Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Illini in XLII

Although I'm not a big pro football fan, I do enjoy the Super Bowl. Between the game (if it's competitive -- which sometimes happens for moments) and the commercials, it's a full Sunday evening of entertainment. Plus, there's the added bonus of two weeks of hype leading up to the big game.

I usually like to have a team to cheer for. But other than rooting for or against a perfect season, there's no compelling reason to pick a team. So I will cheer for "my" boys:

I expect to see both Illini on the field Sunday. Congrats to them both on making it to Arizona!



Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Something New

A late-game run. Nice. Not enough to cover the 15-point deficit to tOSU, but still, cutting it to as close as 3 points in the waning minutes after being down by that much -- that's something new from this Illini team. And that was without Pruitt.

The pieces are there. They just need to put them together and figure out how to overcome whatever the "challenge" happens to be on any given day, like poor shooting (tOSU), turnovers (Purdue), poor rebounding (Penn State), foul trouble or free throws (lots of games). This team is close. They have shown flashes of promise, and sometimes even full games (like Michigan).

Again, this will be a tough season, but we can handle it. Hang in there, boys -- and fans. There is hope for the future. Go Illini!



Thursday, January 17, 2008

Illini hoops: #7 nationally

At least on the Forbes list, that is. Alas, if you needed anymore proof that big money drives big-time college athletics, here it is.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Beautifully Ugly

The Indiana game had everything you could ask for in a heated Big Ten rivalry (except the Illini W). Intense emotion. Questionable calls. Heated exchanges with refs. Tough defense. Frustrated stars. A bit of sloppiness that added fuel to the fire. Unexpected contributors. A few good battles for lose balls. Charges. Technicals. It was a classic, ugly, Big Ten basketball game/boxing match between teams that "don't like each other very much." Good stuff.

If the Hoosiers have been paying attention (and you know they have), they know Illinois is down this year. Many experts expected a different kind of ugly game -- a lopsided victory by a ranked team with a one-year wonder against a solid defensive team that struggles to score.

But what the Illini served up on national TV proved that every game is played because anything can happen. Calvin Brock and Brian Randle combined for great defense on the Hoosiers leading freshman scorer (E something or other, I think). McCamey proved to be a very capable ball handler with Chester out with a rib cage injury. Pruitt battled D.J. White in the paint. Trent did his best to wear out the freshman guarding him, and made key baskets. The extra pass provided more than one great shot. The Illini fought hard -- and well -- with a respectable shooting percentage. Yes, a few more free throws would have helped, but we were still in the game at the end.

With the exception of the typical few-minute drought halfway through the second half that allows our opponenets to build a slight lead, I like what I've seen from the Illini during the Big Ten season, especially on the road. Madison and Bloomington are not easy places to play, but the Illini have showed up and played hard. They've given us ugly, physical, classic Big Ten basketball. Yes, wins would be even better, but it's still beautiful.

Go Illini!



Monday, January 07, 2008

Can You Handle It?

OK, Illini Nation, this is going to be one of those basketball seasons that separates the die-hard from the fair-weather fans. Three consecutive losses at the Hall -- unheard of in this era of Illini basketball. (Although I do remember when we were last in the Big Ten...)

Many of the pieces are there:

But the puzzle just isn't coming together as expected. So what's a fan to do?

In my opinion, a struggling team needs support from their fans more than frustrated criticism. I'll focus on the former and let let the coaching staff take care of the latter. This may not be an easy year to cheer for our boys, but they are still our boys. There is great promise for the future, and there are still guys that want to play for the Orange and Blue (like Luther's little bro).

So what about you? Are you a strong enough fan to hang in through this season? Can you take the heartbreaking losses? I hope you are. Don't wimp out on these boys -- they still wear our colors.

Go Illini!



Saturday, January 05, 2008

Illini Orange in Pasadena

Like I said, orange looks good anywhere!


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Some positive media coverage

Two good columns about Illinois' Rose Bowl performance in the Tribune today by Greenstein and Downey.

Every national writer should pay attention to this key excerpt from Greenstein's story (thanks for getting it right, Teddy):

This result was so lopsided, it begs the question: Should Georgia have been here instead of Illinois?

ABC/ESPN officials, mindful of the southern TV markets that would tune in to watch SEC players do situps, pushed for the Bulldogs to receive strong consideration.

But Georgia really wasn't an option after Missouri lost in the Big 12 title game, boosting LSU into the BCS championship. Without LSU, the Sugar Bowl lost its Southeastern Conference anchor.

The Rose Bowl retained the first at-large selection because Ohio State finished ahead of LSU in the BCS standings. But Rose Bowl CEO Mitch Dorger said he would have had to ask the Sugar Bowl for permission to release Georgia.

Dorger wasn't about to do that because the Sugar Bowl is its partner in the BCS. And with Hawaii in the game, the Sugar Bowl needed a SEC opponent to fill seats in New Orleans.

Ok, everyone repeat after me for the 3,409,512,368th time: "YET ANOTHER REASON WE NEED A PLAYOFF."

You can take a look at Downey's column here. Key excerpt:

Juice Williams and the Orange got crushed, beaten to a 49-17 pulp Tuesday by a Southern California team that continued to kick the visitors while they were down.

A greedy Pete Carroll had his Trojans try to score another touchdown on the game's final play instead of taking a knee. Gee, thanks, coach. What a gracious host.

An unfortunate end to an ugly game.

Unsportsmanlike conduct was everywhere. There were yellow flags galore, whether it was for a somersault into the end zone by a fourth-string USC showoff or for late, nasty hits by a number of frustrated Illini.

"I love these guys," coach Ron Zook said, "but we're not going to have that."

History is going to document this 94th Rose Bowl game as a painfully one-sided piece of cake for the sixth-ranked, way-too-good Trojans over the 13th-ranked, in-over-their-heads runners-up from the Big Ten.

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Great observations from the game, Alma Mater. I'll look forward to hearing more about Pasadena when you get back to Illinois.

One more thing to add to my "Eight for '08" thoughts below and it has to do with speed.

I remember watching us lose to LSU in the Sugar Bowl a couple years ago and thinking, "My gosh they are crushing us in the speed department. We don't even belong on the same field."

Well, as the national media piles on this morning about how bad we got crushed (ala their love affair with USC and Pete Carroll) it's important to note that some of our freshmen-especially on defense-were able to keep up with USC's speed.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not taking anything away from USC because they could be the best team in the country right now. But I did see some serious speed from some of our guys last night.

The one play I remember the best is the broken lateral that USC's Joe McKnight turned into a big gainer. Everyone in America-especially Musberger-thought he was going to take it to the house.

Yet out of nowhere Vontae Davis comes in from behind and drags him down. See photo here.

I think Martez Wilson also had some pretty good tackles that he used his speed to make.

Again, not taking anything away from USC but it is encouraging that Zook is building a team that's got some guys who can run with the best. If his recruiting continues as it has and he keeps bringing in this caliber of talent the future will be looking very bright in a few years.

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Disappointing, But You Can Still Smell Some Roses

That was painful. But, Illini fans know how to handle painful. We have plenty recent experience with ugly losses.

The Illini made critical mistakes, but they also played well. As one USC fan said to me after the game, “The final score doesn’t reflect how well you played.” Once on track, the D held USC scoreless for a long stretch in the first half. And as Juice’s arm warmed up, our offense showed it’s explosive potential.

Here are a few of my thoughts based on my perspective from the Illini end zone…

2007 was a year to remember. We beat Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. We won 9 games. And we had a great scouting trip to Pasadena so that players, coaches and the Illini Nation know how to do this next time. Because I firmly believe this is just the beginning. A few notes:

Finally, I refuse to allow this disappointing end spoil a wonderful season. We still had a season that exceeded expectations. And as I watched a team of very disappointed young men walk off the field, I choked up with pride in this team and their accomplishments. I am proud to be a loyal Illini.

Note: Please forgive the length of this post and it's redundancy with Chief's comments. After watching live, I had lots of thoughts to share...

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Rose Bowl summary

My eight thoughts to start '08 after watching the game (with thoughts especially in mind for any national media thinking of piling on how Illinois didn't deserve to be here):

1. Last year we only won two games. Last I checked we only won two games the year before that as well. No one in America thought we'd be playing USC to end the season this year. There. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

2. USC is stacked with talent that could be playing in the NFL right now. We are getting stacked with talent that will be playing in the NFL in two or three years (not counting Rashard who pretty much ensured with his performance today that he will be playing on Sundays next year).

3. If Zook's recruiting continues as it has been, we are about two years away from being able to compete against the "goliaths of college football" as Herbsreit referred to USC.

4. That said, we were still in this game until we gave the ball away with some costly turnovers.

5. The defense played very well but obviously was extremely tired by the 4th quarter, hence the tackling difficulties.

6. I'm sure this will be beat to death over the next week or two but forcing our offense to run the ball over and over to start the game and for practically the entire first half didn't do our boys much good as every single USC defender pretty much played the run. Once we started to air it out at the end of the first half we got some breathing room. Not sure what Locksley and Zook were thinking there but it's sort of ironic that we kept hearing how great Locksley was this week and how he is being looked at for head coaching jobs and, in my opinion, did a pretty subpar job of calling plays at the beginning of the game.

7. No one likes a sore or arrogant winner (at least I don't). I know Illinois had its share of personal fouls (which didn't make me happy) but USC's players were beyond ridiculous when it came to taunting etc. Please. Act like you've been there before (because you have). You may have won the game big but you looked classless doing so. Congratulations.

8. Speaking of taunting I had a good friend who is a Nebraska fan text me after USC went up 14-0 talking smack (you know who you are). Must I say it again? Please. Where was Nebraska playing this New Year's Day? Did they even have a winning record? Do people who live within the state lines even believe their program is heading in the same direction as the Illinois football program? Yeesh. People.

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Alma Mater in Pasadena

Hey Alma Mater,
How about some photos from Pasadena?


Give 'Em All a Game

Many college football experts believe that USC ended the year playing the best football of any D1 team. And their last 4 games of the season were impressive. But Illinois was playing the best football in the Big Ten at the end of the season -- as seen in the Ohio State and Northwestern games.

The Rose Bowl will be a tough game -- no question. USC is a talented football team with 6 years of BCS bowl experience. And the Illini have some big challenges. They haven't played a game since November 17. A month and a half is a very long break. And, they have no bowl experience. Most of the team was still in junior high or high school the last time the Illini played in January. They weren't even born the last time Illinois played in the Rose Bowl, and many of their parents hadn't been born the last time Illinois won the Rose Bowl.

But, as we've learned this season -- and with this team -- anything can happen. I expect a competitve game. One that, regardless of the final score, will let the PAC-10, the Big Ten and college football fans know that the Illini football program is for real. Our boys may be rusty and inexperienced, but they are talented and passionate.

But no matter what happens here in Pasadena, note that we already have a major victory. The Illini football team is playing in January. After winning an underwhelming 2 games last year, these overachievers have put themselves in the national spotlight, and they deserve it. And we get to watch them play on New Year's Day!

Go Illini!

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