August 12, 2008

2008: Grading the non-conference schedules


We've created a vicious cycle in college football. Sure we all love the fact that just about every game is on TV nowadays. And because coaches and athletic directors want their teams to look good on TV, so they schedule a lot of limp fish opponents. Because wins beget bowl games. Bowl games begets job security. Job security begets more money. Thus, more money is insured by wins. You spin me right round baby right round, like a record.

No longer do college football teams across the country take chances. Or, well, rarely do they. Have you noticed how boring Septembers have become, except for the occasional Appy State upset of Michigan or Ohio State showdown with Texas?

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January 01, 2008

Rose Bowl: Trojans Dominate in Statement Win

PASADENA, Calif. -- Most people thought the Rose Bowl would be a blowout. Most people were right.

Save a stretch in the third quarter when Illinois' offense woke up, USC dominated the entire game en route to a 49-17 win to secure its second consecutive dominant Rose Bowl win. While USC tied a Rose Bowl record with 49 points and set a record with 633 yards of total offense, the Trojan defense set the tone early in the game.

"I'm so fired up about the way we played against such a terrific offense that plays that scheme of offense," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "They might have given us too much time to prepare."

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Rose Bowl: Booty's USC Career Concludes

PASADENA, Calif. -- With about seven minutes left in the game, John David Booty's career at USC has come to an end. With USC holding a 42-10 lead, Mark Sanchez has taken over at quarterback and Booty ends his college days with his second consecutive Rose Bowl win.

He ends the game completing 25-of-37 passing attempts for 255 yards and three touchdowns. His three scoring throws today give him seven career touchdown passes in the Rose Bowl, surpassing Mark Brunell's old record of five in two games with Washington State.

Rose Bowl: Hits Keep Coming for USC

PASADENA, Calif. -- Now it's just a question of how much USC wants to pad John David Booty's newly acquired Rose Bowl touchdown record. After setting the record with his sixth career Rose Bowl touchdown pass to Fred Davis in the third quarter, Booty added another to start the fourth quarter, this time to David Ausberry.

USC now holds a 42-10 lead and has sent Illinois fans scurrying from the stands.

Rose Bowl: McKnight, USC Back in Charge

PASADENA, Calif. -- Illinois tried to go big to respond to USC's latest touchdown. It didn't work. Juice Williams' first pass of the drive sailed about 30 yards in the air before Cary Harris intercepted it. The Trojans in turn went for the jugular with a quick-strike drive that ended with a Joe McKnight touchdown to give USC a seemingly insurmountable 35-10 lead.

Meanwhile, McKnight has likely sealed up player of the game honors and possibly the full-time starting job at tailback for USC next season. So far he has eight carries for 116 yards and a touchdown, five receptions for 49 yards and has made some big plays in the return game. On a field full of burners, nobody's been able to keep up with McKnight.

Rose Bowl: Heartbreak for Illinois

PASADENA, Calif. -- Just as the Illini were about to roar back into this game, a turnover kept them out of the end zone and completely changed the tone. On the possession after Rashard Mendenhall ran for a 79-yard touchdown, he took a swing pass 55 yards to set up Illinois in scoring position again.

Illinois quarterback Juice Williams connected with Jacob Willis who bolted toward the end zone inside the 10. USC linebacker Kaluka Maiava had other ideas, punching the ball out, where it rolled into the end zone for a USC touchback.

A few plays later Joe McKnight picked up a loose ball on a lateral from John David Booty and ran 65 yards to set up an eventual touchdown pass from John David Booty to Fred Davis. Just when it looked like Illinois would cut the lead to 21-17, the Trojans increased their lead to 28-10. The 14-point swing could very well take the air out of Illinois. How they respond here with about five minutes left in the third quarter could determine the game.

Rose Bowl: Illinois Finds End Zone

PASADENA, Calif. -- Illinois got just what it needed to kick off the second half with a big play from Rashard Mendenhall. The speedy tailback finally found a hole in the USC defense and broke through for a 79-yard touchdown run that equaled the team's total offensive output in the first half.

The Illini fans, who have been plenty loud while their team struggled, erupted and have the Rose Bowl actually feeling like the Rose Bowl as USC leads 21-10.

Rose Bowl: Illini Faithful Stay Strong

PASADENA -- Either Illinois' fans don't realize they're down 21-3 or they're not bothered by it. I've been nothing but impressed by the Illini faithful who were the loudest before the game, steadfast during the USC-dominated first half and have been the most spirited during halftime -- and we're just a few miles away from USC's campus.

If just for their sake, it'd be nice to see their football team play a more competitive second half.

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Rose Bowl: Illinois Breaks Through

PASADENA -- So much for the shutout. Illinois responded to USC's latest touchdown with its best drive of the day to get on the board with 38 seconds left in the first half and cut the deficit to 21-3. The drive stalled and ended in a 28-yard field goal, but it's something positive for the Illini to work with going into halftime.

Rose Bowl: Illinois Livin' on a Prayer

PASADENA, Calif. -- The Illinois band takes an honest approach about things. With Illinois starting at its own 10 for its worst field position of the day, the Illini band rolled out with Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer. Very appropriate.

USC's lighting-fast defense again allowed nothing as the Illini were forced to punt again and set up USC near midfield, where it marched 43 yards for a Chauncey Washington touchdown to take a 21-0 lead with about two minutes left in the first half. The question now is whether or not Illinois will be able to score.

Rose Bowl: USC Leaving Door Open

PASADENA, Calif. -- After exploding for the first two touchdowns of the game, USC's offense has stalled since John David Booty's interception. USC scored twice before even facing third down on offense, but hasn't been able to get much going since.

Illinois is seeing the benefits with good field position, but has yet to capitalize. The difference right now is USC's defense, lauded by many as the best in the nation. So far, Illinois has 28 plays on offense for 45 yards.

If the Illini find a way to break a big scoring play, this could get interesting. The way things are going, it may have to come from defense or special teams.

Rose Bowl: Ilini Squander Opportunity

PASADENA, Calif. -- Illinois got exactly what it needed to make this a competitive game when Justin Harrison intercepted John David Booty and returned the ball 45 yards to the USC 20. Illinois picked up a first down near the 10 and looked ready to score, but stalled on three straight plays.

Well, at least they would get on the scoreboard with a chip shot field goal. Or not. Jason Reda missed the 29-yard attempt just when it looked like Illinois was ready to get into the game. USC still leads 14-0 at the end of the first quarter while the Illinois fans search hard for something to cheer about.

Rose Bowl: Tricky Tricky Trojans

PASADENA, Calif. -- USC is pulling out the stops already as a trick play put the Trojans on top of Illinois 14-0 halfway through the first quarter. After a Rey Maualuga interception set USC up in Illinois territory, the USC offense struck quick when John David Booty took the snap and lateraled it back to widout Garrett Green. Green, listed as a WR-QB on the lineup card, showed his quarterbacking prowess with a 34-yard strike to a wide open Desmond Reed for USC's second touchdown of the game.

The scary thing for Ilinois is that it hasn't been able to get anything going on offense. In need of a response to USC's first touchdown, the Illini started to march toward midfield, but Maualuga's interception and 19-yard return set up the easy score for USC.

As I wrote this entry, Illinois went three and out and just punted the ball back to USC. This looks very much like the blowout most people expected.

Rose Bowl: Trojans Take Charge Early

PASADENA, Calif. -- Illinois looked ready to make the first statement of the Rose Bowl when it got off to a good start with a 16-yard run from Rashard Mendehnall on the opening play. But USC forced a punt after three more plays and looked like a team angry not to be playing in the national championship.

Led by precision passing from John David Booty and a lucky bounce on a batted ball that ended up in Joe McKnight's hands, USC needed just 2:12 to march 72 yards and score the game's first touchdown for a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.

The Trojans, an experienced and loose BCS team, proceeded to perform a choreographed dance routine on the sideline as Illinois waited for the ensuing kickoff. It's obviously early, but Illinois would be well-served to respond with a good drive here.

Rose Bowl: Screw Tradition

PASADENA, Calif. -- There are two schools of thought with today's Rose Bowl matchup between USC and Illinois. One believes in tradition and pageantry with Pac-10 and Big Ten loyalists gagging at the thought of an interloper from another conference playing in the grandaddy of them all.

Then there's the progressive point of view that believes the Rose Bowl, being the esteemed event that it is, shouldn't settle for anything but the best show possible. It's a red-state, blue-state thing and an argument that's been hashed over countless times since the BCS announced that No. 7 USC would play a 9-3 Illinois team that backed into a BCS bowl despite a ranking of 13 in the final standings.

Both sides are equally passionate about the Rose Bowl and believe their point of view is the best for the New Year's Day classic. Both sides will stand their ground with the fortitude that fuels political debates on cable network news. Both sides can't be right.

And the wrong side won out this year. I'm a born and bred ACC man with no affiliation with Pac-10 or Big Ten tradition. I want what's best for college football, which is the best possible matchup for the game's premiere bowl.

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November 10, 2007

Illinois has all the "Juice", upsets #1 Ohio State 28-21

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Fairy Tale ride is over. After dominating opponents all season, the Buckeyes finally met their match in an Illinois squad led by quaterback Juice Williams. Behind his 140 passing yards and four touchdown passes, the Illini added Ohio State to the long list of top ranked teams who were upset this season.

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Boeckman throws third interception

COLUMBUS, Ohio - After a huge defensive stop by the Buckeyes handed them the ball back with a chance to tie the game, Boeckman once again negated the defense's work in tossing another interception with less than eight minutes left in the game.

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No mistakes this time, Wells pounds way into endzone

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Beanie Wells wasn't about to let Boeckman mess this one up. Down 28-14 and the crowd gasping for the slightest bit of hope, Wells delivered by breaking off a 17-yard touchdown run as he has done so many time before. The fifth largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history, meanwhile, is on its feet and louder than ever.

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Illini turn another Boeckman interception into 7 points

COLUMBUS, Ohio - They marched closer and closer and closer, but 12 plays and 34 yards later, the Buckeyes turned a potential touchdown into yet another turnover, as Boeckman was intercepted for the second time. This one, however, was pulled in by an Illini cornerback in the endzone.

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Williams connects on third touchdown pass, takes 21-14 lead at halftime

COLUMBUS, Ohio - For the second week in a row, Ohio State heads into the lockerroom at halftime with its undefeated season much in the air. Last week, the Buckeyes went into the half with a slim 10-3 lead over Wisconsin and later saw that lead dwindle away to a seven point deficit. Today, they find themeslves down 21-14 after Williams' third touchdown pass in the game with just 14 seconds left.

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Offenses hit speed bump

COLUMBUS, Ohio - After a 28-point first quarter, it appears the defenses have finally stepped up while the offenses regress. The two Big Ten rivals combined for nearly 350 yards of offense in the opening stanza, but neither team has been able to mount anything offensivley since Illinois' last score at the four minute mark in the first.

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National Guard honored at end of quarter

COLUMBUS, Ohio - I just wanted to point out something few would have been able to see as the first quarter came to a close. In the intermission, members of the National Guard were brought out to the south endzone and were recognized for their service. The crowd of 105,000-plus all rose to their feet and gave them a standing ovation, much to the surprise of the Guard service men and women. It was quite a scene to witness.

Illinois turns interception into 7 points

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Illini were the first team to punt today, but regained control of the ball on the next possession when Boeckman threw a rare interception on the Buckeyes ensuing drive. It was Boeckman's ninth of the season, which isn't bad for a guy who ranks sixth in the nation in pass efficiency. Williams took advantage of the turnover a few plays later, connecting with Jacob Willis for a 33-yard touchdown pass.

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Three drives, three touchdowns

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Just as predicted, the Buckeyes once again worked their way into the endzone, stringing together a methodical 9 play, 76 yard touchdown drive. Ohio State backup tailback Maurice Wells handed his team its second touchdown on a 19-yard scamper into the endzone.

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Illinois responds to Ohio State's quick touchdown with one of their own

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Well folks, looks like we have a shootout here. Just two plays after Ohio State took a 7-0 lead, the Illini responded with an 80-yard run from Daniel Dufrene that setup a touchdown pass from Williams. Both teams have now combined for 14 points in just over a minute of play.

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Bucks waste no time, score on game's first two plays

COLUMBUS, Ohio - It took just 23 seconds for Ohio State to prove why it is the No.1 team in the country, as quarterback Todd Boeckman hooked up with Brian Hartline for a 65-yard bomb on the first play of the game and Chris Wells took the next handoff 11 yards into the endzone to go up 7-0.

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Ohio State looks to avoid upset against Illinois

COLUMBUS, Ohio - One week from today the Buckeyes will take on their toughest opponent of the season in Michigan. But first, they must get past a Fighting Illini squad that ranks third in the Big Ten. Illinois enters the contest ranked last in the conference in passing, which means its more than like going to have rely on tailback Rashard Mendenhall and its ground game. This could spell trouble for the Illini, however, since the Buckeyes enter with the nation's No.1 rush defense.

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October 06, 2007

Illini snap Wisconsin's Streak; Win Second Straight Over Ranked Opponents

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Thanks to another stellar running effort, Illinois (5-1 overall, 3-0 in Big Ten) snapped No. 5 Wisconsin's (5-1, 2-1) fourteen-game win streak. The Illini rushed for 289 yards on 44 carries (6.6 yards per carry), and made the big plays when they needed them.

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Badgers Still Fighting

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Wisconsin is still alive. Tyler Donovan hit WR Garrett Graham with a 9-yard touchdown pass to cap off an 82-yard drive. Illinois still leads 31-26, with 1:31 remaining. Wisconsin retains all three time outs.

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Illini on Verge of Upset

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Running Backs Rashard Mendenhall and Daniel Dufrene ran the Badgers ragged on a 71 yard Touchdown Drive. Reserve QB Eddie McGee--who replaced an injured Juice Williams on the drive--ran the ball in for a five-yard TD.

The Illini lead 31-19 with 5:28 remaining

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Illini holding off Badgers--for now

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. It looked like Wisconsin had seized the momentum, but then Illini DB Kevin Mitchell picked off Tyler Donovan on what looked like a miscommunication between Donovan and his receiver.

On Wisconsin's next possession, Vontae Davis picked another deep ball thrown by Donovan.

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After third quarter, Illini lead Badgers 24-19

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Wisconsin will start with the ball at their own 10 when the fourth quarter begins.

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PJ Hill is just fine; Badgers make it 24-19

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - PJ Hill came out of the game last possession, but he came back in a big way, starting the Wisconsin drive with a 30 yard run and ending it with a one-yard TD plunge.

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - That's not booing, that's the sound of Illini fans hailing their sophomore QB Juice Williams. He ran for 53 yards on Illinois's touchdown drive, which was capped off by Rashard Mendenhall's third TD of the game.

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Wisconsin Comes Out Strong; Cuts Lead to 17-13

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. The Badgers looked very effective on their first drive of the second half, which culminated in a 43-yard touchdown reception by Kyle Jefferson on a fake end-around play-action pass.

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Wisconsin WR Swan out for game

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Wisconsin's #1 WR Luke Swan was injured late in the second quarter. Swan left the field on his own power, but he will not return. He had 67 receiving yards in the first half, and leads the Badgers in receiving yards this season.

Mendenhall Leads Illini to 17-6 Halftime lead

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Illinois Jr. running back Rashard Mendenhall has been the story in the first half.

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Wisconsin settles for field goal

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Wisconsin's Taylor Mehlhaff hit a 38-yard field goal to make the score 17-3, Illinois.

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Juice is Loose

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. QB Juice Williams led the Illini on a 75 yard drive, capped off by a 5-yard TD pass to Rashard Mendenhall. The Illini lead 17-0.

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Lovely Reda, Field Goal Made

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Illinois Kicker Jason Reda nailed a 50-yard field goal to put the Illini up 10-0. Maybe Vegas did know what they were doing.

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Wisconsin can't convert on third down

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. For the third time, the Badgers moved the ball into Illinois territory, and for the third time, they failed to convert on third down to keep the drive alive.

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Bad news for the kickers

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Wisconsin's Taylor Mehlhaff missed a 38-yard Field Goal, and Illinois's Anthony Santella shanked a punt for just 14 yards.

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One Possession each, no score

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Six minutes into the first quarter, it's still scoreless in Champaign.

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Game Time

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. The game is about to begin, and Illinois students are positively drunk with anticipation.

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Wisconsin at Illinois: Game Preview

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. The unranked Illinois Fighting Illini (4-1 overall, 2-0 in Big Ten) enter their home contest against the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (5-0, 2-0) as--get this--2.5 point favorites.

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