Sunday, October 31, 2010

Chief Keeps Rollin'

Another good home win for the Chief, this time over a dangerous and struggling Boiler club, 44-10. Offense is efficient and improving, but the defense is setting the table allowing just 200 total yards against Purdue. Despite one of the nation's most difficult schedules to date (Missouri, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State), the Illini defense ranks 12th in the nation for points against (16.8 average), giving up a season high of just 26 points on the road in East Lansing to a high-powered and balanced Sparty attack. We've held half the competition to 13 or fewer points.

Scheelhaase is gaining confidence under center in his first full year as QB, 18-24 for 205 yards and 4TDs and no interceptions. And I know the passing game (111th in teh country) is a work in progress as we try to become more than a rushing attack. Paul Petrino's offensive schemes really seem to be working well most of the time. Players are buying in and delivering on the field. And, it won't be long before this Petrino gets serious consideration for some head coaching positions. And that's what we learned on this Saturday.

What most impresses me this year compared to the last few losing campaigns is the determination to make plays and to finish strong. I see guys putting out that extra effort to make the tough catch, break that extra tackle, make the first down, or reach for the endzone. That energy is translating into results at just about every position.

So where does that leave us? 5-3 with four to play, including one more home game with Minnesota and next week's road trip to Ann Arbor. Despite Michigan's recent struggles, that should be another tough test against one of the most dynamic players in the game. Still, I like our chances as we finish the year at Wrigley with Northwestern and in California with Fresno State. There is some unfinished business to settle with those Bulldogs.

My Latest Top-10: - three from BIG-10!

1) Oregon - there is no stopping that Duck offense.
2) Auburn - seemingly on a collision course with #1. No stopping Cam.
3) Boise State - just keep doing what they are supposed to with their schedule.
4) TCU - ditto, see #3.
5) Alabama - Tide keep rolling. May control their BCS destiny on 11/26 at home.
6) Wisconsin - Badgers are road-graters. Off this week, and in charge in BIG10.
7) Oklahoma - Sooners bounce back this week. Another solid club
8) Ohio State - Buckeyes need some help to win the conference.
9) LSU - Tigers are still a good football club but have a tough stretch coming.
10) Iowa - Hawkeyes are the best two-loss team in the nation. Could be 8-0.

Finally, what should happen with the BCS? Ideally, I would favor an eight-team playoff starting on the first Saturday of December (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc...) with the higher seed hosting. How about an Iowa / Oregon game in Eugene? Or a Boise State / Ohio State playoff in Boise? Or a Badger / Tide showdown in Tuscaloosa? End the conference title games and figure out the $$$. Second, use the BCS games on January 1st at the 2nd round to get from four to two teams. Finally, add the plus-one game after that, and you have a worthy national champion.

But, that ain't gonna happen anytime soon. So, the more I think about it, the more I like how the BCS is shaping up this year. First, if Oregon and Auburn keep winning they should and will collide in Glendale come January. If either one loses, then you have to consider TCU, Boise, Bama, Oklahoma, Wisky, and Ohio State. What will happen? Chief predicts the Oregon Ducks will be in Title Game against either Auburn or Alabama. Here's what the remaining schedule of bowl games is shaping up to be with only one month left in the season: Bowl Outlook.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Efficient & Stout in Victory on Homecoming ...

Just what the doctor ordered on our 100th homecoming at the University of Illinois. 43-13, Illinois over Indiana. Chief is now 4-3 on the not so young season (2-2 in the BIG-10).

And it was the defense who led the way, with two pick 6's totalling 134 yards of coverage in return. Wow! We held Chappel to only 279 yards on 26/48 passing with 3 INTS and only 1TD. Wow! Ben usually throws for 10 million yards / game (actually 310 / game). The guy never gets sacked either. We put the big fella on his tush side a few times in this one.

As for the offense, Nathan was efficient throwing for 123 yards on just 13/21 passing with 2 TDs and no INTS. Wow! Mikel toted the rock for 77 more yards on just 16 carries. We get Purdue at home next Saturday with a chance to get to three conference wins on the young season.

On a personal note, Zook is saving his job each and every week we take the field. Sure, we're not done rebuilding the program. And no, we're not satsified losing big games. But given where we've been, what we've endured, and where we are today, the Chief is on the comeback trail. I like what I'm seeing on both sides of the ball, but especially on defense this year. We're efficient, opportunistic, and grateful to take advantage of what we're given. These are signs of a mature squad.

As I parouse the remaining five games on the schedule, we should be in position to compete for victories in all of them. I'm not saying we'll finish the season at 9-3, but 8-4 or 7-5 is very realistic this year as long as we keep improving each week.

Finally, a few comments on the state of the game. There is none better. Every week is a playoff weekend. Every play matters. Just ask Alabama, Ohio State, and now Oklahoma. Beware the curse of a #1 ranking these days. I can't recall a time when there's been this much parity in CFB. Florida, Texsas, LSU, Ohio State, and USC are all down a bit from their glory days and national titles. And say what you want about the post-season, the bowl system, the BCS, and your mother-in-law. When it comes to the regular season, there is none better.

My new TOP-10:
1) Oregon - offensively, it just doesn't get any better than this.
2) Auburn - Cam Newton is the Heisman frontrunner. Can't wait for the Iron Bowl.
3) Boise State - great team. Soft schedule. They don't own their own destiny.
4) TCU - see #3 above. This team is physical, gritty, and never quits.
5) Michigan State - Sparty is for real this year. They go to Iowa City next.
6) Alabama - Waxed Tennessee. And not out of the title game race, yet.
7) Wisconsin - Name two better wins? Beat #1 Ohio State and beat #15 Iowa at home.
8) Missouri - Beat BCS #1 this week. No longer a fluke. This team is legit.
9) Ohio State - Lingering inside the top-10. But not the same Buckeyes we know.
10) Nebraska - good bounceback win on the road. Host Mizzou next.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Loss at Sparty ...

First off, this was predictable and totally expected. After all, Sparty is one of the hottest teams in the land and totally underrated at #13 heading into this Homecoming showdown with the Chief. Michigan State is easily a top-10 team and perhaps even a top-5 squad, one of the most balanced in the nation.

Still, we played Dantonio's crew well for 2.5 quarters, leading 6-3 at the break. The defense was stout most of the afternoon. And at times, the offense was able to move the ball effectively through the air and on the ground. But, the inability to convert drives into TD's in the first half and four turnovers (3 INTs) for the game was our undoing in East Lansing.

Final Illini analysis - not a bad loss, but a setback for sure. We had a chance today to follow-up a good road win in Happy Valley with another against Sparty; didn't happen. Time to regroup, study the tape, and move on to week #8 where we get Indiana as the BIG-10 schedule softens. All in all, being 3-3 at this point in the season isn't bad (all three losses to ranked top-20 schools in Mizzou, Ohio State, and Michigan State). This year's Illinois team is getting better each week. And that trend needs to continue where you have to prove it time and time again.

My Top-10:
1) Oregon
2) Oklamoma
3) Auburn
4) Boise State
5) TCU
6) Michigan State
8) Alabama
9) Oklahoma State
10) Iowa

BCS Standings

Monday, October 11, 2010

3-2 (1-1) Penn State and Beyond ...

Yes, a good road win for sure in Happy Valley this weekend. We did it with the strong running game, 150 yards of passing, no turnovers, and stifling defense. Usually those win every time out. It also doesn't hurt to the have the RIVALS.COM BIG-10 player of the week (Scheelhaase QB). He was also the BIG-10 freshmen of the week. Dimke (PK) took home the special teams player of the week honor. Not shabby.

It was a complete / balanced effort against Penn State in one of the biggest upsets of the day. Until Saturday, the Chief was 0-6 in Happy Valley. It's not an easy place to play as the road underdog.

Nate was spectacular in throwing for 150 yards on 15-19 with 1TD. The ground game was unstoppable in amassng 282 yards. The defense was stout all afternoon in allowing just 7 first downs and 235 total yards (65 on the ground). Again, that will get it done most weeks in the BIG-10 and anywhere else. I also recommend holding the ball for 38 minutes and forcing your opponent to go 2-14 on third down.

Going forward, we have another tough test this weekend against one of the hottest teams in the land right now, Sparty. The schedule softens significantly after that with home games against Indian, Purdue, Minnesota, and Northwestern before heading West to play Fresno State in a pay-back game. We do have a road game at Ann Arbor mixed in there as well. So, getting to six or even seven wins is quite doable. And would make us bowl eligibile (Dallas Football Classic or the Texas Bowl against some team from the BIG-12).

Reminder the first BCS rankings of the year come out next Sunday. Expect Boise State to top the list assuming they keep winning. They'll also be pulling for Oregon State (without James Rodgers now) and Va. Tech. Also, check out Schlabach's mid-season awards. And speaking of rankings, here is my latest top-10. I don't know much, but I do know the Iron Bowl will be really good this year. Tell me what you think:

1) Ohio State
2) Oregon
3) Boise State
4) TCU
5) Nebraska
6) Auburn
7) Alabama
8) Oklahoma
9) LSU
10) Michigan State

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