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.

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