily the worst start of his brief Badger career: 14-21, 223 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs (Yes, that is his worst start. Like we said, bad defenses). Now, Wilson did engineer four touchdown drives, so it's not as if he was beaten into submission all night, but the offense completely fell apart when Montee Bell was on the sidelines, leading one to wonder if the key to keeping the Badger offense rolling has never actually been Wilson to begin with. 

WINNER: Keith Nichol

Keith Nichol, seen at right with a very good reason to smile, hasn't had very many opportunities to be a hero in his college career, though it seemed at the start that he'd have chances at every turn; he was originally recruited by Bob Stoops to be a quarterback for Oklahoma, and he only went to MSU because of the emergence of one Sam Bradford down there. Once Nichol transferred to Michigan State, he split time in a QB platoon with Kirk Cousins at the beginning of 2009 before Cousins was named the full-time starter.

Now, there are plenty of quarterbacks who would have simply transferred to an FCS school in search of immediate playing time at that point, and nobody would have begrudged Nichol if that was the path he had chosen. Instead, a spate of WR suspensions going into the 2009 Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech prompted Nichol to switch to wideout, and while he hasn't set the world on fire there, he has at least remained a productive 4th option for Cousins -- and a loyal teammate to the rest of the program. It takes a lot of maturity to catch passes from the guy who beat you out for a starting role at QB, and if that doesn't sound true, try beign forced into a different job at work and taking orders from the person who took the job you wanted. Right. Not fun.

So, seeing Nichol go through the first 59 minutes and 59 seconds of the game without a catch, only to become the hero on the last play like that? That's not only a joy, it's a testament to program stability. Does a hypothetical freshman backup wideout in Nichol's stead know to be in that position to look for a deflection? Does that hypothetical WR also have the will to push the ball across the plane against multiple tacklers? Neither is a given, but we do know the answer is yes for Nichol. The phrase "couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy" is trite to the point that it's usually used sarcastically, but it absolutely applies here.

LOSER: Ron Zook, again

Forget the 21-14 final score of the Illinois-Purdue game, please, because it paints a very inaccurate picture of how close the contest really was. The Boilermakers ran out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, and Illinois never touched the ball again after bringing the game to 21-14. Despite the large lead Purdue rang up in the win, we'll refrain from saying the game "didn't feel like an upset," because it absolutely did; Illinois had scoring chances but blew them, while Caleb TerBush and the rest of the Purdue offense just flailed ineffectually in the second half and got a win to show for it anyway. 

Illinois should not have been so mentally flat coming into the game, though, especially coming right off a loss to Ohio State (who, like Michigan, was off this week) where the Illini handed the anemic OSU offense scoring chances in the second half time and time again. The mental errors need to be corrected coming off a game like that, not magnified. That is on Ron Zook and his coaching staff, 100%. And so even with Illinois at 6-2, it's that "2" that looms larger at this point in the season, and that threatens to balloon in a hurry if Zook doesn't get the team back on track. Otherwise, there's really no telling how much more patience the Illinois brass will have for him. 

WINNER: Marvin McNutt

Coming into this week's action against Indiana, Iowa WR Marvin McNutt just needed one TD to break the all-time Hawkeye receiving touchdown record of 21 that he shared with Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes. McNutt got that touchdown on Saturday. Then he got two more. In the first half. In related news, the Hawkeyes-Hoosiers game was not very close.

McNutt now has 41 catches for 757 yards and eight TDs in seven games thus far, all of which lead the team by substantial margins. If he keeps that pace up for the rest of the year, he would shatter Iowa single-season receiving records in both yardage and scoring -- and he would also set Iowa career marks in receptions and receiving yardage to go with his touchdown mark. So keep your eyes on No. 7, Iowa fans; he's probably the best wide receiver in school history.

LOSER:  PersaStrength

It would be inappropriate to lay the struggles of Northwestern at the feet of Dan Persa, since he's hardly the worst performer on the Wildcats; for one, Persa isn't responsible for the defense, which currently gives up about 250 yards of passing per game and can't crack the top 100 in FBS in pass efficiency defense.

That said, though, Persa is at least the most visible of the Wildcats, and is so by the direct actions of an athletic department that hyped him as "PersaStrong," even as he (understandably) struggled to recover from a severe Achilles injury. And the fact is, Persa's just not at the level he played at last season. His mobility is hampered to the point that he doesn't run designed rushes, and he doesn't have the same timing down with his receivers that he did last year. He also doesn't seem entirely recovered from that injury, though he's at least at the point in the process where it's going to take play on the field to get back to the "100%" of 2010 and not more time with team doctors.

All in all, though, Persa's barely even beating out Kain Colter for the starting QB role, and while we expect Persa to at least continue that mastery of the starting lineup, the fact that Colter's still getting snaps there every week demonstrates that even the Northwestern coaches don't fully trust Dan Persa's leg yet. And given that, it seems more than a little silly that he was the focus of a Heisman campaign coming into the season, doesn't 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