Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Beyond Worthiness - The Epic is Upon Us

You've come to the right place at the right time. It's been said that timing is everything (by whom, I'm not quite sure deserves the original credit). Nonetheless, this saying grows deeper and truer as time itself goes by. In today's modern information age centered more and more around mobility and relativity when it comes to measuring time, there is little to no time for things like tradition. Make some, the Grand-Daddy is virtually upon us.

And, it what will likely be one of my last (if not the last) postings for 2007, how better than to expound upon one of the greatest traditions this country has - the Rose Bowl Game brought to you by Citi? First conceived at the same time the pilgrims landed at Plymouth (OK, shortly thereafater by Lewis and Clark in the early 1800's as part of the great expedition), this game has always been about tradition, bringing together two great cultures from distant lands. And I mean distant lands. The BIG-10 and PAC-10 couldn't be further apart in terms of cultures than the '60s were to the '50s. And some would have a strong argument that they don't even share a common language. One's rooted in the earth; the other rolls in the surf!

To the 'average' midwesterner, the left coast has always been a far-off destination -kind of like the land of OZ and the Emerald City, only further: the grandeur of mountains, valleys, rivers, golden rays ubiquitous SoCal sunshine, the promise of instant fortune, hot babes, cool cars, tofu, bean sprouts, fish tacos, and the Rose Bowl Game. Plain and simple, there is no greater end state. From the pageantry, the parade, the pomp, and the circumstance (with the coolest of all bowl - game symbols in the red rose), this game is all about tradition. And yes, Pat Forde, it's a good thing. You can have your Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, or BCS Title Game conceived in a New York back-room by some schmucks from Fox Sports. No, to me and millions, yes perhaps even billions, the end of the rainbow has always been the promised land of Pasadena in early January (very early January). Being able to represent your conference and culture in one of the greatest sporting events (still played on natural grass BTW) ever known to man is a great honor.

As for this year's edition, expect the Chief to show up. He might even be ready to play. I do know the National Coach of the Year will have them ready. You see win, lose, or draw - partaking in this affair is glorious in and of itself: to have the opportunity to represent. At least we'll have Disneyland and Lawry's. And make no mistake about it, show up the Chief will!

I've long contemplated the what if scenarios of this football season. For a sampling of some random thoughts (some quite excellent for sure), go back through this blog over the past four months. At the end of the regular season, was there a hotter team? What if we started the season the way we ended it? Would we even be playing on New Year's Day or 6 nights layer in New Orleans at 12-0? I've convinced myself of several things over the years, but I do know this for sure: no way we lose to Iowa, Michigan, or Missouri with rebirth of Juice Williams after the BIG BLUE home loss in October. It's amazing how playing with confidence affects the outcome of a game differently than playing without. Maybe it was overcoming injury, gaining valuable experience, understanding a new system for the first time, or a combination of several factors that just came together after that home loss to the Wolverines on Zupke Field in front of millions who had a bird's-eye view of Orange Krush in all of its blazing brilliance. We grew up that night.

Are we worthy to represent the BIG-10 this year? Please, the real question should be who wants it more? Which team will be ready to lay it all out on the line? And aren't you glad it's not Georgia? Yes indeed, go west young men - and represent.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Desperate Drive Over the Tigers

It's been a tough start to the basketball season for my struggling hoops squad this year. Things got off to an OK start out in Maui winning 3 of 4 (only loss to Duke, who doesn't?). However, ever since we returned to the mainland it's been nip and tuck with some tough losses against Maryland, Arizona, and Miami (OH) - yuck! We really could have and should have won all three games. Instead of 7-4, we might just be 10-1.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda - results speak for themselves. We're not a good shooting club this year, especially from the outside. This team is still trying to blend and fold into something, anything, that resembles a cohesive basketball unit. I'd say we're on the right track but that progress has been very slow. Hopefully that will change next season when we get Legion and Smith back in the lineup to join Meachem. If there is any good news so far this year it's that we landed a good one from Kentucky in Alex Legion (6'-4" 195 lb. shooting guard). In addition to one of the best pure outside shooters in the country (Jamar Smith), Alex should really help to bolster the outside game. He played his senior ball at Oak Hill Academy (not too shabby) and helped lead his team to the 2007 National Championship. While there, he set the season records in free-throw and three-point shooting percentages averaging 19.6 / game and 53% from the floor. Unfortunately, it won't be in time to join Pruitt and Randle who both leave at the end of this season.

As for this year's edition of the Busch Bragging Rights affair, it was sheer determination that willed us to victory down the stretch of a tightly contestted game. We really needed another quality win on the young season as we head into conference play next month. In front of 21,900 inside the Scottrade Center (St. Louis), we didn't disappoint - finally. That makes it 8 in a row over Missouri in this one. And looking ahead to March (I know, very dangerous), this could be a game that helps my 'on-the-bubble' ILLINI team make the BIG DANCE. We'll see. I'm not quite sure we'll reach 20 wins this year.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Painting Pasadena Orange

Rose Bowl ticket requests ~ 23K before they go on sale to the general public. Final numbers won't be in until after those go on sale next Tuesday. Unfortunately, at ~ $400 / seat on sites like CRAIG's and STUBHUB, the Chief won't be going to SoCal for New Year's this time. That's OK, he'd prefer the 42" LCD for the same price after you throw in airfare and lodging.

Still yet, just more evidence that the tribe travels well and the Rose Bowl knew what it was doing in selecting ILLINOIS this year. We are more than WORTHY. I expect a big Orange section at the Rose Bowl on January 1 when we take on the Trojans. Look for at least 30K strong, probably ~ 40K ILLINI fans in some form or another, making up a big chunk of the ~100K seating capacity. Keep in mind that the Rose Bowl offers more than twice the ticket allottment to the PAC-10 Champion as the BIG-10 Champion.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Shut - Up Already, Chief is Worthy of the BCS ...

I mean, enough is enough already. All I've been hearing about since Sunday night (with the announcement of this year's Rose Bowl between USC and ILL) is how ILLINOIS is not deserving of a BCS bid. And, in general - the BIG 10 is down this year and shouldn't be sending two programs to the BCS. Sure, I feel for Missouri and Arizona State - but the CHIEF didn't make the rules. He just plays by 'em. Hell yes, I'm calling out Stewart Mandel (CNN/SI), Pat Forde (ESPN), and Andy Gresh (sp? - ESPN). These guys are normally on the mark, but all missed it big time in their assessments of this year's BCS games, especially the Rose Bowl. Sure, we may get blown out by USC - it's been a crazy season afterall. But know this, we will compete for 60+ minutes in the upcoming remake of 'David Vs. Goliath'.

The worst of the worst has to be Pat Forde. I mean, based on his writings, you can't draw any other conclusion other than the fact he's an idiot. He shredded, I mean ripped, Ron Zook back in August and September - along with the rest of the ILLINI nation for rallying behind its coach. According to Pat at the time, Zooker was little more than an over-glorified recruiter. I'm still waiting for the apology - and now this of late:

Forde: I anticipate seeing USC pole-ax BCS interloper Illinois in the Rose Bowl the way UCLA once demolished an overrated Illini in the '84 Rose 45-9. And I hope it rains on the Rose Parade as well. The Rose deserves it for clinging to outdated ritual instead of trying to set up the best possible game.

Really, 'interloper'? To some in this great land tradition still means something. And just for the record, no team has a better winning percentage at the Rose Bowl (75%) than Illinois. USC (with far more appearances, is just at 66%). Honestly, it's the tradition in the game that helps to differentiate CFB from the entertainment version played on Sundays. I for one love the debates, the polls, the controversy, and the 'human-factor' of the game. The BCS is far from perfect, but it is the current state of the game. Deal with it. Pat, tone down your hatred for the BIG-10 my friend. Try to be an objective journalist at least now and then if you can. ESPN is paying you big dollars for your pie-hole. Use it wisely.

The Rose Bowl could be the best of the BCS games. Think of the many storylines: ILLINI spread-option versus the Trojan Defense, Juice versus the SC linebackers, line versus line, etc......It's not like we're talking ECU and Boise State or Cincy and Southern Miss. These are two great programs representing their conferences in front of the nation. Come on Pat, I'll give you another chance. Try to say something nice next time.

Now for the case (as if I need to lay it all out there for you). Seriously, and you've heard it here before, we played 12 games this year and won 9 of them against some pretty tough competition. Name another team with two top-5 wins (Wisconsin and Ohio State). Who else did that this year? And the three losses are all quality defeats in my book: to Mizzou (barely), at Iowa (barely again), and at home against a pretty good Michigan club at the time. With 9 wins and a 13 ranking in the BCS we qualify under the current system. Enough said, welcome to reality.

I know we're going up against the winningest program of late in USC. They're a dynasty from the left coast, men amongst boys in most cases. I know as well as you do that there's more NFL talent on this club than 50% of the teams that play on Sunday. There's the AFC, the SEC, USC, and the NFC - in that order. And nobody gets his program ready for the BIG GAME like Pete Carroll. Still yet, they lost two games this year (Stanford and Oregon) and are not the same dominant team as the 2003, 4, 5 squads. But for all their success / praise this year, the men from Troy have only beaten two teams with winning records (ASU / OS) with a #32 SOS while the Chief has amassed six such wins with #41 SOS. This just in, Zook can do more than just recruit. He's also a finalist for the LIBERTY MUTUAL COACH OF THE YEAR. Teams and programs win games, not individuals. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Pat. I hope Ronnie wins it for ya!

No other team is hotter in the BIG-10 right now (4Ws in a row leads the conference). And for all this crap I've been hearing all year about how 'great' the self-proclaimed 'conference of champions' (SPCoC) is this year, they only come in at #3 behind the SEC and BIG EAST (of all conferences) in the latest Sagarin conference rankings. And when you look at the bowl matchups this year, you can't help but notice that the BIG-10 has (8) clubs against just (6) from the SPCoC. Should be an interesting BIG-10 / PAC-10 challenge for total bowl wins this year.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Bowl Chaos Series - Don't Blame Me!

Don't blame me for the mess we now have at our feet after PITT upset WV (one of the biggest of the with so much on line in the Backyard Brawl this year) and OU took care of MIZZOU - as predicted by the Chief. No, don't blame me - I've been calling for a playoff system for yeaars. Go back through my archives and see some of those discusssions and my ultimate bowl-playoff solution starting with the Top - 12 in the BCS. It's been a while myself, I may actually have some more tweaks to make. But, if it isn't clear to even the most casual fan that we need a true system for determining our national CFB champion, then keep reading. You're about to jump in head-first not knowing the depth of the pool. For the first time in the BCS, both #1 and #2 go down on the final weekend of the season. Wow!

So who plays whom? My NEW TOP-10 goes as follows: 1) LSU, 2) Oklahoma, 3) USC, 4) Georgia, 5) VT, 6) Ohio State, 7) Florida, 8) MIZZOU, 9) WV, 10) KU / ASU / ILLINOIS.

Sure, no surprise that I place the Chief in the TOP-10 at season's end - I suppose. All of these teams have proved to us that they can lose, at least one game if not two or three. At some point we have to consider strength of schedule (who'd you play, where, and who'd you beat?). And who in this list is playing their best ball late in the year? Yes, no two wins or losses are created equal. It does matter when you win and lose.

Wtih that in mind, I put LSU #1 for one simple reason - they didn't lose a regulation game all year (and they play in the SEC - toughest conference in America). Doesn't hurt when you win your conference either. Same logic mostly holds true for Oklahoma, who won their conference by beating MIZZOU at the Alamo last night (and Santa Anna)? The Sooners are one of the most physical teams in the land on both sides of the ball and may feature the best defense when it's all said and done. They held a high-powered MIZZOU offense in check, twice this year. Clearly #1 an d#2 are a bit above the rest in the field. Both won their divisions. Both won their conferences. Enough said.

I have USC #3 followed by Georgia, VT, OSU, and Florida. USC may be the best team in the nation right now. But, that early upset at home to Stanford should keep them out of the title game. That had to be one of if not the greatest upsets in CFB history. Two losses in a relatively weak PAC-10 (victim of injury like no other conference) also help cement the Trojans as very good, perhaps great, but not worthy of a higher ranking. They only played two teams with winning records year (but did play Nebraska, Idaho, and ND).

Georgia is a solid football team that may have the best argument for playing in the BCS Title Game w/o having won their conference or division. But, they did take it on the chin to Tennessee earlier in the year who lost yesterday to guess who, LSU. VT is playing some great ball right now down the stretch now that they've found a rhythem on offense with Glennon calling the shots. This team looks scarrier and scarrier to me the more I see them. Ohio State and Florida, last year's BCS matchup, are both good clubs with some serious weaknesses. But snap for snap, they're better than the bottom three in my ranking.

MIZZOU, WV, KU, ASU, and ILLINOIS round it out. Here we have the Jeckyl and Hide Division of the list. How does WV lose the Backyard Brawl to 4-7 Pitt with so much on the line? And is Ohio State even worthy to be ranked this high with that soft conference and non-conference schedule (true, 1 loss to the Chief). Same for KU and its schedule. Both of these teams have been exposed against better competition. ASU is a typical PAC-10 team to me, great on offense at times but soft on 'D' against quality systems. And, they have this nasty habit of falling behind early in just about every game, costing them against Oregon and USC. Then there's the Chief!

There is not better three-loss program in the land. At 9-3 we're eligible for the BCS this year after 2-10 last season. What a turnaround. And when you look at the losses you have to be impressed: at MIZZOU, against Michigan when they were fairly good, and at Iowa on a crappy day for football at Kinnick. Granted, we should have and could have won all three games to be 12-0. Then there are the victories: over Wisconsin (#5), over Penn State, and over #1 Ohio State at Columbus (Beat the Best!). We closed the season on a four-game winning streak by taking care of business against a pesky NW club who has owned us of late.

So, w/o further fan-fare - here are my proposed BCS matchups:
  • BCS TITLE GAME should be LSU vs. OSU (yep, the BUCKEYS are back).
  • SUGAR BOWL GAME should be Georgia vs VT.
  • ORANGE BOWL GAME should be OU vs. WV.
  • ROSE BOWL GAME should be USC vs. ILLINOIS (BIG-10 gets two).

Chief recognizes the voting in the HARRIS and COAHCES' polls will make all the difference. But based on last-week's voting and rankings along with the outcomes of the games on Championship Saturday, these are the most equitable matchups. And I tried to maintain a semblance of the bowl alliances with the Orange (BE/B12), Rose (B10/P10), and Sugar (ACC/SEC). In so doing, I leave out KU, FLORIDA, and yes - Hawaii. First HI no way, not with that schedule and yesterday's squeaker over UW. At 142nd or so in the nation, the Warriors are not worthy of a BCS bid. Stay in HI and give us another great Sheraton HAWAII BOWL shootout. As for Florida, they didn't even win their division in their conference. This isn't last year's TITLE team.

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