Thursday, November 29, 2007


Congratulations to J Leman on being chosen first-team All-America by the Coaches' Association. Illini fans know he deserves this honor, as one of the leading tacklers in the hard-hitting Big Ten for the last two seasons. But the fact that others are noticing proves that Illinois has made the national radar.

Go Illini!

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Maryland Musings

Shooting aside, I continue to see things to like in the Illini basketball team. Rebounding, conditioning, althleticism, motion, defense, etc. Too bad shooting is so critical to the game.

The Illini seemed a bit rattled at moments in a very hostile environment, but they still played tough. Maryland was not impressive, and that's a game we could have won had the seniors shown up, but given shooting percentage, the Illini were doing good to be down only 2 points with 1 minute left.

My guess is that practice this week will have these themes: free throw shooting, layups, ree throw shooting, passing inside, free throw shooting, shooting from less than 5' from the basket, free throw shooting, jump shots, free throw shooting, 3-point shooting, free throw shooting...

Randle and Pruitt have loads of potential to dominate down low, and they should not be outscored so soundly in the paint. Alexander, McCamey and Meacham provided some offensive bright spots. And I love watching the whole team rebound. They go after the ball with purpose. And even though they didn't score, it was good to see the big guys finally go to the basket with purpose as the game was winding down.

This will be an interesting season, but with so much potential and room for improvement, we will find more to cheer about.



Monday, November 26, 2007

The Challenge

I like this take on the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The games can be hyped, but it's early in the season, and while these wins can build momentum (think Illinois over Wake Forest in '04), they really don't mean much.

That said, this marketing ploy gives us a chance to get to know the Big 10 a bit better. The landscape has changed quite a bit, with Tubby Smith, John Beilein and Todd Lickliter on the sidelines. See this quick take on the games for additional thoughts, although Iowa lost this evening.

It also means we have to hear about how dominating the ACC is, how delightful their "diaper dandies" are, how the Dookies embody basketball perfection, how Roy Williams has revitalized UNC with the help of Tyler Hansbrough, etc. The one ACC story that I can appreciate is the challenge facing new Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio as he and the team grieve the late Skip Prosser.

But, as Maryland Coach Gary Williams noted, "We had four teams in the (2006 NCAA) tournament. We've beaten the Big Ten in [every] ACC Challenge, and the Big Ten's gotten more teams in than us in five of those seven years, I believe." It's early, Gary, relax. And enjoy the game Wednesday night.

Go Illini!


More Bowl Predictions: What If...

Does anyone want to play in the BCS Championship Bowl? Apparently not, the way #1 and #2 teams have been losing. This college football season has been incredibly entertaining, and after this weekend, the bowls get even more interesting...

What if Oklahoma, a 2-loss team, beats Missouri, a 1-loss #1, in the Big 12 Championship this weekend? Or (less likely) what if West Virginia loses to Pitt? Will 1-loss Ohio State make the Championship? What would that do to the Rose Bowl? Would the organizers honor the Big 10/PAC-10 tradition? Is there another Big 10 team to fill that spot?

Right now, to be eligible for an at-large BCS berth, a team must have 9 wins, and be ranked at least #14 in their rankings. Plus, no more than 2 teams from a conference can be in one of the 5 BCS bowls. Illinois is currently #15, and the highest-ranked Big Ten team after Ohio State. But what if #14 Tennessee loses to LSU, #12 Hawaii loses to Washington, #11 Boston College loses to Virginia Tech or #13 Arizona State loses to Arizona? Would the Illini move up in the rankings? One or two of these scenarios is likely -- the Vols and BC look particularly vulnerable here. (Thanks to Meegs for this research.)

Yes, that is a lot of "what ifs," but given the season to date, anything is possible. Regardless of whether or not the Illini are BCS-bound, they are headed to a quality bowl game somewhere, and that's worth getting excited about. But, as Chief said, a playoff system would eliminate a lot of the confusion...


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bowl predictions

CBS Sportsline has us playing Florida in the Cap One Bowl on New Year's Day. Not a bad draw. Florida is one tough team and would be a very challenging game for our still-young Illini in Florida. The media would go crazy over the Zook-Florida storyline and it sure couldn't hurt our recruiting, especially in the Sunshine State, either.

They also have us possibly sneaking into a couple of the BCS Bowls: The Fiesta against Kansas and the Sugar against LSU.

Of that scenario I'd definately take the Fiesta Bowl. That would be a very winnable game for us and good publicity for our program. Replaying the '01 Sugar Bowl in what amounts to home-field advantage for LSU doesn't excite me at all.

All of this begs the question again: why don't we have a playoff? It would be so simple to design and institute. It makes no sense.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reasons for Optimism

Yes, we at Illinitalk realize that the college basketball season is underway, even though I'm giddy over the football team.

Weber and the Illini are off to a strong 3-1 start. The loss came tonight to Duke, ranked 10 in the country. Because they are playing in Hawaii, it hasn't been easy to get a good look at Bruce's team. There are lots of questions marks, but we got some answers against a very talented team.

Here are a few reasons my optimism is growing:

I would like to see shooting improve, but it seems that free-throw shooting is slightly better than last year. Although they handled the Arizona State zone well, the Duke zone was tough to break, and shooting went cold. Fouls will be a problem, but again, depth will help.

The Big Ten will be tough, but I think the Illini will be more competitive than expected. Weber consistently overachieves with the talent he has, and this year should be no different. Boys, let's eliminate off-court issues this season, and focus on class and basketball.

Overall, this season should be very interesting, but I'm excited to see what will happen. Go Illini!

By the way...MJ looks pretty good in orange. I'm sure it wasn't easy for him to watch his son lose to Duke.



What a Season!

Congratulations to Big Ten Coach of the Year Ron Zook and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Rashard Mendenhall. They helped the Illini make a statement -- not only in the Big Ten, but on the national scene.

Illinois ends the season in second place in the Big Ten, tied with Michigan (a game we could have won...), behind Ohio State (a game I am still impressed we won). And, the upset of the Buckeyes in Columbus pushed the Illini into the BCS picture, as Chief pointed out.

The Sweet Sioux Tomahawk trophy has finally returned to Champaign after 4 years. Although I didn't see all the Northwestern game, the text updates I received indicated that the Illini stayed in control. (Thanks to the Illini fan who kept me updated on both the Illini and the OSU-Michigan game from Memorial stadium while I was at the wedding -- but I did see your ESPN debut!) The Illini seniors, who have risen from the bottom of the Big Ten, inspired their team the night before the game -- and the Illini delivered.

As other conferences move into championship games, the Illini can enjoy Thanksgiving as they watch and wait for a bowl invitation. It should be a great one...

Go Illini!

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Illini gonna Fiesta? Life after Guenther and other stuff

Great win Saturday. Juice has really matured this season. Now if we can just get Rashard back next year...

Something I never thought was even close to possible when the season started and I can't believe this is even a possibility but there are those out there who believe we will not only get a very good bowl game but could be headed to a BCS game. SI's Mandel thinks so.

If you think Zook deserves Coach of the Year honors, click here and vote.

Finally, looks like we need to start preparing for life after Ron Guenther. Hopefully the university doesn't botch this like they did the Chief.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Going to...Miss the Game

I love my family. Really, I do.

But a wedding today? With the Illini alone in third place in the Big Ten, and Northwestern visiting Champaign? I know I sent in my RSVP, but Memorial Stadium would be an exciting place to be today. And it's less than an hour down the road.

Anything can happen, but a win over the Wildcats today will give the Illini a shot at a high-profile, warm-weather bowl game. Exciting stuff.

Plus, it's Senior day. J Leman, Jason Reda, Antonio Steele, Chris Norwell, Jacob Willis, Russ Weil, Justin Harrison, Kevin Mitchell, Akim Millington, Mike Ware...a total of 23 seniors are playing their last game at Memorial Stadium. These guys have watched the Illini footall program turn around -- from the sidelines and the field.

But I won't be able to watch. I'll be at my brother's wedding. I love my family.

Go Illini!


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Near Perfection

I've had a bit of time for this win to sink in. The Illini were in the national spotlight today, and they stepped up. Yes, they got a break, but they played this game to win. Here's what I saw:

Thank you to the Florida Gators for giving Coach Zook experience that has made him a great fit for Illinois. I look forward to seeing where this team will head for post-season play.

Go Illini!

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Saturday, November 10, 2007


Like I said, near-perfect. (The punting could still use some work.) We have come of age.

Oskee-Wow-Wow!! That was an amazing game! Our defense was indeed, "a pack of hyenas!" 3 interceptions! Our rushing offense passed for 4 TD -- to 4 different receivers! And the O-line was impressive -- especially on 4th down!



Give 'Em a Game

Last year, few teams played the Ohio State University Buckeyes really close. The season-long #1 team either blew out the other team, or were blown out themselves (by Florida). Except for a close victory over then #2 Michigan -- and an escape against the unranked Illini.

Today the Illini head to the Horseshoe to take on a #1 OSU team that many believe is even better than last year. While the Buckeyes have a few weaknesses, the Illini would need a near-perfect game to win in Columbus. But as we've learned so far this season, anything can happen...I at least expect a competitive game.

Go Illini!



Wednesday, November 07, 2007


That's the initial take on the 2007-08 Illini basketball team. As the Illini rolled through their exhibition schedule (which is more than Michigan State can say) the young players showed great potential. There are lots of questions about this team, including who -- if anyone -- will redshirt.

I have yet to see this team in action, and I don't know how much of them I will be able to see, thanks to the BTN, but for the moment, I'll go with very cautious optimism.

By the way -- note that the Today Show is planning to air a piece with MJ, Jeff and Bruce Friday morning.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

A Picture of Progress

On the first play of Saturday night's game, Vontae Davis and the Illini made one point clear. They are no longer in the basement of the Big Ten. The Davis interception was soon followed by an impressive 47-yard TD pass from Juice to Jacob Willis, and the Gophers continued to struggle all night.

After posting the lowest 4-season winning percentage in the conference, the Illini have turned a corner. The Penn State win marked the beginning of something special in Champaign, but the resounding victory over the current conference bottom-dwellers underscored just how far the Illini have come. (But take heart, Gopher fans, and give your new coach a couple years before you give up on him -- you won't be at the bottom forever.)

Juice showed off his arm with a couple beautiful TD passes. Rashard Mendenhall took advantage of a weak run defense to take over the Illinois single-season TD record at 16 (and counting). Then Rashard stepped back to let his brother Walter have a turn. Jeff Cumberland also had a great game that included a TD.

Now alone in third place in the Big Ten, the Illini are guaranteed a spot in one of the bowls committed to the conference. They looked great this weekend, and I plan to savor this for a day or two before thinking too much about #1 Ohio State next weekend.

Go Illini!

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Friday, November 02, 2007

On the Road Again

The Illini are headed to Minnesota, where they will play a struggling team with a first year coach (an Illini alum) who desparately need a win. But, just a few weeks ago, the Illini went on the road to play a struggling team, and lost. Could the same thing happen in the Metrodome?

Given what's already happened during the 2007 college football season, I can't rule it out. In fact, the Illini looked a lot like Minnesota just a few years ago, and that's why the Illini can't be overconfident, even though they are 12-point favorites. Plus, the Illini haven't won at the Metrodome since 1994.

However, like most Illini, I expect a win this year. The Gophers have a very young roster including a redshirt freshman QB, and our defense is experienced. Given the weakness of the Gophers' run defense, Rashard Mendenhall should have a great game. Plus, a win should clinch a bowl game.

Go Illini!

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Freshman Exhibition

Weber and the Illini basketball team won a blowout exhibition game against Quincy Wednesday night. And the freshman played well. Speculation is that it will be difficult to decide who should play, who should redshirt, etc. Seems that we may have more potential than we thought on the basketball court...but they are young. These boys have one more exhibition game next Tuesday before the non-conference schedule gets underway.



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