Saturday, September 27, 2008

Week #5 - That's Why They Play the GAMES!

If you had any doubts. Perhaps a bit of indecision. A smidge of ambiguity. I'm here to tell you with the utmost clarity that there is no better game in the LAND than FCS (DIV 1-A) CFB. It's the reason why men buy obscenely - gigantic flat-panel HDTVs. Weeks like this make men, men. Go grill some steaks. The coals are red hot.

Down goes #1 (USC). Down goes #3 (Georgia). Down goes #4 (Florida). Down goes #8 (Wisconsin). I told you that misery loves company. And thank the Beavers for getting the insanity started Thursday night in Corvallis.

CHIEF on the TRIBE -

Well, the passion may be back in Champaign. Tonight, for the first time really this year, I saw my team (at least on offense) play closer to its real potential. Juice and Rejis both stepped - up to the WHITE OUT challenge in Happy Valley. Sure, it was a loss, but the final score wasn't indicative of the effort (38-24, Penn State). Dufrene continues to impress me at tailback this year (96 yards on just 14 attemps). Williams went just 13/24 for 183 but with 2 TDS and only 1 INT, in the first half. We put up nearly 400 yards of offense in a balanced attack with 196 yards on the ground.

But, the defense just struggled throughout the game to really get in front of Penn State's 'HD' offense. And their special teams beat ours (1 kick-off return after we drew within 7 points in the 3rd). Derrick Williams was fantastic, scoring 3 TDs 3 different ways for 241 total yards.

And how about the 'WHITE HOUSE' Saturday night? Happy Valley has to be the most initmidating road destination in CFB these days, especially at night in front of 108k rabid fans. That crowd reminded me of a soccer crowd in Europe. There was all kind of action taking place in the stands. It's a special place to play the game, especially on a Saturday night. We have yet to win there in six tries now.

Still, I saw enough against Penn State Saturday night (now one of the best teams in the nation) to give me hope for this year's campaign. We can learn and build on this effort, especially on the defensive and special-team's breakdowns. We'll have to, and quick. Up next is BIG BLUE in Ann Arbor (which now looks like a real contest), followed by Minnesota and Indiana at home. We should head into Madison at 4-3 or 5-2 come Ocotober 25th.

Message to Coaches (since I know you read these) - Good job this week in getting the team ready to play. It showed. Having the bye last week worked well. That being said, there's more work to do on special teams and defense. It's true that the 'D' is young, but we need to tighten up our pass coverage in space. I think our tackling is getting better, more physical, but there's still work to do on the fundamentals and positioning. Obviously, we can't allow kick-off returns in close games. I'd also like to see us do more with Dufrene and the rushing attack. We should have a goal of 250 yards / game on the ground with the stable we have including Williams and Benn. Coupled with 200 yards /air, that would be a formiddable attack.

Obviously, we'll need to get things in order quickly for next week against Michigan. No shame in losing to Missouri or Penn State (good losses). Who knows, they might play in Miami come January for all the marbles; they're that good. Looking back, we were competitive in both games for large stretches of each. But, to be honest, we now need some good 'wins' to sprinkle over the resume'. We'll have hour chances now that conference play is here. It's time for a few quality wins folks. Go get 'em! Make a statement. We need more nights like Saturday. I agree coach. Not sure it's a 'peace of mind' with our gameplay yet, but Saturday's performance showed me that things are moving in the right direction. We are making small progress. The key is to sustain the momentum no matter the location, our competition, or adversity we have yet to face. Lets hope Michael Phelps won't be in attendance again next Saturday.


I mean, there was no wayUSC would go down to the BEAVERS. The Trojans were so confident they only brought half the band and the b-squad cheerleaders. Some 2000 seats went unclaimed by the men from Troy. It was supposed to be a 25-point rout. But the BLACK and ORANGE had another thing coming. Sure USC looked flat. They missed tackles and dropped balls. It didn't look like Sanchez was a full speed all night. But give most of the credit to Oregon State and Coach Mike. He had the Beavers ready to play. And they simply took it straight at USC all night behind the hard running of the QUIZZ, J. Rodgers. Great job men. You earned that one and shocked the CFB landscape in so doing. Given the relative weakness in the conference this year, a Rose Bowl may not be out of the question (but take care of business first).

And how does Florida lose at home to Ole Miss? How does Georgia get blown out between the hedges in a BLACK OUT? Wow, the SEC is a loaded / well-balanced league. Nick Saban seems to be worth every penny in Tuscaloosa thisyear. Poor Wisconsin, Bielema's boys found another way to blow a 19-point halftime lead on the road against Michigan who scored 27 un-answered points. Like I've been saying all year, it's never the same game each week. Ah yes, misery does love company.

The ACC continues to confound me. Clemson, Miami, and Wake Forest all lost on Saturday. VT and FSU found ways to win. Ugh - what a mess. But DUKE has to be one of the biggest stories of the year that conference. Cutcliffe has them going in the right direction (31-3 over Virginia).

Gap is closing between the BIG-12 and SEC. I'd give the slight edge to the SEC conference in terms of power rankings, mainly because of defense. Offense is a bit of a concern. I see a shift in power within that conference from EAST to WEST. To me, the WEST is stronger right now with LSU, Alabama, Auburn, and Ole Miss playing some good ball. Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee seem to have taken a few steps backwards - for now. Otherwise, my conference rankings remain largely unchanged from last week: 1) SEC, 2) BIG-12, 3) BIG-10, 4) ACC, 5) PAC-10, 6) BIG-10.

Heartbreak moment of the week. Many to chose from with the upsets galore. But the blog is here for you, working overtime to get the inside scoop. Where did Michigan get the motivation for a second - half 27-point comeback against Wisconsin? Answer = Michael Phelps. He was at the BIG HOUSE on Saturday wearing a #8 jersey. Result, biggest comeback at home for Michigan in school history.

And speaking of heartbreaks, there is the case study of Washington State. Losing to Oregon is nothing new. It happens just about every year, no matter the venue. But the alumni won't be scurrying to contribute heaping sums anytime soon after this weekend's 63-14 home loss; yes, it was homecoming too. Ugh! Sorry John. And I'm sure the ride back on Sunday from Pullman with Chris wasn't a lot of fun either.

My NEW TOP-10 - Featuring 3 BIG-12 schools in your TOP-5:

  1. Oklahoma - Good win over TCU. Looking more and more likely like a trip to Miami.

  2. Missouri - Didn't play. Defense still a concern. Should roll Nebraska next.

  3. Alabama - I mean WOW! Didn't see tha coming. Fear the TIDE in the SEC.

  4. LSU - Struggled with MSU last night. We'll learn more @ Florida shortly.

  5. Texas - Continues to roll against weak competition. Colt's team. @ Colorado next.

  6. Penn State - Scary team in HD. I've been saying this all year. BCS? Schedule is favorable.

  7. USC - Uphill climb in the PAC-10. Where do the Trojans go from here?

  8. BYU -How about some love for the MWC? @AF, @TCU, and @ UTAH. Win = BCS.

  9. Texas Tech - Who knows? But, I have to rank somebody here.

  10. Ohio State - Looks who's back in the top-10, for now. Buckeyes found themseles a QB.

FINAL NOTE - It's never the same game twice. And that's why we love the game. You can stink one week and knock-off #1 the next (Oregon State example this year). Every week matters. Every game has play-off implications. It's college football. It's the best thing going. At least we can agree it gives me something to chat about. And that's what we learned this weekend.

And if you're like me, looking ahead to the bowl action already this year, feast your eyes on these projections from MSNBC: DRIVE to the BCS. Right now, it's looking like a CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL matchup between the Fighting Zookers and North Carolina (BIG-10 / ACC showdown). That would be fun. They currently have LSU facing Oklahoma in Miami for the title. Your Rose Bowl is shaping up to be Joe Pa versus Pete(Penn State and USC - not bad). And, if both go undefeated, you're looking at two BCS busters in Boise State (Orange Bowl) and BYU (Fiesta).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Week 4 - No Tribe This Week ... Still GREAT!

Wow, what a weekend of CFB! When the chill hits the air for the first time of the season. When the sun is a little lower in the late-summer sky. When it's Auburn / LSU. It's a SHOWDOWN SATURDAY. I love this game. There is none better. I'm spent tonight. Cupcakes are behind us. Conference play is here, in full swing.

No tribe update this week. Good news is we didn't lose. Bad news is that we will (@ Penn State next week). I mean, we have NO CHANGE in Happy Valley. Why even travel? Save the MATER some $$$ .... and some pride. We're going to get whacked like a dirty rug in my grandma's paws. It won't be pretty. Early prediction: 99-2 (Penn State will run like the wind).

AROUND THE NATION: But, as for WEEK 4 - wow, what a SATURDAY. How about those PANTERS from Pitt? That was a typical backyard- brawl. HAWKEYES just didn't have enough in the tank to take down Wannstedt's crew at home. As for AUBURN / LSU, it's the BAYOU BENGALS' conference to lose. Jarrett Lee emerged tonight as the clear LSU frontrunner for QB. As if this team needed another shining star. Firs time in 9 years the road team wins this battle.

LSU isn't good. To quote Tony, they're GRRRRRRRRRRREAT! More talent and depth than you will ever know. LES MILES might just have the best job in America. I'm sure Pete Carrol woul disagree. Same for Florida. Another SEC school that plays hammer-down on defense and runs you into the ground on offense and speical teams.

We also learned that Carolina and FSU are NOT for real, just yet. TARHEELS let this one get away today at home with VT (up 14 points mid-way through 3rd) And, it's one thing to beat 1-AA teams, but quite another in ACC play. Bobby, you can't turn it over 6 times. Ugh! 11 turnovers, 21 penalties, and just 3 points at home against WAKE in last two games. VERY bad. How about MIAMI (Fl)? Big road win in College Station tonight in front of the 12th man. And fear Mizzou, Daniel had 20 - straight completions in another rout today (Buffalo). And, oh those DUCKS - losing today at home to Boise State. PAC-9 (minus USC) isn't that good this year. Georgia showed us tonight just how great the gap is between the SEC and PAC-10. I'm not sure the DAWGS are even the best in the SEC right now.

Quick shout out to the BIG-10 today. Javon Ringer of SPARTY is a stud. He has 90% of the TDs this year for Michigan State. Penn State continues to look unbeatable to me. We'll learn more when they face Wisconsin later this year. As for the Badgers (off week), they're resting after a hard-fought victory against Fresno. Conference stock is on the rise. Folks, the tide is coming out. You've been warned.

My NEW TOP-10:

1) USC - Didn't play. Doesn't matter.
2) Oklahoma - See #1
3) Mizzou - Another offensive masterpiece. They lead the nation at 597 yds / game.
4) Georgia - BIG WIN in the desert against the DEVILS. Leave no doubt. Dawgs 4 real.
5) LSU - Huge. BIG WIN. Best of year so far? @ Jordan Hare. Nough said.
6) Florida - Dismantled, disrobed, destroyed, dissected; a mediocre VOLS team @ Rocky Top.
7) Bama - See #6. Same on the road at Arkansas. This just in. SEC is good.
8) Texas - 52 to 10 (RICE) isn't bad.
9) Penn State - 45 to 3 over TEMPLE. Expect more of the same against the CHIEF next week.
10) Auburn / WISC - Despite a home SEC loss to LSU in the final minute. Badgers are good.

BCS Conference Rankings:

1) Come on? Have to ask? SEC. Brutal conference from top to bottom.
2) BIG-12. Gap is closing with #1. But, they're not there - yet. Show some 'D'!
3) BIG-10. Up a spot this week. 6 for 8 today, despite an IOWA road loss - very close.
4) PAC-10. What's up here? Only 2 wins this weekend. Yes, COUGS over Vikings is one of 'em.
5) ACC. Getting better. WAKE is the class of the conference. VT and Miami are playing well.
6) BIG EAST. I can't say anything more here. More work to do guys.

FINAL NOTE: What impressed me today? So many things. SEC is frickin' stout, top to bottom. 8 of their teams are TOP-30 defensive clubs. 5 of their teams in the in the AP TOP-10. I love watching the caliber of their play, from top to bottom. I only wish I went to Auburn, or Bama, or Florida, or Tennessee, or LSU, or Georgia. These clubs are well - oiled machines. Even Vandy is 4-0 and likely to make a bowl appearance for the first time since 1982. Wow! The Commodores are 2-0 in the SEC.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Week 3 Wrap - Illinois Struggles ....

Around the Nation - More success for the BIG10 this week and more struggles for the PAC-10 in non-conference play. I know, USC (shocker) and Oregon both won (barely, over a stout Purdue club in 2OT), but UCLA, WAZZU, Standford, CAL, Washington, and both AZ schools all went down today. UW and UCLA really took it on the chin against Oklahoma and BYU, respectively. And were the Sun Devils looking ahead to Georgia next week before losing at home to UNLV this week? The BIG-10 (minus Ohio State) continues to roll in the early part of the season. Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State, and SPARTY all winners today (7 wins in total). Indiana didn't play. And both Ohio State and BIG BLUE go down on the same night, yes ...

Elsewhere in the TOP-25 GRID, Mizzou continues to take its opponents out back yonder beyond the wood-shed (69-17 over Nevada today). This circus is fun to watch and worth the price of admisssion, especially on offense. And how about Auburn over Miss State (3-2) in 15 innings. Actually, their baseball teams scored more runs in some games this year. Needless to say that was a defensive struggle of monumental proportions. Finally, give it up to the Badgers from Madison. I mean when nobody, and I mean nobody, would take up Pat Hill's club out of conference in the Valley - here come the Badgers answering the call. Even though it wasn't pretty, they proved the power can on occasion still beat speed. Check out these conference breakdowns from this weekend's action, especially if you're looking for an inside scoop into future FANTASY picks: Lesson's Learned around the NATION. And I agree, for now, that the BIG-10 TITLE goes through Madison, WI.

CHIEF on the TRIBE - Today's ILLINI grade, D-. Not much good happened today on the field against the Ragin' Cajuns from Louisiana LaFayette. Yes, I know - ugh!

If there is a knock to be had against Coach Ron Zook it's his ability to coach talent. This might not be the best conclusion I've ever reach because the man can recruit. But, there's no question he's a better recruiter than coach based on his first four years in Champaign. It's one thing to get talent; but it's quite another to get the most out of it.

This should have been a blowout on the order of 51-17 instead of a squeaker, 20-17. Ugh! The tribe is struggling right now; make no mistake about it. Much like a person suffering from sever schizophrenia, we're a team without a clear identiy. I see that on both sides of the ball. We're so deliberate on offense and defense in part because we don't have a clear understanding of what we're trying to do and how to do it.

The trend continues of playing down to the level of our opposition. I've been seeing this for several years now dating back to the Turner days. We definitely don't play up to our full talent potential week in and week out. We also took a page out of the Ohio State handbook as we played dumb football at times, and w/o passion. Playing without focus and passion against an inferior opponent is always a recipe for disaster. Thank God that didn't happen today.

Another disturbing trend today was senseless penalties (9 for 96 yards), on offense and defense. The offensive holding penalties were numerous and drive killers. On defense, how many 15-yard personal fouls did we amass today? Ugh! Both are signs of undisciplined football. Coach Z has his hands full right now, struggling to get command of this team. This was an UGLY, UGLY, UGLY display of football today by my team. I'm embarrassed.

A case can be made that we're still putting the total package together, especially on defense as it recovers from some key losses because of injury. Wa Wa Wa ..... A case can be made that this isn't totallly unexpected either. Afterall - it's our first year having to deal with unexpected success in 2007. Sometimes you take a step or two backwards before you leap forward. I don't buy into the growing pains explanation. We have some junior and senior leadership on both sides of schrimmage. If there was a bright spot it had to be Dufrene (18 for a buck 25, 125 yards).

Next week is a bye. We had better use it to our advantage. Up next is Penn State. And if we don't learn to step it up in a big way soon (with focussed passion and emotion), it could be an ugly day in Happy Valley. Do it like you've done it before, one play at a time. Otherwise, all the recruiting in the world won't amount to more than a mediocre ranking in RIVALS.COM. This just in, Penn State is good. I have them in my TOP-10 right now based on what they've done on the field so far this year against a mixed - bag of competition.

My New Top-10: 1) USC, 2) Oklahoma, 3) Mizzou, 4) Georgia, 5) Florida, 6) LSU, 7) Texas, 8) Bama, 9) Wisconsin, 10) Penn State.

BONUS FEATURE (BCS Conference Rankings): New this week and going forward, my unique perspective on conference strength:

1) SEC - Still the cream of the crop for now. Would be nice to see more offense.
2) BIG-12 - Knocking on the door with all of that QB talent. Needs to win more big games first.
3) PAC-10 - For now, a distant 3rd behind #1 & #2. Lower w/o USC. BIG-10 is closing fast.
4) BIG-10 - Sure OSU and M are struggling. Rest of the conference is on the rebound fast.
5) ACC - No make that the BIG EAST. Duking it out with #6 for the basement position.
6) BIG EAST - No, make that the ACC. Oh, Rutgers. At least USF is competitive for now.

Final Note: And you heard it here first and often, Ohio State is overrated. I think there are at least three or four better BIG-10 teams right now in Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, and SPARTY. When every other ESPN/ABC expert was predicting another 'Collision in the Coleseum' this time around with the Trojans, the Chief was calling a spade a spade. OK, it wasn't quite 99-2, but 35-3 felt just about the same to me. Finally, hopefully - those on the EAST COAST and MIDWEST will accept what those of us on the LEFT COAST have known for years now, that OHIO STATE isn't all that. Pre-season polls and regular season results should not be used as the sole measures of BCS worthiness. You DO have to play somebody (and win occastionally) out of conference in September (other than directional Ohio at home) to make your case. The BUCKEYES under Tressel have employed the same conservative offensive scheme for years, with mixed results on the national stage - poor results in BIG BCS clashes. It may have worked in 2001 in beating MIAMI, but clearly Ohio State has fallen behind the rest of the nation and several teams in the BIG-10 who are moving towards some version of the spread offense which rewards athleticism, risk taking, and getting the rock in your playmakers hands - no matter who they are and what position they play. And here are FIVE OTHER THINGS we learned this weekend, courtesy Stewart Mandel.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Week 2 Wrap

I mean, what good is the BTN anyway (BIG TEN NETWORK) when they don't even broadcast the best games in my market (PAC NW)? Who cares about Marshall / Wisconsin anyway? Chief was a bit peturbed this week as he had to GAMECAST the ILLINI game (versus Eastern) on CBS.SPORTTSLINE.COM. Such is life for a BIG-10 supporter the the Willamette Valley.

Chief on the Tribe - As for the game itself, by all accounts is was an OK win. Nothing special in any way. After all, the Panthers from Charleston, IL (DIV1-AA) aren't exactly a powerhouse anymore now that Romo plays for the Cowboys. For my liking, there were far too many turnovers (4 fumbles) and senseless penalties. Juice himself, a work in progress, accounted for 3TDs and 3 turnvers, including 2 picks. I think Zook said it best, "He threw some ducks, but we all know he can throw the football."

And the defense looked anything but stellar. Don't focus so much on the 21 garbage points in the 47-21 blowout, but be concerned about the another rusher getting big chunks of yardage against a defense that should be getting better and better. No doubt, we miss the senior leadership of Jay Leman. T. Bess had 183 yards on just 15 carries for EIU. Clearly coaches, we have some work to do on defense if we hope to contend in the BIG-10. Can't give up 200+ rushing yards in back to back games going forward.

On the plus side, Dufrene continues to look good (not great, but good enough) in replacing Rashard with another 100 yards on just 13 touches. At 201 pounds, he has enough power to get the tough yardage and good speed to bust a few for big yards. And when you look at the complete body of work, 53 rushes for 399 yards as a team, you have to conclude we're moving in the right direction. We did rack up 533 yards to their 278 total yardage; which is what you'd expect in a DIV1-A / DIV1-AA matchup. Up next, another cupcake in Louisiana Lafayette. There's more room for improvement.

Around the Nation - how about those ECU Pirates? Wow, back to back BCS busters in the past two weeks after downing WV today, and quite convincingly I might add. This is a dangerous team. They're doing it with amazing energy, determination, and execution at key moments in games. And speaking of execution, or lack thereof, there's Notre Dame who had to battle, claw, and survive that mighty Western powerhouse in SDSU. Ouch. The shine is definitley off the golden domers. With a few seasons under his big belt, Charlie Weiss' squad continues to struggle with turnvers, establishing the run, and poor tackling. There's little to no passion on the field these days if your an Irish fan. They actually gave up more yards to SDSU (345 to 342yds.). Sorry Jimmy, it's hard to belief you've come a long way since last year. Five other things we learned.

5 Disappointers -

  • Notre Dame - what more can be said? New year, but same struggles. I'm not sure there's another in on their schedule until Syracuse, at home. Oh, how bad is the offense? They're lucky they didn't play CAL POLY today.
  • PAC 10 Officials - first we had the Oklahoma / Oregon debacle a few years ago. And then today, the horrible 'unsportsmanlike' call against Locker in the Husky / BYU game. I feel for you Jake, I really do. I love the PAC-10. Conference of champions (SPCoC).
  • Michigan - They won, and that's about all you can say (beating Miami, OH). Oh how times have changed.
  • Arkansas - Barely beating Louisiana / Monroe isn't what I think of when I think of SEC domination.
  • Ohio State - With or without Beanie, this team is simply overrated. I'm not sure they're the 2nd or 3rd best team in the BIG-10 (behind Penn State, Illinois, and Wisonsin). Will USC even be motivated to show up next week?

5 Pleasures / Surprises -

  • ECU - and more ECU. 1st VA TECH. Today WVU. I'm a believer. Are they BCS bound? Back to back ranked-team victories over BCS teams. Wow!
  • BIG-10 - as a conference we went 11-0 today. Not a bad bounce-back after week 1. And there was that can of WHOOP ASS delivered to the BEAVERS (competition optional) courtesy of Penn State. It's amazing what $800K can buy. Here are the rest of your BIG-10 Lessons.
  • WF - finally some showup by an ACC team. Wake is clearly the class of the ACC this year, which isn't saying too much.
  • BYU special teams - seemed just like the UCLA bowl game from last year. A kick is a kick and a block is a block. 12 in a row now is the longest in the land.
  • I know they'll bounce back sooner than expected, but for now - I'm enjoying a respite from the usual Ohio State / Michigan 'hype' that usually dominates BIG-10 headlines. Clearly these two programs are down this year. The rest of us now have a chance to showcase our talents. And here's your GAMEDAY FINAL.

My NEW TOP-10:

  1. USC - even with a week off the Trojans gained ground on the nation. I've said it before and will continue to say it for quite some time: AFC, USC, SEC, and NFC in that order.
  2. Missouri - yeah, back to back 50-point weeks is good.
  3. Oklahoma -
  4. Florida - A win over Miami since 1985. Started slow. Then answered most questions. I have them ahead of Georgia just based on strength of schedule so far.
  5. Georgia - A great team no doubt. Still not sure based on injuries and schedule. Play somebody already....
  6. LSU - Only Hurricane Gustav could stop the TIGERS this week. See #5.
  7. Auburn - Moving up a bit after a credible win against Southern Mississippi.
  8. Penn State - Wow, down goes SPCoC. Who said Oregon State was an upset threat? This was an ugly game, no doubt. A long flight home for the Beaver Nation, for sure.
  9. Wisconsin - Slow start at home versus Marshall before rattling off 51 straight points.
  10. Texas / Tech - Take your pick here with TEXAS or TEXAS TECH.

Bonus coverage - early USC / BUCKEYE prediction for WEEK3: USC 99 - OSU 2. Seriously folks, this one won't be close.

Looking Forward to WEEK3 - Here are a few highlights on the schedule in WEEK3. I'll be curious to see how these turn out:

  • Oregon @ Purdue (another BIG-10 / PAC-10 clash in West LaFayette).
  • Michigan @ Notre Dame (somebody has to win this, right?).
  • Ohio State @ USC (I want to see just how large the gap is right now).

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