Saturday, September 29, 2007

Week #5 Wrap - Wild One in Champaign!

How tough are you? How tough are you? Victory starts on the inside before you see any results on the field. Ask yourself this, did today's losers leave it all on the field? I love this GAME. There hasn't been a weekend like this in a long long time. GAMEDAY FINAL has you covered. Call it a seminole victory. A signature win. A breakthrough performance. Call it what you will but Illinois is now 2-0 in the BIG-10 after losing 30 of its last 33 conference games. It was our first win over a ranked team in six (6) seasons. Wow! And for the first time since 2001, we won our conference opener at home; this year against a pretty good Penn State club. This is a resume` - builder for the Zooker, a game he really needed to win to prove to the cynics that our turnaround is for real. Don't get me wrong, we have a long way to go - but we're on the right trajectory. Florida didn't win it's championship during the early Ronnie years either. I'm not sure if we'll crack the top-25 come Sunday morning but I know that Penn State won't be there anymore. Right now we're #30 in the CBS Top 120. Feels good to be back in the mix again with a few extra bullets in the chamber. Strong recruiting is starting to pay off, and we're 24th this year so far on the 2008 recruiting trail behind Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin in the BIG-10. Thank God for text messaging. Hail to the Chief!

I am so proud of my team, especially our defense. Barring a last-minute loss on the road to Missouri earlier this month, we easily could be 5-0 heading into next week's big game. And that one had more momentum swings in it than a Yankees / Red Sox playoff game. HUGE PLAYS at key game moments are starting to define this year's club. Rather than giving up big plays on defense we're making them. And shame on you if you don't know who Jeremy Leman is, probably one of the best linebackers in the game today averaging double-digit tackles. He just makes big plays all over the field. If the first half was about offense and big-time plays with the ball, then the 2nd was about defense, stepping it up, and testing manhood. Up 21-17 at the break, the defense showed up down the stretch time and time again to make big plays and force turnovers that kept LION drives from ending up in points. We forced three turnovers in the 4th quarter, each time with Joe Pa's boys ready to go in for the go ahead or tie score. Yes indeed, the Chief is back in 2007. Anybody. Anywhere. Anytime. I told you we're going bowlin' this year. There's a great chance we don't lose again this year at home. Next weekend we get BIG W - the cheesheads from Madison; Wisconsin Badgers. We owe them some.

Actually, it turned out to be a very typcial BIG-10 showdown with both offense and solid defense on exhibit. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more exciting finish today - Oregon / Cal excluded. BIG plays were made at key moments of the game on offense and defense. In the end, that was enough to send a senior Nittany Lion squad back to no-so Happy Valley this week in a game they could have easily won with some better execution. Keep in mind this LION team was ranked in the TOP-10 last weekend before a tough loss in Ann Arbor. Rashard only had 75 yards on 16 carries, but did have a key 1st-half touchdown in a gind-it-out game. Let's face it, Penn State does have a great defense. The passing game is still a source of concern, accumulating 117 yards on 11/27 passing shared between Williams and McGee with 1 TD and 2INTS. Yuck. That won't help our 104th ranking in the passing game. We need to turn this around if we want to really challenge for the BIG-10 title this year against teams like Ohio State. But, we did have another strong rushing performance with 213 yards on the ground in total. And how 'bout Regis Benn? Remember this name. Just how good is this young stud, and how good will he become? A star was born today on Zupke Field inside Memorial Stadium. For the first time since 1991 we start the BIG-10 season at 2 and 0. You might be able to contain him for a quarter or two, but you can't stop the CHIEF this year. Bring on the cheeseheads from Madison. We're ready. They're due. Losing streak ends on Saturday.

And what a crazy Saturday on the college gridiron. Are there any elite teams on the landscape these days? Just when I thought LSU might go down inside the dome against Tulane, they pull away in the 2nd half. Then, the shocker of the day - down goes Oklahoma at the hands of the Buffaloes. Wow - the North strkes back. Down goes one of the title contenders in a game that really surprised me. Check that, down go two BIG SOUTH challengers - upset TEXAS. KSU pulls one of the biggest upsets of the year in AUSTIN today against Mac Brown's club. Wow wow! Any given Saturday. This just in, Auburn (21-point dog) just whacked Florida as time ran out. Oh my! It's a different team and a different game each weekend. Unbelieveable. I didn't even mention the big Friday-night upset in Tampa as USF man-handled WV in a game that made a mess out of the BIG EAST. Watch out for the Bulls. Ten years ago they didn't even exist and now they're on top of their conference and headed towards the BCS. Oh my golly! This has been a crazy season so far. Wow! You just never know. That's why they play the games. Lookahead, and you get killed in CFB. 6 of the top 11 went down today, including 5 of the top-10. Nobody is intimidated by anybody anymore. Does homefield advantage really matter? CAL won today on the road. Same for Auburn, KSU, and Maryland - all on the road. So what was the biggest loss of the day? Oklahoma blowing a lead late in the game with that defense was a big surprise to me. And Florida, losing to lowly Auburn in the SWAMP. The TIGERS should play more SEC road games. Texas going down today hard really didn't surprise me, even in a beatdown at home. Rutgers was exposed. Every week is a different team and a different game. Past performance means less and less with each passing week. Check out this week's TOP25 GRID.

And how 'bout those Ducks? Great game. Another tale of two halves. CAL walks away with its first win in Autzen since 1987. Wow! Great game for both teams, the conference, and the Pacific Northwest. Is the PAC-10 the best conference in the land right now? Hmmm......Can you say replay? What is it with Oregon and replay anyway? The Quack Attack played an awesome game (all except Dixon). Two late picks in the 4th quarter, at home no less, was the delta today. The 2nd one late in the game while driving for the score really hurt. What is it with Dixon and the Bears? Have you ever seen such a voo-doo effect? Dennis just can't seem to get his mind in the game at key moments when they play CAL. Ouch, I should have kept my 4 points on CAL this morning but I had a feeling Oregon would find a way. I was wrong, like so many other times today. Nonetheless, it was a great game - especially for the PAC-10 on the national stage. Just two key mistakes for the Ducks (Dixon) down the stretch at the wrong time. Where does Oregon go from here? The next two weeks are going to seem like an eternity. Tough time for a loss with so much at stake. This was a heartbreaker. So close, and yet so far.

Hot (buy buy buy - only upside here):
Illinois, CAL, Georgia, BC, USC, USF, KSU, Ohio State, Kentucky, & Miami (canes are coming back).
Not (sell now - these stocks have peaked):
Texas, West Virginia, Penn State, Alabama, Clemson, Rutgers, & Notre Dame.

My TOP TEN(10):

1) USC
2) LSU
3) CAL
4) Ohio State
5) BC
6) Kentucky
7) Georgia
8) Oklahoma
9) USF
10) Wisconsin (but not for much longer)

Key Stats of the week -
1) Ohio State never lost inside the metro-dome (11-0 , including yesterday's romp over the gophers.
2) Badgers now have the nation's longest winning streak (for now) at 14 games.
3) BC is 5-0 for the first time in 50 some years. Watchout.
4) Nebraska beat Iowa State yesterday but has given up > 1000 yards in its last two games.
5) USC squeaked past UW in Seattle, committing 16 penalties for 167 yards. Ouch!
6) Tulane sacked LSU's QB six times yesterday for a total of -39 yards. Yikes...
7) What's with Auburn - I mean the gator killers. 11-game streak ends with the Tigers, again.
8) Rutgers goes down to Maryland at home after cracking the top-10 for the 2nd time in two years.
9) K-Stated picked off Colt McCoy 4 times and knocked him out of the game for a 2nd-straight year.
10) After starting the year with 11 TD's and no picks, Dennis Dixon had two big ones yesterday late in the CAL game which were likely the difference makers.

Lasting quotes from today's big Penn-State victory:

  • "I'm catching the ball and saying to myself, 'I will not be denied'," Benn said.
  • "Right now, I don't want to say we've turned it around - we haven't turned it around - but we've made some progress," Zook said.

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