Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The state of the Big Ten at the turn

It seems hard to believe, but we are at the halfway point of the Big Ten season, and there have been a few surprises in the league so far. Here is a synopsis, team by team, of what has transpired in the league thus far, and what is to come in the second half.

There are still three unbeaten teams in the conference, and they are Wisconsin, Michigan, and the Fighting Illini. Michigan and Illinois are both 6-0, and much of that success can be attributed to the fact that both teams played at home for the first five weeks of the season. It also didn't help that they played a somewhat soft schedule, although Illinois beat a decent Arizona State team and struggled to beat Western Michigan and Northwestern, teams that were not as good as the scores indicated. Wisconsin is 5-0, due in part to them having their bye week this past week. Both Wisconsin and Michigan will visit Champaign in November, so if they are still undefeated at that point, someone will be losing their first game in the process. Wisconsin and Illinois are in the Leaders Division, while Michigan is on top in the Legends Division.

In close pursuit of Michigan in the Legends are Michigan State and Nebraska, who had to come from behind to defeat a stubborn Ohio State squad. (More about the Buckeyes, who are the Illini's next opponent, later). Iowa checks in at 3-2 overall, while Northwestern is 2-3 and Minnesota brings up the rear in the division at just 1-5. Northwestern had a rough go of it the past couple of weeks, squandering big leads to both the Illini and Michigan, before losing both of them. Minnesota has many more problems of their own, and with ailing coach Jerry Kill in and out of the hospital, things are not looking promising in the Twin Cities at the moment.

Besides the Illini and the Badgers at the top of the Leaders, Penn State and Purdue also sport unblemished marks in conference play. The Nittany Lions are 5-1 overall, while Purdue is 3-2. Ohio State is 3-3 overall, while Indiana is 1-5. Both the Buckeyes and the Hoosiers are winless in conference play so far this season.

Last Saturday at a sun-drenched Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana, the Illini became bowl-eligible in just their sixth game of the season by defeating the Hoosiers 41-20. The game didn't start out very well for the Illini, as Indiana ran the opening kick back for a
touchdown. A couple of turnovers also didn't help the Illini, as they found themselves trailing for
a good portion of the first quarter. When the Illini finally did wake up, they began to play like they
were capable of, led by A. J. Jenkins, who followed up his career day last week with another strong
performance. The defense also came to play, as they made a couple of key plays, the major one being
a fumble return for a touchdown scooped up and taken back for a touchdown by Tavon Wilson. The
running game was much more apparent in this game as well, as the Illini amassed 308 yards on the
ground. Senior Troy Pollard led the attack with 92 yards on 9 carries. The fact that the Illini are already
bowl eligible is something that doesn't happen very often, especially this early. However, the Illini have
a tough game this coming Saturday, when the Ohio State Buckeyes visit Memorial Stadium (2:30 pm CT,
ABC). The Buckeyes have had a rough stretch over the last few months, which has led to several key players off
of last year's team to be suspended, or dismissed altogether. This includes their former coach, Jim Tressel,
who knew of the goings on within the program, but either falsified reports or didn't report what was being
done. New coach Luke Fickell is making the best of a bad situation, and at 3-3, comes into Champaign with
absolutely nothing to lose. The Buckeyes were in a similar situation in 2007 when the Illini came to Columbus
to visit, and Juice Williams and the Illini pulled the major upset, defeating the then-#1 ranked Buckeyes.
Here's hoping that history doesn't repeat itself.

Saturday will also mark a unique promotion for the Illinois-Ohio State game, as the DIA attempts to 'Stripe
The Stadium'. Fans in odd numbered sections are asked to wear orange to the game, while those in even
numbered sections are supposed to don blue attire. Students in the north end zone will wear orange, and the
appearance of the FanCam at halftime will allow fans attending the game to view themselves in the stands
after they get back home. This has worked well at other venues, but it remains to be seen how it will fare
in Champaign. Stay tuned.

The Fighting Illini women's volleyball team continues to roll through the season, and overcame a huge
weekend unblemished this past weekend with wins over both Ohio State and Penn State. The Illini broke the
Nittany Lions' 68 match winning streak in the Big Ten, by defeating them 3-2. On Friday night, the Illini
took down the Buckeyes 3-0. The Illini had a rare mid-week match on Wednesday night at Huff Hall, and
defeated Michigan 3-1 to improve their overall record to 18-0 and conference mark to 7-0. The Illini next take
the court Saturday evening against Michigan State at Huff Hall. The success of the volleyball team has gotten
such that attendance is now maxing out for all home matches, and some admittance guidelines have been
changed, namely setting aside certain areas of the gym for Go Illini Card members.

Normally by this time of the season, fans are clamoring for basketball season to begin, given the past few
seasons that the football team has had. However, this year with the success of the football team is having, that
is not the case. All the same, Bruce Weber and the men's basketball team held their annual Illini Media Day on
Tuesday at the Ubben practice facility, and if you can take anything from this session, it will be that there is a
lot of new faces in the mix as the season begins. Returning starters Brandon Paul, D. J. Richardson, as well as
key reserves Meyers Leonard and Tyler Griffey will be asked to lead the squad, but don't count out senior
transfer Sam Maniscalco, who will be asked to step up and lead the offense from the point guard position.
As I mentioned, there are a lot of new faces this year, with a lot of potential. Mike Shaw, Mychael Henry, Tracy
Abrams and Nnanna Egwu are all in-state players who should be asked to step up early, while Devin Langford,
who hails from Alabama, and Ibrahim Djimde from Mali. The team will hold a practice and scrimmage before the
Ohio State football game at Assembly Hall to give everyone a chance to see this year's team. The annual Orange
Blue Scrimmage is set for Sunday, October 23rd at 4:00 pm.

No comments: