Saturday, September 26, 2009

Oye - Crushed in Columbus

We are not a good football team. We aren't tough and we aren't disciplined. More of the same from the struggling Zookers today as we got blasted by an un-tested Buckeye bunch. Ugh! Very frustrating. New year, but same ole tune. This Illini team in its 5th year under Zook is lost ship in a stormy sea with no compass and a hole in the hull.

You name it and we did it wrong today against Ohio State, making it way too easy for them to win the game. They didn't even break a sweat. That's what's most disturbing to me. I'm sure the Buckeyes faced more competition just crossing the street from their hotel to the stadium. Might as well just save the travel costs next time if can't play any better than this. Penalties, turnovers, miscues, hesitation, sloppy tackling, bad decision making, and poor coaching pretty much loses every time. As for the game, our defense made Pryor look like Joe Montana out there today. He could do no wrong. We simply were not competitive. I just don't see any discipline from this year's Illini edition. We can't get out of our own way to save our football lives. You expect 'progress' year over year when program-building. And quite the opposite has happened since we stumbled our way into the Rose Bowl a few years back. Ugh!

As for the rest of the season, go figure. At least we don't face the Sherwood Bowmen (Sherwood, OR HSFB). It's a different game every week so we'll probably crush Penn State at home next weekend. Not, we stink. In today's uncertain times, you can take that to the bank. I see no path to a bowl game this year. Honestly, I'm not sure we win another game. Yes, you heard it here first (1-11). And that will be the end of the Zook era in Champaign.

Around the nation, a week of upsets for sure. It started Thursday night when the other USC upset #4 Ole Miss in Columbia, SC. And it continued on Saturday with four top-10 teams losing this weekend. You just never know. It's a different game every week. Win and move on. It's about surviving your schedule, including the upset - minded challengers. Just ask Notre Dame, at 3-1. This team could easily be 1-3 or 4-0. I do know one thing, they're glad the BIG-10 part of their schedule is behind them after surviving the last three weeks going 2-1. Looking back, it's not always how you win but did you win? Repeat, there's nothing bad about any WIN in CFB these days. There' s just too much talent and too many good programs around the nation. Gone are the days when the BIG-TIME conferences dominated every game. So Kudos to Notre Dame this evening. For now, they're getting it done during crunch time.

On a side note, this will likely be my last entry for a while. Chief won't be commenting on his Illini until they win a ball game, against a worthy opponent (someone in DIV1-A with a winning record). So, my September - ending TOP 10:

  1. Florida, as Tebow was hospitalized after an 'easy' win.
  2. Texas, rolled UTEP and could have posted 100 if they wanted to.
  3. Bama, speaking of rolling - so are the TIDE.
  4. Boise State - they just keep in winning impressively the games they should.
  5. VT - is this team for real? They won the slosh-fest yesterday in Blacksburg over MyAma.
  6. Cincinnati - Tony Pike continues to impress with another 300+ yard day. Heisman?
  7. Houston - that makes two BIG12 wins this year on the road to the BCS.
  8. TCU - and speaking of BCS, another buster in the Horned Frogs after downing Clemson.
  9. LSU - who hung on at the goal line against MSU on 4th and one.
  10. Georgia - creeping back into the TOP10 because others are falling back.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Week #3 - Oh My Goodness!

And let me be the first to say on this Separation / Revenge Saturday, that SPITE never wins in the long run. It's an inside point.

What a weekend of close games and memorable performances. A day where two top-10's went down to unranked opponents. This was an EPIC weekend of see-saw games, comebacks, and down to the wire finishes. If you missed the span of football around 4pm Pacific time today, you missed some of the best finishes of the year. As good as it gets. OK, perhaps this is better - laughter yoga everyone!

Briefly on USC, no big surprise there. They've been losing one unexplainable conference game for years now. Or maybe, just maybe, they're not that good. Maybe, Washington is back or darn close? And to think they just ended a 15-game losing streak last weekend! You don't just show-up and win at Husky Stadium anymore. Statement game in Seattle. And a power shift in the conference for the first time in what seems like a decade; the road to the PAC-10 Title goes through Berkley and Strawberry Canyon. Will USC get to the BCS this year? Hmmm...... 7 years of dominating the PAC-10 may be over; proving once again how important QB play really is.

And speaking of impressive performances, how about Miami and what they did Thursday night against Georgia Tech? Wow, it looks like the CANES are back and poised to make life difficult in the ACC and the national picture. Jacory Harris might just be the best QB in the nation. How long will they keep Whipple as offensive coordinator? CANES are scary good right now half-way through a gauntlet of a schedule. Good weekend for the ACC with key wins over BYU and Nebraska. You just never know anymore. It's a different game every week. Survive, and move on. Or shut up!

Another obsersvation this Saturday has to do with the SPEED of the PAC-10, or lack thereof today. The conference only went 1 for 3 today against the 'slow' schools from BACK EAST (BIG-10 / BIG EAST). Iowa beat a young Arizona squad with speed and execution in all facets of the game, but especially on defense. The CATS just couldn't move the ball today against the Hawkeyes. And Cincy downed Oregon State with the same combination and a splash of some serious athletes. Tony Pike might have entered the Heisman race tonight with that performance in Corvallis. But the Bearcats just looked faster and more physical tonight against OSU who gave it a good run, but came up a bit short.

As for Illinois, we didn't lose tonight; we didn't play either. But the performance and injury news of late hasn't been good. This week we lost one of the best linebackers in the country to a season-ending neck injury. As if we needed that. The defense was already suspect before this. Ugh! Looking at the schedule, I'm not sure we get another win this year. We can't stop anybody and offense is hit or miss at best. Just getting bowl eligible would be a monumental accomplishment at this point.

Stock Up - new section of the blog which will feature programs on the rise.

  • Georgia, after a bad showing in Stillwater the Dawgs are 2-1 with life on offense.
  • Washington, easy one sure. But Sark has the put the woof back in the Huskies.
  • Miami, prolific offense and tenacious defense. Sounds like a good combo to me.
  • Oregon, well looky there. Ducks are 2-1 after a good win at home over UTAH today.
  • CAL, I mean Javed Best. 5TD's will get you some notice.
  • Ohio State, good bounce-back win against a good Toldedo squad. Up next, Illinois.
  • Michigan, it looks like BIG BLUE is back too. Ugh!
  • Washington State, they beat the mighty mustangs from SMU tonight in OT. Yes!

Stock Down - just the opposite of above. You don't want your team featured here.

  • USC, end of an era? Perhaps, but the PAC-10 doesn't seem so 1 dimensional this year.
  • BYU, what was that? FSU put the smack down in Provo 54-28, ouch. Shocking!
  • UTAH and MWC. 16-game winning streak is over for the Utes (thanks to Oregon).

My TOP 10:

  1. Florida - now with the nation's longest winning streak at 13.
  2. Texas - but I think the gap to #1 is closing. Horns are looking better and better.
  3. Bama - Tide keeps rollin'.
  4. Penn State - Temple? Just how good is this team? Ugh!
  5. Ole Miss - Again, can't wait for some conference games here.
  6. CAL - I meand Javed Best! 5TDs in a Heisman-worthy showing.
  7. LSU - But they did beat Husky in Seattle which is more than USC could do.
  8. Boise State - Impressive win on the road in Fresno Friday night. BCS?
  9. Cincinnati - Perhaps the best win of the weekend. BIG EAST speed and execution.
  10. Miami - The CANES look back to me, with the swagger.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Week 2 - Same Ole Game ... Not!

Week 2 brought some interesting storylines. Biggest upset of the day was Houston over Oklahoma State (#5) in Stillwater. You don't see that everyday. But the Pokes have had a hard time preserving their position when ranked in the top 5. And the Cougars from Houston showed that the upset can happen, even on the road, on any given Saturday. Wow!

The two marquee match-ups lived up their billings as Michigan pulled out the win with just seconds on the clock over Notre Dame, and USC squeaked passed Ohio State in what likely might be a preview of the 2010 Rose Bowl. Looking back in December, Michigan and Notre Dame will probably be one of the best games of the year (38-34, Wolverines). Hail to the Victors valient. Today, a star was born in Ann Arbon in the name of Tate Forcier. And give credit to Claussen who had a great game. BIG BLUE was just a little better. But make no mistake about it, Michigan is back, maybe not all the way back to national contender status, but they are back in terms of being competitive at least in the BIG-10. Rodriguez is a genius for getting players who can execute his brand of football. And it always seems to happen in year 2 of his program-building. Suddenly, my Halloween just got a lot more interesting.

And in Columbus, the outcome was the same as USC downed Ohio State, but it was a day of biblical proportions as the children led the way (Barkley over Pryor). Barkley was only 15-31 for ~ 200 yards with a pick, but the game-winning drive he engineered in the 4th quarter was epic. As if the Trojans needed any more confidence. USC now extends its winning streak over the BIG0-10 to 10 wins. Joe McKnight is a true stud in a stable of thoroughbreds. But give credit to Ohio State for making a game of it tonight in the BIG HORSESHOE. I have a feeling this won't be the last time we talk about Ohio State and USC this year.

As for Illinois, we rolled today over Illinois State 45-17, as expected. Eddie McGee looked good tonight in relief of Juice. The team dominated in many facets, but we're still a work in progress. We had almost 400 yards rushing averaging 8.3 ypc. Defensively, we still have issues. You just can't give up 400 yards to Illinois State and expect to win too many games in conference later in the year. Up next, we get a dejected Buckeye squad who will be playing its 3rd straight game at home next Saturday when they host the Chief. That could be interesting, especially if we're healthy. Message to Zook, tighten it up! We're still playing too loose with the rock. We need to be more consistent in matriculating the football and ending drives with 6 instead of 3.

And how about the PAC-10? Two huge road wins today at Rocky Top (Tennessee) and inside the HORSESHOE. Wow, very impressive. Even Washington won today (sorry John, the Cougars got whacked by Hawaii at home). Stanford gave WAKE all they bargained for in a close loss.

Now for my top-10:
  1. Florida - until somebody beats 'em.

  2. Texas- slow start today in Laramie, but then they rolled.

  3. USC - a little win today on the road won't hurt their rank.

  4. Alabama - Tide are rollin'.

  5. Penn State - It's September, so they won't play anybody until we host them.

  6. Ole Miss - SEC school that can move the ball and play defense. Dangerous.

  7. BYU - continues to impress this year. Title worthy?

  8. Boise State - looks like they're BCS bound.

  9. LSU - we won't know about this team until 10/10 when Florida shows up.

  10. CAL - Another big win tonight. Should be undefeated when they host USC.

Bonus Feature. I've been asked so many times of the years, what does it all mean? Trust me, we're all looking for answers. So here are a few of mine on the world of CFB and the race the championship. I'll be updating this section of the blog weekly after each Saturday of games. So check back often for my latest insight into the world of CFB.

  • Winning still matters. The great thing about CFB is that every week is a playoff, a popularity contest, a scientified poll, and a bunch of hype rolled into one awesome package. Whether it's the raw competition, pure drama of developing players achieving and failing, or the passion of the fans in every region of the country; it's still the best thing going.
  • Let's judge the quality of football and not the quality of the conference. Teams win and lose games, not conferences. I know it's only September with a lot of ball to play, but consider the potential options we could be faced with come early December: un-defeated teams in Florida, Texas, BYU, and Penn State. Wow, and only two get to the for the title? We need a play-off system. I propose an 8-team version that would elevate the game to new heights. And we'll only have at most 1 unbeaten come bowl season. Take it to the bank.
  • And speaking of the BCS, it looks like a Florida / Texas affair right now. Here are the rest of the projections (which will change a bit or so over the coming months).

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Very Disappointing Opener 2k9 ...

Forget the fact that we were the only BIG-10 team to lose on Saturday (conference went 10-1). I know, we were the only team in conference to play anybody (Mizzou isn't shabby). But still yet, not the way I was hoping we would start the 2009 campaign; much like we ended 2008. It was our worst home opening loss since 1993. Ugh! Not much went right for the Chief in St. Louis today against those dreaded Tigers from Mizzou. In retrospect, it's probably a good thing we end this series next year. We haven't beaten Missouri in St. Louis since 1896 when the republicans last won a great election over the democrats (McKinley over Jennings Bryan). Ugh!

We continue to get in our own way. So much for all the hype around having a great fall camp. We have to figure it out and figure it out fast. The only thing that went right for Illinois today was that the buses started up and left town on time. We lost Benn to an ankle injury. Juice didn't even look that sharp and had some questionable decisions with the rock. Our defense had more holes in it than the finest aged Swiss. In truth, I see more of the same from the Zookers who continue to underachieve in Ronnie's 5th season. Honestly, I don't see how we beat the Redbirds next weekend much less get to 8 wins.

On the bright side was the offensive line and the play of LeShoure. He knows how to handle the rock. The receivers made some good plays, and Juice made some good throws. And Benn just has a low ankle sprain (not broken). But that's about it for the Fighting Zookers. Not much fight today. We have a lot to work on between now and next week. I hope there's enough time. I can't remember a team with so much potential not living up to any of it.

Let's hoop the Zooker succeeds in his red-button reset because that's needed after a loss like that. I don't think you rack your brain with a bunch of bad game film on this one; just get the memory out of your head as fast as you can and move on. Show me the potential coach. Show me that this team is still a good football team like you thought 4 weeks ago. Show me that the Mizzouri game was an aberration. Convince me that by the end of the year I'll be scratching my head asking how did we lose by 28 points to Mizzou?

It's been said that teams improve the most between weeks 1 and 2. God, I hope that's true. We need to send a message against Illinois State this weekend by dominating in all three phases of the game. Leave no doubt. Run it up. Because in WEEK 3 we travel to Columbus where we'll need more improvement between weeks 3 and 2 than 1 and 2 if we have any business showing up at all. Ugh!

Now to my top ten. I've said it before that pre-season polls make as much sense as a public option. And how about those Cougars from BYU? Probably the most impressive win of the day on a neutral field. So, without further delay, ponder these:
  1. Florida - until they are beaten.

  2. Texas - looking to close the gap with #1.

  3. USC - a good start against San Jose. Ohio State next.

  4. Alabama - may be the best win of the weekend over VT.

  5. Penn State - the zips? Come on, step up!

  6. Ole Miss - assuming they win on Sunday.

  7. LSU - a 2000 mile victory does the trick.

  8. Ohio State - a win is a win. Navy is a legit DIV 1A test.

  9. CAL - Maryland isn't a good barometer.

  10. Boise State - thank you LeGarette Blount. 10b. BYU.

And Kudos to BYU and the entire Mt. West Conference this weekend. League went 6-2 overall including the wins over Oklahoma and Colorado. But give most of the credit to BYU this week who took a major step forward in claiming its reservation not only in the BCS, but quite possibly in the title game. And wouldn't that be intriguing? What to do wtih an undefeated Cougar Club assuming they get by FSU, TCU, and Utah? I know there's a lot of football to be played this year, but ponder this even if just for a moment: BYU at 12-0. It's shaping up to be a special season in Provolone this year. That's a nice problem to have for the good of the game.

Finally, you know we lost last weekend when I talk about dead things. But today, we raised Red Grange from the dead and positioned him nicely in front of Memorial Stadium. Some things in life are really that good. Red was one of those players, a legend, and a true hero on and off the field. For his career, he totalled some pretty staggering numbers: over 4000 carries, 34000 yards, 8.4 ypc, and 2400 points in only 245 games in high-school, college, and the pros.

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