Wednesday, October 31, 2012

There and Back Again

(HT: Keith Allison
This is not about Michigan. The person above does not play for Michigan. This is only tangentially related to Michigan. This post is not about Michigan football or basketball. Okay. 

The Chicago Bulls will take the United Center floor tonight to take on the Sacramento Kings. The lights will go down, the bulls will run, and Tommy Edwards will announce the starting lineup. From a lonely corner in the United Center or from a couch at home, Derrick Rose will look on, hearing Kirk Hinrich's (or Nate Robinson's) name called instead of his own. Perhaps he will watch as he works, sweat dotting the floor of a fluorescently lit workout room, little archipelagos revealing a constantly changing map of resurrection. 

On April 28, Rose went down clutching his knee near the end of Game 1 during the Bulls' first round series against Philadelpha. It was a movement and a response that sports fans have seen many times before. An unseen ligament tears, an unheard pop sounds, revealing itself only to the ear-space of the player in question, and a hush reigns. If the eyes are the window to the soul, the athlete's knee is that soul's infrastructural binding. Lacking structural integrity, the rest falls apart in a pile of rubble and a cloud of dust. Fellows in hard hats and stethoscopes poke and prod and survey: what went wrong here? We thought this was sound, and our faith is shaken, for how could anything be sound after this?

When Denard Robinson went down Saturday, it was a familiar feeling; he had gone down and gotten up before. When it became clear that he would not return to the field, even while Michigan flailed away on offense for the rest of the game, I felt comfortable knowing that he would likely be back next week or the week after. All was lost Saturday, but it seemed--seems--a self-contained event on a microscopic event. Denard has taken the intermittent slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and stood back up each time, eventually. 

When Rose went down, there was no such feeling of assurance, no hopeful reasoning, no sense of immediate return. 

With the Bulls up 12 with a little over a minute to go, Rose held the ball at the top of the key, the point on the floor where all things are possible. He jabbed left and executed his exaggerated jump stop into the lane, seemingly covering the distance between Chicago and Springfield in one thrilling maneuver. 

"Holding on to his knee, holding on to his knee and down."

Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah ran to the place of the fallen. Rose had gone up after the jump stop, perhaps ready to knock in yet another one of his patented tear drop shots. Upon reaching the highest point of his ascent, the realization hit: no. He dished the ball to out to Boozer. He didn't take the shot. 

At that point, it was clear what had happened. The season was over. A low frequency white noise lorded over this spot of the floor, contained within the United Center in a sort of greenhouse effect. The fumes of that hush are trapped by the United Center ceiling, bouncing off of rafters and banners in hopes of escape, only to slowly return to the locus of its origin. This reactant noise has nowhere to go, and so it suffocates everything in sight. 

The players, coaches and fans looked on, breathing in the fumes of the end. 

With the end comes a beginning. The Bulls begin the 2012 campaign back at home Wednesday, with the starting lineup returning mostly unchanged. Boozer, Noah, and Luol Deng return at their respective spots. Richard Hamilton returns as well, looking to acquit himself much better than he did last year during his debut season in Chicago. 

Even one of the Bulls' "new" faces, Kirk Hinrich, is a familiar player, having played for the Bulls for seven seasons after being drafted out of Kansas in 2003. The Bulls also signed 5-foot-9-inch Nate Robinson, who, despite enjoying a surprisingly successful preseason, has had a career that doesn't necessarily scream reliability. 

On the other hand, the Bulls' so called "Bench Mob" was gutted. With players like the sharp-shooting Kyle Korver, the towering Turkish defensive stalwart Omer Asik, reliable utility guy Ronnie Brewer, and backup point guards C.J. Watson and John Lucas III all moving on for various reasons* --contractual or otherwise--the Bulls are left with an increasingly precarious imbalance, one that existed even when Rose was healthy.

Most importantly, all signs point toward Rose's absence continuing well into the new season, if not throughout its entirety. Many assume that Rose will return at some point this season, giving the Bulls the push they need to either acquire a respectable seed in a weak Eastern Conference or, more pessimistically, to propel the Bulls into the playoffs, period. 

These iterations of the Chicago Bulls and the Wolverine football team are not so dissimilar. Both subsist on grinding defense, a Gradgrindian execution that stems from a monomaniacal obsession at the top with that side of the ball. Tom Thibodeau paces the sidelines, always on the precipice of losing his voice as he barks his orders like a commander at Helm's Deep attempting to fend off the malevolent hordes of Evil. Greg Mattison paces, chewing gum like someone who has done this thing many times before and gesticulating when necessary, all the while thinking that this is not good enough, no matter how good this is. 

Offensively, both are a paradoxical solution of modesty and pyrotechnics. These teams are the guy that goes to work at his modest, ordinary office every week in a suit and tie and then goes to rock concerts on the weekends in war paint. Whether out of necessity or a subdued internal raison d'etre that occasionally escapes its cage, these teams rely on one man to make it all happen; they are the marshmallows in your Lucky Charms. 

These are modest offenses that do rational things like running plays or sets while also knowing, deep down, that these attempts at an imposition of order are as ephemeral as a sand castle built dangerously close to shore. 

You call a play and the pocket falls apart, and so he goes. You run a set, and the clock is at 7. You swing it back around and say go. Don't worry about the particulars, you'll say, for you know them better than I ever could. 

These teams, in a sense, are a case study in the different shades of loss, both heartbreaking, simultaneously continuous and continual. You forget about the loss, but it's always there. With Denard, it is a latent sort of dread. It happens, and then it's okay. But it could happen again. 

With Rose, the Fates decided to snip the string in one motion rather than opting for a gradual defraying of the line. Even more discouragingly, the end of the journey, if there is one, does not even promise a return to the same place at which Rose started. After all, even when Odysseus returned home, things were no longer the same. Things were very different. 

*I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the departure of one Brian Scalabrine, the greatest player in the history of basketball
How the season unfolds for this Bulls team is anybody's guess. Preseason predictions have exhibited a range of opinion bridged by a roiling chasm of Unknown, where potential outcomes pop up and disappear like little volcanic pockets of inflamed earth. 

The Bulls have enough to hang on; after all, they were 18-9 last season without Rose, albeit with a much different roster and a superior bench. However, one thing stands undisputed: the Bulls are not going anywhere near a title without a healthy Rose. Likewise, the Wolverines will not reach the conference championship game or the Rose Bowl without the compliance of the network of nerves within Denard Robinson's arm. 

Gain and loss, loss and gain. These are the components of life, and, to a less meaningful extent, sport. As the Bulls season begins and Team 133 forges on, these elements, always linked no matter how disparate they may seem, will form the chassis of the future. 

Of course, something sits in between these two elements, a derivative sub-element that connects and binds. There is a third element: reaction. Everything in life is a response to gain and loss in some way, and nowhere in the world of sports is that more true than in Chicago and Ann Arbor, right now. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Time (Nebraska)

(HT: Mike DeSimone
Here it is:
  • Three thousand completely painful words about whatever it is that happened on Saturday in Lincoln (over at Maize n Brew, as usual). Was a game played? Did we win? I don't even know, so no spoilers please. Should I say more in this blurb? Should I say things of substance instead of asking pointless questions in order to avoid saying things about the game? Should I stop doing this? Okay that's probably enough. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Who Are You and Why Do We Care: Nebraska Cornhuskers

(Aww, a bicycle built for two)

When did we see them last?
Last year was the first time Nebraska played Michigan as a member of the Big Ten Conference. The Cornhuskers entered The Big House with an 8-2 record. Midway through the first quarter, Denard Robinson threw a 46 yard pass to Roy Roundtree, then made a six yard pass to Jeremy Gallon for a touchdown. On Michigan's next possession, Brendan Gibbons hit a 42 yard field goal. Just four plays later, Nebraska was able to respond. Taylor Martinez hit Brandon Kinnie for a 54 yard reception and a touchdown. At the beginning of the second quarter, a Robinson interception by Terrence Moore was converted into a Cornhusker field goal, tying the game at 10.

That would be the last time the game was close. On Michigan's next possession, the Wolverines had a 12 play 74 yard drive for a touchdown. 10 of the plays were runs, including Denard's 14 yard touchdown. Matt Wile kicked off to start the second half, and Kenny Bell returned it 33 yards before fumbling, and giving the ball back to Michigan. Unlike the Cornhuskers, who earlier in the game only got a field goal off a turnover, Denard Robinson ran for a one yard touchdown giving the Wolverines a 24-10 lead. On their next possession, Nebraska was forced to punt. Josh Furman blocked the kick, and Michigan took over with the ball on the 50 yard line. Eight plays later, Fitzgerald Toussaint was in the endzone, and Michigan had a 31-10 lead. At the end of the third quarter, Ameer Abdullah would score on a three yard touchdown run to pull Nebraska within two scores. Michigan would respond with a 10 play 86 yard drive capped with a 38 yard touchdown reception by Martavious Odoms. On the ensuing kick off, Nebraska went with a different return man - this time Tim Marlowe - but he also fumbled the ball back to Michigan. Brendan Gibbons missed a 42 yard field goal. When Nebraska got the ball back, Taylor Martinez was sacked by Jake Ryan, and he fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Ryan Van Bergen. On the next play, Toussaint ran 31 yards for a touchdown, giving us our final score: 45-17.

Okay, where did the name Cornhusker come from?

The University of Nebraska was chartered in 1869. They started playing football in 1890. They tried out many team names before settling on the Cornhuskers: Bugeaters, Tree Planters, Nebraskans, The Rattlesnake Boys, Antelopes, and Old Gold Knights. The University of Iowa was referred to as the Cornhuskers at the time, and Cy Sherman - a Lincoln sportswriter - liked the name and started calling Nebraska the same thing. Iowa chose Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers became the permanent name.

Yeesh, they've been in a lot of conferences haven't they?
From 1892 to 1897, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri were in the Western Interstate University Football Association (gee I wonder why that name didn't stick). Then those schools joined with Washington St. Louis to create the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1907. In 1908, Drake and Iowa State joined, followed by Kansas State, Grinnell (WHO?!) Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado. The name changed to the Big Eight. In 1996, the state of Texas merged with the Big Eight to create the Big 12. Finally this past year, Nebraska decided they didn't want to be controlled by Texas, and became the twelfth member of the Big 10.

What do they look like?
Well, Wisconsin. They look a lot like Wisconsin. If there is something you can give the Cornhuskers credit for, it is sticking to tradition. They have looked the same foreverOh yeah, their official colors are Scarlet and Cream. This season the Cornhuskers wore these jerseys against Wisconsin. 

Have they won any Conference or National Championships?
Nebraska has five National Championship seasons. The first two were back to back in 1970 and 1971 under coach Tom Devaney. The next three were in 1994, 1995, and 1997 under Tom Osborne. If that 1997 number either confuses you or makes you angry, there is a reason. Michigan and Nebraska both went undefeated. Since there was no BCS at the time, and the Big Ten was tied to the Rose Bowl, Michigan did not get an opportunity to play Nebraska to see who the real champion would be. The only thing we can look at is similar opponents. Both teams played Colorado and Baylor. While Nebraska beat Colorado 27-24 and Baylor 49-21, Michigan won 27-3 and 38-3.

Do they have a good coach?
Their current coach is Bo Pelini, and I could not find a picture of him where he was a combination ofaware of the camera and happy (Maayybe this one). Although he is a ridiculous picture taker, he is actually a pretty good coach. He played Free Safety at Ohio State (So we should hate him) from 1987-1990. He was a starter for his last two seasons, and was a Captain for his senior year. Pelini went on to coach pretty much everywhere, with short stints at Iowa and Cardinal Mooney High School before jumping to the NFL to coach Defensive Backs and Linebackers for the 49ers, Patriots, and Packers. In 2003, he became the Nebraska Defensive Coordinator, and the next year jumped to Oklahoma, where he was Co-DC. Then he was hired by Les Miles to be the Defensive Coordinator at LSU, where they beat Ohio State in the National Championship (So we should hate him less?). After that game, Tom Osborne (who had just been named Interim Athletic Coordinator) hired Bo Pelini as Nebraska's new Head Coach. Since becoming the coach, Nebraska has gone 38-14 and won the North Division all three years he was in the Big 12.

Where do they play?
Nebraska plays at Memorial Stadium, not to be confused with Memorial Stadium or Memorial Stadium.Miscellaneous pictures of the stadium from a ton of angles. The stadium holds the current, ongoing, record for consecutive sell outs at 317. The 81,067 person capacity would make Memorial Stadium the third most populated city in the state of Nebraska.

What are some of their football traditions?

  • After the first touchdown is scored by the Cornhuskers, fans release red balloons into the sky. 
  • The Sea of Red: As Michigan fans, we know how difficult it is for everyone to wear Maize at home games, Nebraska does not have this problem with people wearing Red. They also hold up their shoes before Kick Off. 
  • Tunnel Walk: The Cornhuskers come out to the song Sirius by The Alan Parson's Project. The team exits the locker room, follows the coach to "The Big Red Carpet," touches a lucky horseshoe, then goes through the gates and onto the field. 
  • Blackshirts: In 1964, the first team Nebraska Defense started wearing Black Jerseys during practice. They had to return their black jerseys every day, since they may not be on the first team the next day, and they had to earn them back. This started a tradition that the black jerseys needed to be earned. 

Do they have a goofy mascot?
They have TWO goofy mascots!! Herbie Husker and Lil' Red. AND they have had more: Corn Cob and Mr. Cornhead (Super clever names). Herbie Husker first appeared on the cover of the 1974 Nebraska Media Guide, and he has had many different looks over the yearsLil' Red (the original Lil, I suppose Wayne,Kim, and Jon are posers) was created in 1993 after a state wide contest to create a new mascot. The body of the mascot is super light and the wearer needs to be strapped to a "powerbelt," which brings in outside air. I assume the powerbelt looks more like this than like this (Although 71% more calories?! AWESOME!!).  So since they have two mascots, they probably get to do awesome things like dance-offs right? Video? Yep...

Prediction based on everything but football: Nebraska 21 - Michigan 17. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Time (Michigan State)

Jake Ryan just drinkin' your milkshake, probably


As you can see, I did not rush the field. Clearly, this means I am a better human being and MICHIGAN MAN than all of those people (that was a joke). 
This week (!):

  • Some thoughts on this past Saturday's throwback BIG TEN FOOTBALL GAME over at Maize n Brew. Did you know that it was a Big Ten football game? Because it was a Big Ten football game, and it was also Big Ten football at its finest (apparently). Petty snark aside, that was a great game to go to and I'm glad I went. Aside from that, if you're still in the trance of the RR era's siren song, beating a Big Ten rival 12-10 with Michigan's kickers going 4-4 on the day should just about snap you out of it. This defense and not-heart-attack-inducing special teams thing is kind of fun. In any case, Michigan is 5-2; not playing Alabama again surely helps, but the improvement in this team since that September 1st contest in Dallas has in fact been something to write home about. Barring a November collapse, Michigan can pretty much lock up the Legends division with a win in Lincoln this Saturday. That's a fairly crazy reality after Michigan's non-conference performance. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Who Are You and Why Do We Care?: Michigan State Spartans

Is there a rivalry here?
Unlike Michigan's rivalries with Ohio State and Notre Dame, which are based on football, the rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State is about much more. Michiganders (Michiganians?) are forced to choose allegiances at a young age. The two schools compete over everything from fan base to recruits to the front pages of the News and Free Press.  To narrow this rivalry down to football we can see that Michigan holds a 67-32-5 record against the in-state in-conference foe. The teams play for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, which Michigan has won 34 times to State's 23.

For most of the 2000s, Michigan made this seem like less of a rivalry by posting the longest winning streak since the 1970s. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, coaches like Nick Saban, Bobby Williams, and John L. Smith could not compete with Lloyd Carr's Wolverines. Once Carr retired, and John L. Smith was fired, things started to move in Michigan State's direction. Rich Rodriguez and Mark Dantonio took control of the rivalry, and Michigan State got the competitive advantage. Rodriguez never beat Michigan State. Brady Hoke also lost in his first attempt to defeat the in-state rival, and State has their first four game win streak against Michigan since the Spartans won four straight from 1959-1962. 

What happened last year?
The game, in East Lansing, started very well for the Wolverines. Denard Robinson and Vincent Smith marched the Wolverines down the field ending with an incredible 15 yard Robinson touchdown. 

That would be the last time Michigan fans were celebrating for a while. State's following possession resulted in a one yard Edwin Baker touchdown. The rest of the first half included Will Hagerup and Mike Sadler punting the ball a lot of times. When Michigan State got the ball after halftime, Kirk Cousins completed a pass to Keshawn Martin in the endzone to put the Spartans in the lead 14-7. On State's next possession, Edwin Baker fumbled, but the Wolverines couldn't respond, going three and out. When the Spartans got the ball back, Cousins connected with Martin for another touchdown. Midway through the fourth quarter Michigan got the ball on the Spartan 34 yard line. One play later, Roy Roundtree received a pass from Denard, broke a tackle, scored a touchdown. Michigan would have an opportunity to tie the game two plays later when Keshawn Martin fumbled, and JT Floyd recovered. Michigan had a 4th down opportunity on the Michigan State 9 yard line. The Wolverines went for it and  Johnny Adams sacked Denard for a ten yard loss. Michigan State went three and out , and Michigan got another chance. On the next play, Denard threw a pass, which was intercepted by Isaiah Lewis and returned for a touchdown. The game would end with a final score of Michigan State 28- Michigan 14 . 

When did we last win?
In 2007, Michigan's Senior Class, lead by Mike Hart, Chad Henne, and Jake Long, swept Michigan State. Michigan owned the beginning and end of the game, while Michigan State controlled the middle. Mid-way through the fourth quarter, Jehuu Caulcrick took a one yard run in for a touchdown to put MSU up 24-14. Chad Henne would not allow his team to be beaten by little brother, and threw touchdown passes of 14 and 31 yards to Greg Mathews and Mario Manningham. Henne ended the game 18/33 for 211 and 4 TDs, Mike Hart ran for 110 on 15 carries, and Mario Manningham caught 8 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

(Fun to watch if you like seeing good things happen!)

What do they look like?
Well this is actually a kind of funny question. Other than keeping to their colors of Green and White, MSU has never had a true identity on the field. Since 1993, the Spartans have changed their uniforms 8 (!!!!!) times. So lets break down their uniform combinations since 2000, because 8 changes is just ridiculous.  

Do they have good coaches?
Unfortunately, yes. Mark Dantonio played his college ball at South Carolina, but all of his coaching is based in the Mid-West. He worked on Jim Tressel's staff at both Youngstown State and Ohio State and worked on Nick Saban's staff at MSU in the 1990s. He was the head coach at Cincinnati from 2004-2006, and has been Michigan State's head coach since 2007. He is 37-20 since taking the State job. Before Dantonio, John L. Smith roamed the side lines of Spartan Stadium.  He was not so good at football coaching, but at least he had a funny voice and was prone to mental breakdowns...

Have they won a National or Big Ten Championship?
Well last year they shared the Big Ten Championship for the first time since 1990. They have seven Big Ten Championships in total. They also have 6 National Championships, all happened in the 1950s and 1960s. Not a Championship note, but MSU has not won a bowl game in their last 5 tries, with their last win coming in 2001 against Fresno State beat Georgia last year in the Outback Bowl. 

Where do they play football?
Spartan Stadium was built in 1923 and was original called College Field. They added luxury boxes to the stadium in 2004. Here is what the field looks like. Until the Notre Dame game this year, Michigan State had a fifteen game home winning streak. Now, they have a three game home losing streak. 

Do they have any interesting traditions?
  • Cheers from 300: Pretty much if there was something yelled in 300, it is also yelled in Spartan Stadium. 
  • Zeke the Wonder Dog: A dog that catches frisbees during halftime.
  • Thunderstruck: Similar to Michigan playing "In The Big House" before the team ran onto the field last year, Michigan State comes out after "Thunderstruck" plays. 
  • Go Green/Go White: You've all heard this one before. No explanation necessary. 

Did anyone famous play there?
  • Plaxico Burress - Current member of the New York Jets and former member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Giants, and the Oneida Correctional Facility. 
  • Drew Stanton - Detroit Lions third-string QB. 
  • Brian Hoyer - Back up to Tom Brady, and soon to also back up Ryan Mallet on the New England Patriots. 
  • Charles Rogers - Former Detroit Lions WR and professional marijuana smoker. 
  • James Caan - Sonny Corleone and Ed Deline amongst other famous roles. 
  • Wayne Fontes - Former Detroit Lions head coach. 
  • Kirk Gibson - Former Detroit Tigers great, currently the Arizona Diamondback's head coach. 
  • Tyrone Willingham - Former head coach of Stanford, Notre Dame, and Washington. 
Do they have a goofy mascot (other than John L. Smith)?
Sparty is a big deal on Michigan State's campus, and in my opinion is much less goofy than many of the other mascots. He has been around in his current form since the 1989 season. They also have a bronze statute of Sparty on campus in East Lansing. During the week of the Michigan game they guard it so this doesn't happen

Prediction based on everything but football: Michigan 28 - Michigan State 16

Monday, October 15, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Time (Illinois)

(HT: Mike DeSimone
This week:

  • I talked about the Illinois game over at Maize n Brew. Notes: Denard is awesome, Jake Ryan is awesome, the notion of "having a good defense" is awesome. Everything is about as awesome as it can be for a Michigan team currently sitting at 4-2. The B1G competition thus far hasn't exactly been fierce, and Michigan State doesn't appear to be quite as formidable as many expected them to be. Still, there are demons to be exorcised on Saturday; as such, I'm sure this will be the longest week ever. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Who Are You and Why Do We Care?: Illinois Fighting Illini

Is there a rivalry here?
Even though they were an original member of the Western Conference, Illinois is not a team Michigan has a traditional rivalry with. In 93 all-time games, Michigan has a 68-23-2 record. Michigan is 8-2 in the last ten meetings between the two teams. 

When did we see them last?
Last season Michigan marched into Champaign, Illinois with a 7-2 record to play the Illinois Fighting Illini who were 6-3. Even though the scoreboard didn't show it, Michigan demolished the Illini in the first half. On the second play of the game Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for 65 yards leading to a 9 yard Denard Robinson touchdown. Michigan got the ball back and ran the ball down to the Illinois 27 before a Robinson fumble gave the ball back to the Illini. Towards the end of the first quarter, Justin DuVernois punted the ball, which was returned 32 yards by Jeremy Gallon. The punt return would lead to another Denard Robinson rushing touchdown. The rest of the first half included the pattern of Illinois going 3 and out (or fumbling) followed by Michigan doing something to not score points (Turnover on downs, Robinson fumble, Gibbons missed field goal, Denard interception to end the half). Illinois would not cross enter Michigan's end of the field during the first half. 

The third quarter started the same way the second quarter ended. Michigan went three and out on its first possession and Denard got injured. Neither team was able to move the ball, and the game looked like it would continue that way until a Will Hagerup punt was fumbled by Ryan Lankford, and recovered by John McColgan. Devin Gardner entered the game at quarterback, and lead the Wolverines to a Brendan Gibbons field goal. On the ensuing possession Illinois finally crossed midfield and scored a touchdown on a thirteen yard run by Nathan Scheelhaase. In the fourth quarter a JT Floyd interception lead to a touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Martavious Odoms. Illinois responded with an 18 play 80 yard drive, which ended in a Jason Ford touchdown run. Illinois tried for an onside kick, but the Wolverines recovered. Two plays later Toussaint was in the endzone  for the game's final score. Michigan would go on to win 31-14.

What do they look like?
Their official colors are "Illinois Orange" and "Illinois Blue." Here is a sample of each of their current uniforms, and here is what they look like on football players standing indoors. They are a Nike school so they have lots of piping and weird stripes and such. Next year they will be implementing a new uniform set with these helmets

Do they have good coaches?
Bob Zuppke was a good Head Coach from 1913-1941. During that span, Illinois went 131-81-12 including four National Championships and seven Big Ten Championships. For the past seven seasons, Ron Zook was the man in charge. Zook was the head coach at the University of Florida from 2002-2004. In 2004, he was fired before the end of the season, yet Florida let him coach the rest of the season. Zook took the job at Illinois before the Gators played in the Peach Bowl. 22 of the 24 starters on Florida's 2007 National Championship team were recruited by Zook. His first two seasons at Illinois were terrible at best, with a combined 4-19 record. 2007 was Zook's best year as a head coach and Illinois best season since 2001. The Illini went 9-3, and due to Ohio State's National Championship bid, a trip to the Rose Bowl (and Disney Land). In Pasadena, they got stomped by USC. Zook was never able to repeat this success and only had one winning record after 2007. This past season, after starting the season 4-0, the Illini went 2-6, and Zook was fired. 

Tim Beckman was brought in to replace Ron Zook after three years as the head coach of the Toledo Rockets. Before working at Toledo, Beckman was the Defensive Coordinator at Bowling Green for six years, the Corner Backs Coach at Ohio State for two seasons, and the Defensive Coordinator at Oklahoma State for two seasons. After an improved 2009 where the Rockets went 5-9 (in 2008, the Rockets had 3 wins... one over Michigan), Toledo had back to back 8 win seasons. So far Beckman has gone 2-4 as head coach at Illinois. He has also shown that he loves to dip on the sidelines

Have they won any Big Ten or National Championships?
As I previously mentioned, Zuppke won four National Championships in his career at Illinois. The most recent National Championship was won in 1951. The Illini have won 15 Big Ten Championships, winning most recently in 2001. 

Where do they play?
Memorial Stadium was opened in 1923. Here are some pictures of what it looks like. According to the University, during construction of the stadium, "a rainy season caused a bulldozer to sink into what became the football field." It is still there to this day. Also, miscellaneous white man with fro in front of the scoreboard. This season, the university added an outline of the state of Illinois to the field surface. In honor of Illinois great Red Grange, Grange Rock sits in the Northeast endzone of the field, where the Illini tunnel is

What traditions do they have?
  • Beginning in 1910, there was a section of stands called the Block "I". The students in this section do tricks with cards. Video here
  • This season the Illini are trying to add this ridiculous dance to their traditions. 
  • Just as we have GO/BLUE chanted, Illinois chants I-L-L/I-N-I.
  • The Illini have trophies for games with three of their opponents. 
Do they have a goofy mascot?
Not anymore... Here's Chief Illiniwek's last dance:
If you notice, this was a game against Michigan

For years, Illinois used the Chief Illiniwek head as their main logo. In 1926, the assistant director of bands wanted a Native American war dance during halftime of football games. Starting in the mid-1970s the Chief was subject of much debate over its political correctness. In 2006, it was decided that Chief Illiniwek could no longer be the official university symbol. 

Prediction based on everything but football: Michigan 41 - Illinois 13.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

HTR's Top 25: Week 6

Previous dubious assertionsHTR's Official Meaningless Preseason Top 25Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4, Week 5

With most of college football having exited the realm of Cupcake City, we were treated to our first weekend of mostly good football. This past Saturday was rife with upsets, derailed hype trains, and general shenanigans. 

"Stop it with the dumb penalties, fergodsakes!" 

South Carolina
West Virginia
Notre Dame 
Ohio State
Kansas State
Oregon State
Florida State 
Texas A&M
 Mississippi State 
Iowa State 
Louisiana Tech 

Out: Northwestern, Nebraska, UCLA, Washington, Texas Tech

  • longer undefeated. All of you that predicted an Alabama-Northwestern national title game, I'm sorry. The dream season is over. No completely unironic--no, really--Northwestern fight song linking this week. 
  • This year in college football insanity: Oregon State, in the top 10. This is "expectations exceeded" personified. I'm not sure how Mike Riley has navigated this team to a 4-0 record a season after losing to Sacramento State, but he has and is clearly a graduate of the Bill Snyder School of Sorcery. On the not so bright side, Oregon State QB Sean Mannion is out indefinitely after sustaining a knee injury against the Washington State Pirates. Luckily, OSU has a manageable slate throughout the rest of this month (@BYU, Utah, @Washington, Arizona State). If Oregon State can somehow get through that stretch without a loss, Riley has to be the coach of the year, right? 
  • Other dreams vanquished. Texas Tech finally fell this past weekend after surprising basically everyone by playing this thing called "defense" during its first four contests. Unfortunately, the Fightin' Tubervilles fell to the Sooners in Lubbock. The Red Raiders gave up 17 points in each of the second and third quarters. With that said, the TTU defense still did okay, giving up a relatively okay 4.2 YPC and under 400 yards of total offense. An Oklahoma pick 6 essentially ended the game midway through the 3rd quarter, taking the score to 38-13, putting it out of reach even for a pass-happy offense like TTU's. 
  • Michigan: back! Not back as in "returning to glory" back, but hey, Michigan's schedule has been tough and a thumping on the road against what figures to be a bowl team of some sort is enough to vault the Wolverines back into the top 25 for now. It means literally nothing but hey, being ranked 24th feels much better than being a "receiving votes" team. 
  • This week in my unrealistic and/or irrational preseason conjecturing. Virginia continues to plummet, making me look like a fool after spending the offseason hyping up Mike London. The Cavs lost at Duke, 42-17, putting them at 2-4 halfway through this 2012 season. Everything about that last sentence is really, really bad. 
  • Speaking of ACC failings...the Seminoles Florida Stated it up this weekend, losing to an NC State team that got destroyed by Tennessee. Virginia Tech continues to slide, adding a loss to UNC to its resume. Boston College lost to Army, Miami didn't even put up any sort of fight against Notre Dame in Chicago, and Georgia Tech lost again (also dropping them to 2-4). To make matters worse, the Ramblin' Wreck also relieved defensive coordinator Al Groh of his duties on Monday. Times are not good in Atlanta these days, and I'm not even talking about the Braves. Oh, by the way, Duke is 5-1. DUKE IS 5-1. 
  • West Virginia: legit. Okay, that defense is still very, uh, shaky, but a win in Austin is a win in Austin. It's fairly clear that, unlike Missouri, West Virginia will be perfectly fine in its new conference.