Archive for October, 2011

October 28, 2011

Halftime for the Legendary Leaders: Big Ten 2011 Midseason Summary (Part 1)

Written Ramblings by AH and DJ

This picture will be shown for a while around the Big Ten.

Gameday got it right this time around. The Bucky – Huskers game had all the hype about a month ago with Fowler’s crew roaming the streets in Mad-town. But that was a terribly disappointing game in terms of sheer entertainment value. Four weeks later, Gameday ventured out to Big Ten country again and this time NOBODY was upset about the way the game finished. Obviously Bucky fans weren’t too happy about the outcome but the game was legendary. Big Ten Network will show the heck out of this game for years to come. The game had everything … or did it??

There was only one move that could have made this game better – Gus Johnson. I love the Herbie/Brent combo but the last call and the entire 4th quarter was made for the Gus. This was the perfect game that could use Gus as a “pinch announcer” towards the end. This theory has been mentioned in the past and I hope someday it will come to fruition. If you know the game has the making of a classic, then you ought to be able to pull the current announcers and bring Gus from the bullpen. He doesn’t even need to be there, he can just call the game from the studio. Even better, the viewers can have the option to listen to the current announcers or switch the Gus call on their TV. No idea why anybody would use the other option but there are some interesting people around I suppose. DirectTV can make this happen; it is only matter of time. Comcast/AT&T or any other cable provider will have no chance to compete if DirectTV ever made this move. All you need is Gus to be ready in the studios all day on Saturday. It can be called the “Gus Johnson Redzone Channel” . . . instead of just touchdown calls; the viewer can have him for the entire 4th quarter for the selected games. The producers will decide which game gets Gus but I think the logistics can work out. We potentially could have had this call last Saturday:

“Cousins steps back. Avoids the rush. Heaves the ball …”

“Knock it down, knock it down … A!@#%%$#%^#$^^%$&^” (static on the TV b/c Gus potentially exploded) … “Keith Nichol!! Unbelievable … unbel …” (more static)

One can only hope that this channel will come around someday.

We are almost at the halfway point of the Big Ten season. Three games for some teams, four games for the others. It is time for the half time report on the Legendary Leaders conference. Because not every team has reached their halfway point in the Big Ten season, we will split the midseason summary into two parts. The second part of this post will be continued after this weekend’s games. And there are some pivotal games this weekend. Here is AH’s view of the conference season so far …

Best Surprise Team

AH: Lots of options here. But the designation has to go to a team from Michigan at this point. Which one of the two? Sparty. Why Michigan State? Because they are only one victory from being undefeated in the conference with their lone loss on the season against Notre Dame. They get it done with defense and turnovers. Kirk Cousins was somewhat overlooked in the Big 10 after a decent 2010 and isn’t doing anything to hurt the Spartans. But the defense is bringing it and ranks first in the conference in points against and seventh in the country. With games against Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue and Northwestern to end the year, their season comes to the matchup with Nebraska this week.

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October 25, 2011

Rudy and Touchdown Jesus – Field trip to South Bend.

Written Ramblings by DJ

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

Fortune: Hey kid! You’re not supposed to be here!
Rudy: Hey this place is really somethin else huh? Someday I’m gonna come out of that tunnel and I’m gonna run onto this field.
Fortune: Well it ain’t gonna be this day …

Rudy certainly cared more about Notre Dame than I do but nobody should turn down an opportunity to check out the Golden Dome. My buddy JS’s boss gave him two tickets for the Notre Dame – USC game on Saturday for face value. Attending a game at Notre Dame wasn’t that high on my bucket list of college football items but it is still a good one to get under my belt. Some of the other college football bucket list items include:

1. Attending a night game in Happy Valley (Penn State) for a “white out.” My team (Illinois) wouldn’t stand a chance on the road against JoePa’s crew during a whiteout but the trip will be worth it.

2. Rose Bowl, Pasadena. Illinois makes the Rose Bowl every 23 years, so I might have to wait until 2030. After a 20 year wait, I’ll fly out to Pasadena to see the Illini get hammered on ABC by Oregon or USC.

3. Michigan – Ohio State. This one is realistic … probably will check out over the next few years.

This is a short term list mainly focused around the Big Ten. Do I have any interest to check out an SEC game? I’ll wait until they come up to play a Bowl game in 20 degree weather in Soldier Field. So we headed out on Saturday afternoon towards the College Football Hall of Fame and arguably the Mecca of college football.

We stopped by a gas station before the St. Mary’s parking lot and I couldn’t find any liquor for tailgating. Being hopped up on DayQuill all day wasn’t enough for me so I figured all I needed was three to four beverages. It was a dry gas station. Uh oh, is it really a dry campus?? That is only a myth right? I guess we were about to find out as we headed towards the stadium. The campus certainly had an “Ivy League” feel to it. There are a ton of trees around and the dorms looked like they were part of The Social Network movie. We followed a crowd towards the stadium and most of them had Montana jerseys. Joe Montana is obviously a legend but I wonder if most of the fan base wasn’t upset about his kid not getting much playing time as freshman. It was smart on his part to transfer out of the program because there was no way he could leap Rees or Crist for playing time. There were also a ton of Bears hats within the crowd. There is a reason why ESPN Chicago always shows Notre Dame as one of the “Chicago teams.” The campus is only 90 minutes away from Chicago. Indianapolis is over 3 hours away from South Bend so one could argue that most of the locals would root for the Bears over the Colts. I am not sure I agree with that logic but it makes sense geographically. It is analogous to the folks from southern Illinois that root for the Cardinals and Rams over the Chicago teams. We finally make it to the Dome and check out the numerous tents set up for pre-gaming. There are usually three aspects of a program that are interesting to me when I go on the road.

Outside the stadium

Yep, Notre Dame is NOT a dry campus. I knew that but I had to find out myself. The tailgating scene outside of the stadium isn’t huge but it does exist. There is bar called “The Legends” right outside the stadium and this was the only one we found around there. I asked one of the folks on the shuttle from the parking lot about liquor stores and she said there aren’t that many around the campus which isn’t surprising.

Overall the lot outside the stadium reminded me of Ryan Field (Northwestern) in terms of the size. The crowd certainly seemed more into it with some music and much bigger grills. Talking about grills, we walked over to the “2 for 1” signs near a tent that was grilling brats and burgers. My buddy wanted to get a brat and a burger right before we went in. The guy at the cashier said the deal only applied to burgers or brats but you can’t mix the two of them. Now I was curious even though I wasn’t hungry. I looked at the prices listed and both of them were $4. They seemed to have the same amount of both items. I asked him why we couldn’t mix and match when they were priced the same. His response: “Well that’s the rule.” Did I mention that this tent was set up by the School of Business? He had an “MBA 2011” tag on his shirt. Of course my Notre Dame hatred came out for the first time that night when I said that “business school was clearly not helping” if they price these items the same way but didn’t allow the customers to buy one of each. Something didn’t add up with that system. My buddy asked the girl who was working the grill if that was possible and she gave him the brat/burger combination. Anyway, I took some more pictures of Touchdown Jesus and we headed into the stadium.

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October 13, 2011

“Little Brother” growing up? A look into Wolverine vs. Sparty football.

Written Ramblings by JS and DJ 

Tom Izzo hanging with the one and only ..

Tony Kornhieser from PTI once said that the University of Michigan only cares about accomplishing three tasks in a football season: beat Ohio State, win the Big Ten and sell out the Big House every single game. If you ask any Michigan fan … heck, any college football fan about their rival, the answer is unanimous.  Brady Hoke refers to them as “that school from Ohio.”  There is a close fourth item on the list that TK did not mention … Michigan can’t stand losing Michigan State.  Michigan leads the overall series 67-31-5.  That’s about 70% of the games.  Obviously not that close … but why do they care about the game with Sparty every year?  Or do they even care? This “rivalry” has always intrigued me because mathematically it doesn’t suggest to be one.  I bugged my buddy JS who pees maize (if I said yellow that would be rude) about his take on this subject.  I have my own view as an outsider.  Here we go …

1. Let’s start with the Michigan State side.  Does this matchup mean more for them than Michigan b/c historically they appear to be an inferior program.

JS: In general, I would have to say yes. Michigan State has always looked to be considered equals on the football playing field with Michigan for quite time. However they just can’t quite get it done. To me, I think the most telling story of this issue is when Nick Saban left Michigan State to go and try and resurrect then-mediocre LSU. Why leave Michigan State to go to LSU? While bringing LSU back to national prominence is a good story, a bigger and more grandiose story would have been if he had built Michigan State into a football juggernaut on par with Michigan. THAT would have been the turning point in the rivalry. When Bo Schembechler came to Michigan, he elevated the Michigan – Ohio State rivalry to new levels. Who has done that for Michigan State? No one*. That person should have been Nick Saban and instead he left because (no one from East Lansing wants to admit this) he believed LSU was the better job.

* Sorry to burst your bubble, State fans, but Mark Dantonio does not count. Has he beaten us the last three years? Yes. But ask yourself this – who hasn’t beaten us in the last three years? We also don’t count the 2000 win because of the blatant clock mismanagement that gave Smoker one miracle lob shot to TJ Ducket in the end zone. The time keeper would do the same thing to help MSU basketball steal a win and he subsequently got fired.

DJ:  How does a college football program get recognized by the media (not me) historically? Titles, coaches and great college players (e.g. Heisman winners).  Feilding Yost, Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr (yes, he did win an NC so he was good) vs. John L. Smith and Bobby Williams? Duffy Daughtrey actually won a couple of championships in East Lansing but the program was not able to build upon that foundation.  Schembechler’s foundation was continued by Carr. The fan base is just as loyal on the east side of Michigan.  They just haven’t had that one icon or an event attached to the program which makes it inferior and this shows in terms of recruiting and media coverage.  Nick Saban could have been that guy …

Sparty football is analogous to Texas A&M.  The Aggies – Longhorns rivalry is more than 100 years old.  However, Texas dominates both on the field and in terms of the media coverage. They have the iconic moments and titles … A&M did have one of those icons but couldn’t retain him.  Can you imagine if Bear Bryant stuck around College Station instead of heading over to Tuscaloosa?? Wouldn’t we be looking at that program the same way as Texas?  Abso-freaking-lutely.  Sure, one can say that about just any other school that Bryant would have vacated but it stings more for the Aggie fans b/c they are just as passionate about football as their peers who like to hook ‘em.

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October 10, 2011

Screw you B-S-U

Written Ramblings by AH

Petersen is a great coach! But ...

Boise State continues to dominate their schedule winning their 5th consecutive game by double digits.   You probably didn’t know that because you were probably busy watching The Mentalist on CBS or maybe you were out with friends on the two Friday nights they have played this season or maybe it’s because their opponents are 13-15 on the season (Georgia is the shining gem on their schedule who they played week 1 and had 8 months to prepare for) so ESPN realizes re-runs of the World Series of Poker get better ratings.

I realize that everyone defends them by saying “no one will play them” and that teams are scared of them, but why shouldn’t they be scared.  While Oklahoma and Texas are preparing to face off and both are looking at the rest of their difficult conference schedule – Boise State is playing games against Tulsa, Toledo and Nevada.  So although BSU is still playing games; they aren’t really worried about preparing for these teams — because Boise knows that they can win just playing their regular old game.  So they can prepare fully for the biggest games on their schedule.

You’ll never catch me saying that Boise State “can’t” beat a top team because unlike hundreds of other teams who play in FBS, they have a lot of talent.  But why wouldn’t they attract talent…if you get players to ignore the fact they have to play their home games in Boise, attend school over there and play on a blue field – who wouldn’t want the opportunity to put up ridiculous college numbers and play in a BCS game every year.  So acquiring talent isn’t all that difficult.  Hell, they rarely lose games anyway so you are always a winner.

But this all adds up to one thing – they should never be allowed to play in a BCS title game.  Their schedule and opponents just don’t dictate it.  It’d be like letting an NFL team play their entire season in the CFL and then put them into a one game playoff which decides whether they should play for the Super Bowl.  Sure, the NFL team might lose a game every once in a while but ultimately they basically play 1 game per year to determine if they should be playing for the Super Bowl.  It wouldn’t make sense and I am pretty sure Roger Goodell and the owners would never allow it.  But the college system allows it because it bases the entire decision on some individuals who don’t watch all the games – they just look at records and want Cinderella stories because they are good for radio or TV.

So Screw You BSU – go find real games – or play in the Poinsettia bowl year after year.  The BCS championship game should be reserved for major conference teams – not teams with schedules that rank in the triple digits.

October 6, 2011

It’s ok Missouri, somebody will pick you up.

Written Ramblings by DJ, JS and BB

Russell Wilson = For real ..

How were those $200 tickets Husker fans?  Apparently one Husker fan bought Wisconsin season tickets just so he can go to the game last weekend.  He can probably make a profit by selling the rest of them compared to the other fans.  The Big Ten games with College Gameday around haven’t been that good lately.  Last year’s Gameday showcase between Illinois and Northwestern wasn’t close either.  Both teams had to go only one direction on the field.  The fan turnout was weak b/c Gameday didn’t realize that there is really not much of a strong Illini presence in Chicago.  Then there was the main biggest issue of the day – Erin Andrews wasn’t out on Clark/Addison b/c she was covering the field inside the ballpark.  Nonetheless, these games don’t bode well for the Big Ten on the national stage.

One week down in the Big Ten, eight more to go.  Let’s break the games down with our roundtable of writers.  To paraphrase Bret Bielema, “On, Big Ten…”

Iowa @ Penn State (3:30 EST, ABC/ESPN)

DJ:  Why are Penn State linebackers talking smack about Iowa by calling them a “wrestling school” and not a “football school??” Maybe they should figure out if they have a quarterback and an offensive line first before mouthing off.  Iowa has owned Penn State in the recent years and that won’t change this weekend.  Iowa wins 21-17 and enters the Top 25.

BB:  PSU hasn’t looked good yet this year and Iowa seems to have their number the last few seasons.  Poor JoePa.

JS:  Every time I see this game I am reminded about the 6-4 game that they played. That’s not a typo – the final score was 6 to 4 – Iowa won. The only reason why Penn State scored four points was because Iowa purposely sent the ball sailing through the end zone on a punt so that it would give PSU a longer field to try and score on. THAT”S how inept PSU’s offense was that year. This year? Can’t say it will be too different. As the saying goes, if you have two quarterback, then you have none. Personally, I think they should just start Matt McGloin, a ginger haired walk on. That’s pretty much all you need to know about him. He is the classic overachiever. The other quarterback is Rob Bolden – talented dual threat quarterback but someone who doesn’t seem to have the confidence of the team to perform well. How do I know that? They keep pulling him for McGloin. PSU has one of the best defensive linemen in the league in Devon Still, but he needs help. They lost Mike Mauti, a middle line backer, to a torn ACL and their secondary isn’t great.  Iowa, on the other hand, seems like their defense is poorer than it has been in years. Case in point – a 44-41 triple overtime loss to Iowa State for the greatest trophy ever made – The CyHawk Trophy. Iowa does, however, have a great passing game. Their quarterback, Vandenberg, has some Stanzi in him and has a good enough arm to make all the throws, which is more than enough to beat Penn State.  On a side note – how come Michigan can’t play Penn State when they are atrocious?

Iowa – 28; Penn State -20

Illinois @ Indiana (2:30 EST, BTN)

DJ:  Since when does the Big Ten schedule games at 2:30 EST??  ACC tries to “buy” a few minutes of extra ratings by starting games around 12:30 or 4:30 EST … that’s why the Clemson – Va Tech game started at a random time last week.  Please stick to the regular times of 12, 3:30 and 8 EST,  thanks.  Oh, and about the game?  I was surprised that The Zooker didn’t pull Scheelhase midway through the 3rd quarter last weekend which would have led to a Wildcat blowout.  Jason Ford should have been walking around the campus with the ball this past week after almost blowing the game with his fumble.  Illinois is good but I am not sure if they are top 20 material.  First road game of the year for them.   Indiana played Penn State pretty tough.  Expect Indiana to cover but an Illinois win.  Illinois wins 28-24.

BB:  Despite a close game against a seemingly terrible PSU team, Indiana just doesn’t have the talent.  Illini go to 6-0.

JS:  This should be a cake walk for the Illini but remember – they are coached by Ron Zook. Still, their defense seems pretty legit and Indiana is still Indiana, although they are improving bit by bit with new head coach Kevin Wilson. Also, Illinois is coming back down to earth after a thrilling game where they beat Northwestern in the final 30 seconds – eerily similar to how Michigan beat Notre Dame – three lead changing touchdowns in the last two minutes. Very exciting stuff. Scheelhaase is one of the better quarterbacks in the B1G and he’s got a decent running back behind him and a good wide receiver. Indiana needs to play well not just because that’s what they are expected to do, but they need to keep Gunner Kiel, the nation’s number one pro style quarterback recruit this year, committed to them. It helps that his brother is getting increasing amounts of playing time, but the lack of noticeable improvement has got to be concerning to him and all Hoosier fans.  

Illinois – 35; Indiana 17

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October 6, 2011

Lou Henson vs. Bobby Knight?? Time for the Zook – Wilson era.

Written Ramblings by JB

Future Prediction – The Illini are going to be six and zero to start the season. Yes, this is a total dismissal of Indiana’s football program (1-4, 0-1 Big Ten) but the odds seem to be overwhelmingly in Illinois favor come Saturday.  Taking this into consideration;  Illinois (19 in the AP and 16 in the coaches) seems to be off to one of their best starts in decades, and a victory this weekend should only push them up further in the rankings.

What do we know about this team though?  Illinois defense is reminiscent of their in-state professional counterparts. They allow very few points off of turn-overs and they seem to come up with spectacular plays to change the fate of the game.

The offense is a different story.  The win against Arizona State showed the nation a team with grit and determination, but Illinois has looked inconsistent against Western Michigan and Northwestern.  The Illini beat a good Broncos team on what seemed to be sheer athleticism alone. They hammered home the run game until it seemed to wear down the Broncos by sheer attrition. It was however, another story against Northwestern.  Last year’s Big 10 leaders in rushing struggled to get their offensive core philosophy going.  Nathan Scheelhasse made an uncharacteristically bad decision in the red-zone causing a 14 point swing and his elusive counterpart, Dan Persa, showed the effectiveness of a healthy Northwestern squad.

What we can draw from two wins in a row with a total of six points as a margin of victory is that the Illini could very easily be 3-2 and not 5-0 heading into Hoosier territory. While their defense is arguably at the top of the Big 10; we’ve seen inconsistencies on the offensive side of the game. Big plays to AJ Jenkins and break-out runs by Pollard and Young will win against the MAC and hampered Big 10 teams (Northwestern is very legit with a healthy Persa).  But this will not hold up against the likes of Wisconsin (who is scary good), Michigan or Ohio State.

Illinois cannot overlook Indiana, but it does need to look forward and re-focus on being a disciplined team by taking fewer penalties in addition to converting red-zone possessions into touchdowns. They have, at times, seemingly unstoppable combinations on offense and a very good pass rushing core. Western Michigan and Northwestern have seem to have found some exploitations on both ends of the ball.  Indiana should prove to be a good testing ground for their coaching staff’s mid-week adjustments.  If all goes well they should have some good things cooked up for the Buckeyes in Champaign in two weeks.  If not, it’ll be another minor bowl for the Orange and Blue.