Saturday, September 29, 2007

Holy crap.

I wish I could say that I saw that coming. As noted below, I didn't see the game live, but I look forward to watching it on Tivo. A few thoughts:

  • Iowa outgained IU, although I realize that is skewed by the Lewis fumble recovery that I can't wait to see. IU was more productive in yards per play (6.5 for IU, 5.4 for Iowa), and obviously in points per possession. Each team turned the ball over twice. IU led by more than one possession for nearly the entire last three quarters of the game.

  • The key stats: first, nine quarterback sacks! A couple of weeks ago, I expressed concern that the apparent improvement of IU's D-line might be illusory. Not so. These guys are better. Also, Iowa missed two field goals, and gained lots of yards on several empty drives.

  • Still, if we want to avoid irrational exuberance, it's worth noting that IU gave up 308 yards passing and 428 total to a team with a really anemic offense. Also, IU managed onlu only 2.1 per carry rushing. Again, that's a stat that is skewed depending on whether Lewis's 71 yarder is considered a run or a return. The numbers from the running backs (15-23 for Thigpen, 11-17 for Payton, 5-13 for Sears) were thoroughly unimpressive. On the other hand, IU gained narly 400 yards against what appeared to be a solid defense. I certainly don't mean to nitpick IU's most lopsided Big Ten road win since 2001, but these problem areas are worth watching.

  • In some ways, this makes me even more angry that IU lost to Illinois, but I suppose I and other Zook detractors are going to have to acknowledge that he has a pretty good team.

  • By winning this game, IU gets back what it gave up by losing to the Illini. IU stands at 4-1 and, if IU wins only the remaining games in which IU likely will be favored (Minnesota, Ball State, at Northwestern), the Hoosiers will be comfortably bowl-eligible. Win those and pull an upset against MSU, PSU, or Purdue, then even better. But first, let's not forget what happened last year at the Metrodome.

  • IU wore the crimson pants with the road jerseys for the first time in a couple of years. I prefer the all-white look on the road, but my guess is that this will become standard, and with good reason.

Bud Mackey.

Jesus Christ. I should have stayed offline. I'm not going to prejudge the situation, but unless evidence emerges that the drugs were planted on him, obviously Mackey can never play for IU. Coach Sampson, IU fans have given you a second chance despite your NCAA issues at OU, and that's fine with me. But this is a test.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sporadic entries for the next few days.

I will be out of the "Big Ten footprint" for few days, and so I will be dropping in sporadically if at all. I won't get chance to see the Iowa game until I get home midweek. Hopefully, it will be worth watching by the time I have the opportunity.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

BTB Roundtable, week 5.

1. Michigan turned to Russell Crowe (successfully). ND went with Regis (unsuccessfully). Imagine your team is in desperate need of a pregame pep talk (no imagination needed at NU). You can bring in anyone in the world. Who do you turn to and why?

Too easy.

Nobody talks 'em up like Norm Dale. Unfortunately, success for IU in football sometimes seems as improbable as Hickory beating South Bend Central (or Milan beating Muncie Central, if you prefer the real world), although, as I discuss below, I don't really think it's that improbable.

2. What perception about your program is perpetuated to the point where it is your pet peeve? Why does it bother you so much (no, the answer does not have to be an alliteration)?

The perception that it's impossible to win at IU. I freely acknowledge that IU is a really tough job. I acknowledge that and accept that, and certainly the last 13 years have enhanced IU's reputation as a bad career move. But what really bothers me is that IU's loser reputation re-emerged almost immediately after IU's 9-year run of respectability ended. For instance, many of Cam Cameron's apologists now insist that he never should have taken the job back in 1996, that it was a no-win situation. Four Big Ten coaches were fired at the end of the 1996 season: Bill Mallory at IU, Lou Tepper at Illinois, Jim Wacker at Minnesota, and Jim Colletto at Purdue. While Illinois had some solid seasons in the early and mid 1990s, Purdue and Minnesota had both been uniformly horrible since the mid 1980s. Unlike Mason and Tiller, Cameron had players on his first team who had been to a bowl game. It seemed strange to me at the time that IU was considered the most daunting rebuilding job, although I suppose, to some extent, history has vindicated that perception. As tough as the IU job is, Bill Mallory's run of respectability wasn't that long ago, and it was recent history in 1997. Again, I don't deny that IU is a tough job, perhaps the toughest in the conference. But I refuse to believe, in the era of 85 scholarships and universal TV coverage, that any program cannot be occasionally successful.

3. It is only week 5 of the season, but you've been asked to create your team's highlight reel for the season. You get to choose one song. What is it and why?

I'll go with the ultra-cheesy "Danger Zone," by Kenny Loggins for the Top Gun soundtrack. That's where IU's season is heading right now. If we go 2-0 against Iowa and Minnesota in the next two weeks, we're in great shape. If we go 1-1, we're OK. If we go 0-2, we're screwed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More about Iowa.

The Hawkeyes are a tough team to read. Defensively, the Hawkeyes appear to be pretty good, maybe really good. Before the Wisconsin game, Iowa had not allowed an offensive touchdown all season. Iowa State beat the Hawkeyes 15-13 with five field goals; Iowa shut out what then appeared to be a terrible Syracuse team 35-0; and beat Northern Illinois 16-3 at a quasi-road game at Soldier Field during the opening weekend. Against Wisconsin at Camp Randall, Iowa allowed two TD drives and a field goal, but the game really was a close defensive struggle. The Badgers outgained Iowa 304-228. The Hawks punted 10 times, Wisconsin 8. Iowa averaged 2.3 yards per rush, Wisconsin 3.4. Clearly, Wisconsin had the statistical edge, except for turnovers: Iowa was perfect in that regard, while Wisconsin coughed up two fumbles and an interception.
Clearly, Iowa's offense has struggled a bit, although for the last decade IU's defense has been just what the doctor ordered for such offenses. Iowa's QB, Jake Christensen, has completed more than 50 percent of his passes only once, in the thrashing of Syracuse, and is at 52 percent for the season. Despite his inaccuracy, Christensen has not been sloppy (or perhaps has been really lucky): he has only one interception and six TD passes. He has been sacked 11 times, 4 times against Wisconsin.
While comparing team statistics at this time of year is tricky because of varying quality of competition, Iowa is dead last in the Big Ten at 19.3 points per game. IU, buoyed by an easier schedule, is third at 36.8. Iowa has 542 rushing yards (10th) to IU's 910 (3rd); 17.8 first downs per game (11th) to IU's 24.5 (3rd) (to show you how much this means, Minny-freaking-sota is ahead of IU in the last two categories); 710 passing yards (1oth) to IU's 920 (4th); and 3130 yards of total offense per game (11th) to IU's 457 (3rd).
Defensively, Iowa has allowed 8.8 points per game (2nd) to IU's 21.3 (9th); 235 yards per game to IU's 329 (7th); 588 passing yards (2nd) to IU's 832 (6th); 354 rushing yards (4th) to IU's 484 (7th). IU leads the way with 7 interceptions, but Iowa is tied for second with 5.
According to Sagarin, Iowa has played the #60 schedule, while IU's schedule ranks a I-AA-ish 158, so adjust accordingly. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that IU's strength will be going up against Iowa's weakness and vice versa. [EDIT: that's exactly wrong, of course. IU's strength (offense) will be going up against Iowa's strength (defense), and IU's weak defense will attempt to stop Iowa's weak offense. But you know what I meant.]

Blogpoll draft ballot.

1Southern Cal--
5Ohio State 1
6California 2
7West Virginia 2
8Oregon 2
9Texas 2
10Boston College 2
11Missouri 3
12Clemson 7
13Wisconsin 4
14South Carolina 7
15Georgia 1
16Kentucky 5
17South Florida 9
18Miami (Florida) 2
19Rutgers 1
20Penn State 15
21Alabama 8
22Virginia Tech 2
23Hawaii 2
24Purdue 2
25Arizona State 1

Dropped Out: Texas A&M (#15), Georgia Tech (#22), Nebraska (#23).
  • The AP, the coaches' poll, and the Harris poll all have Georgia ahead of South Carolina, despite identical records, SC's win at Georgia, and a respectable final score against LSU. I don't get it.
  • Missouri feels way too high.
  • So does Kentucky.

Games watched: Miami-Texas A&M; Indiana-Illinois; Notre Dame-MSU.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Very initial thoughts on Iowa.

Iowa Hawkeyes
2007 record: 2-2 (0-1)
2007 Sagarin: 43 (IU is 71)
2006 record: 6-7 (2-6) (lost to Texas in Alamo Bowl)
2006 Sagarin: 51
Series: Iowa leads, 26-38-4
Last IU win: 2006 (31-28 in Bloomington)
Last Iowa win: 2005 (38-21 in Iowa City)
Last IU win in Iowa City: 1999 (38-31)
For the first time this season, IU plays a team with a blog, Black Heart Gold Pants. I haven't had much of a chance to look at Iowa's results in detail. I know that they looked OK against NIU, spanked Syracuse, inexplicably lost to an awful Iowa State team, and played pretty well in a loss at Wisconsin. I'll take a look as the week transpires. Certainly, the Hawks seem likely to be revenge-minded, given IU's come-from-behind win last season, but beyond that, with a trip to Penn State next week, Iowa just needs a win. So do we.
This is, believe it or not, one of IU's most competitive series against a Big Ten opponent. IU is within 11 games of .500 against Minnesota, but Iowa leads the series by only 12 games. This has been a series of streaks recently. IU had lost three in a row before last year's upset. IU previously enjoyed a modest three-game winning streak against the late Fry/early Ferentz teams of 1998-2000. Iowa had won three in a row before that (1995-97) following a two year IU winning streak (1993-94). In the current "dark age" of IU football, the 13 plus seasons since IU's last bowl bid, IU has won more games against Iowa (5) than any other Big Ten school. So, the IU-Iowa series has been surprisingly competitive, but IU is a clear underdog (+12 this morning). More as the week continues.

Illinois 27, Indiana 14.

Here's the box score. My thoughts as the game transpired are set forth all too plainly below. Looking at the final box doesn't really change much. Astoundingly, IU ended up outgaining Illinois, 397-386, largely on the strength of a last-gasp, 75 yard drive by IU that ended with an endzone interception. Illinois ran the ball at will. Mendenhall is a handful, and IU did not defend the option well, particularly in the first half. I gave Isiah Williams some heat this week, and for the most part, he proved himself to be a terrible passer, but he managed a couple of nice downfield throws (his only nice downfield throws, as I recall) on Illinois's drive at the end of the first half. Illinois led 13-0, and IU scored its first touchdown with about 2 minutes left in the second quarter. IU was due to receive the second-half kickoff, so a defensive stop would have been a big deal. Instead, Williams looked like a quarterback on that drive, Illinois led 20-7, and really, the game was over at that point. IU never got closer than 13. I think the Illini will struggle to beat a team that is strong enough in the front 7 to stop the running attack with average manpower, because Isiah Williams cannot throw the ball. But the talent infusion is now obvious. The best team won.
As I said below, following IU football is similar to being Charlie Brown, really wanting to believe that Lucy is going to let us kick to ball this time. A win yesterday would have been a big moment for the program. Not only did the Hoosiers lose, but it really wasn't a close game. It won't help attendance or publicity or buzz. The Hoosiers still have a good chance to win six (home games against Minnesota and Ball State, on the road against Northwestern), but IU will need a significant upset to get to 7 wins, which may be necessary for a bowl bid.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fourth quarter thoughts

  • 14:30 Not our day. Stupid plays by important players. This one's over.
  • 12:45 Oh well. Beat Iowa.
  • 5:30 Well, glad my wife failed to drag me away. Let's go.
  • 4:46 Not our day.

Third quarter thoughts.

  • Phenomenally stupid play by Lewis. You have to get it past the line of scrimmage. Everyone knows that.
  • 12:09 Well, this is time for the defense.
  • And, a blocked punt. Sorry defense. This one could get out of hand.
  • Glen Mason thinks Illinois should rely on Williams's arm, yet IU should rely on Kellen's feet. That's why you're in the booth, Glen.
  • 11:00 That's the Isiah Williams we all know and love. Thank you.
  • 9:38 Wasted.
  • 8:25 need a three and out
  • 8:06 didn't get it.
  • 6:50 The defense is doing its part this quarter.
  • 6:39 F me. How often does a punt do that? Once a year?
  • 5:10 We just can't string together a handful of decent plays. Great run by Payton, two plays of crap.
  • Sounds like sour grapes, but that should have been a 15 yarder on the third down cheap shot. The ball flew in front of the defensive back's eyes.
  • 1:51 We're getting thrashed. We may find a way to win this, but we are going to need the Illini's help.
  • Atrocious, game ending call. He dropped it.
  • And Zook is fucking stupid enough to try to help us out. Why in the world are they throwing the ball? I'll take it.
  • :00 Sears is still on the team. Where has he been?

Stats through 3:

  • Yards: Illinois leads 314-266
  • Rushing: Illinois and 216 and 6.o per; IU has 111 and 4.1 per
  • Williams is 13-28 for 97 (2 INT); Lewis is 16-29, 155
  • Turnovers are now even.
  • We've punted 5 times, Illinois 4.

Second quarter thoughts.

  • Touchback on the punt. Let's start over.
  • 14:08 First down on a busted play. The defense needs to get off the field. It's hot today.
  • 12:12 Atrocious production by the BTN.
  • 11:15 Illinois is doing whatever they want.
  • 10:25 Even Williams couldn't screw up that throw. Three different guys could have caught it. 13-0, and we're getting manhandled.
  • If I were Zook, I may well have gone for 2 this year. We can't stop these guys.
  • 9:22 Whew. 1st down run by KL. That could be a day-saver.
  • 8:37 So much for that. Again, Wayne's World caliber production from the BTN.
  • 7:30 Jesus. Blitz again. This guy cannot throw downfield!!!!
  • 5:10 Well, we're hanging on by a thread. We need a long scoring drive, and get the ball back in the second half. Come on!
  • 5:02 Nice gain, but we can't hold onto the ball.
  • 3:16 We needed that one, James.
  • 3:06Bloggers unite! Great run by Bryan Payton.
  • TD Hardy. Now the defense has to hold Illinois for 2:04. Man, Lewis threw some nice balls on that drive.
  • 1:35 a couple of good throws by Williams
  • Wiliams looked good on that drive.
  • What was that third down call? Even ultraconservative Glen Mason won't defend it.

Halftime stats:

  • 20 first downs for Illinois, 13 for IU
  • yards: Illinois leads, 265-211
  • Illinois rushing 178 yards, 6.8 per; IU 68, 3.8 per. IU did move the ball pretty well in the second quarter. The fumble was a killer.
  • Williams is now 12-20 for 97 yards. That means he was 10-14 in the quarter. Mostly dink and dunk, but a couple of nice downfield tosses in the late drive.
  • IU has three fumbles, two lost. Illinois has one turnover, the early INT.

First quarter thoughts.

  • 14:22 Thanks for the dying quail, Isiah.
  • 13:22 Damn. We need to exploit turnovers, not give it right back.
  • 12:20 Horrendous pass interference call.
  • 10:20 Field goal Illinois. Well, better than a TD, but we really needed to exploit that turnover. Let's just hope that Isiah keeps throwing it downfield and the refs stop bailing him out.
  • 10:20As promised, Zooker is kicking it away from Thigpen. The way he has played so far (drop and fumble) BFD.
  • 9:26 Now that's a real pass interference call.
  • 7:55Damn. Lewis sacked. Let's hope the defense can keep this a one possession game.
  • 7:42 Terrible, terrible punt. All you need is a decent 35 yarder and you pin them back. Jeesh.
  • 6:55 I know I picked on him too much this week, and I know he seems like a good kid, but Isiah Williams is an awful passer.
  • 6:30 No excuse. Dive play for first down on 3rd and 10.
  • Let's hope we don't have a controversial play in this game. The BTN's camera work isn't going to help.
  • 5:05 Williams does run the option well. His fakes are convincing.
  • 4:33 Too bad this isn't Oklahoma circa 1980. Williams cannot pass. They may beat us today, but Illinois isn't going to beat anyone at the top of the conference with this QB.
  • 4:29 Well, we've been pretty bad so far, and it's only 6-0. Let's get going.
  • 1:45. Hey, a good bounce! Let's not waste it.
  • 1:11 was means looking to throw that ball?
  • :41 That may be the first time Hardy has been on the TV screen today, let alone near the ball.
  • :32 We called a timeout for that?

End of quarter stats:

First downs: IU 5 Illini 7

Yards: IU 73, Illinois 86

Rushing: Illinois: 78 yards, 6.5 per; IU 22 yards, 2.2 per

Passing: Williams is 2-8, and hasn't thrown a good ball downfield. Lewis is 4-7 for 51, but nothing to show for it.

Mendenhall is 3-40.

Lewis has been sacked twice already.


IU's eleventh hour recruitment of Kellen Lewis is well-documented, but I had not thought about the Zook angle: Zook was the coach at Florida then, and recruited Lewis as an "athlete."
Not much else to say. This one could go either way, and whoever wins will be in a good position regarding the postseason.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I don't even like Miami.

Hate 'em, actually. Still:


The Hoosier report holds on to Miami at #22. Miami(OH)? No.

September 19:
Why does The Hoosier Report keep voting for Miami? Aaaargh!

September 20: Miami 34, #20 Texas A&M 17.

Of course, the Canes could lose to Duke next week. Also, this does not vindicate my #15 ranking of aTm. But I'm thinking the ballot looks a little less wack today.

BTB Roundtable, week 4.

1. Time to break out the crystal ball. I want to know what happens at the END of the season. Give me your offensive and defensive Players of the Year in the Big Ten along with Coach of the Year and why.
While he accumulated a ton of yards last season, he was quite uneven. Still, if Purdue has a good year I think Curtis Painter likely will be the offensive player of the year. He does seem to have improved, and while Purdue hasn't played a really good team yet, he hasn't thrown and interception yet.
I don't trust Anthony Morelli, so I will presume that if Penn State has a god year, it will be because of the defense and Dan Connor. It also helps that Connor is one of the few household names on the defensive side. Even if someone else deserves it, Connor or James Laurinaitis will win it.

2. With the upsets, close games, and head scratchers so far, every game we thought was going to be important has changed. Michigan State is 3-0, for Pete's sake, and they look good doing it. Pick the three games on the Big Ten Schedule that will determine the Big Ten Champion. Bonus Points for not picking three games on your own schedule.
Ohio State - Michigan, November 17. As usual. I still think Michigan can salvage the season, and even if not, I would guess that OSU will be in a position to win or tie for the title with a win.
Penn State - Purdue, November 3. Depending on how each team performs against OSU and Michigan, this early November game could involve two teams with a legitimate shot. At least, this game likely will eliminate a contender.
Ohio State - Penn State, October 27. I would expect that whoever wins this game will be in the driver's seat.

3. How many games, this season, have you been to? How many games have you tailgated at? If you have tailgated, name your beverage of choice. If you answered no to the previous questions, hang your head in shame, or at least give a good story about watching the game in enemy territory and giving the bouncer the finger when he asked you to quiet down.
I have not been to a game this year. Fortunately, I have not tailgated either, which makes me better than certain IU fans discussed below.
4. As the Big Ten Season kicks off, the Conference is in somewhat of a difficult position nationally. Needing some momentum after a horrid BCS performance, the Conference needed some momentum early in the season. It hasn't gotten it. The first three weeks have been abysmal. Is this just a down year for the Big Ten, is there a change Nationally that the Big Ten just hasn't picked up on, is there some truth to the "Big Ten Style of Play" that everyone harps on, or has college football simply caught up? What so you think and why? I may be beating a dead horse, but no one looks good this year and I'm at a loss as to why.
The Big Ten has three truly elite programs. OSU played for a title last year and won it in 2002. The other two elite programs probably could use some new blood at the top. Still, Michigan has turned out a number of quality quarterbacks in recent years and hasn't been a stereotypical Schembechler/Hayes-type Big Ten team for quite a while. There has been quite a bit of coaching turnover in the league in recent years, and likely will be more at Michigan and Penn State in the near future. These things go in cycles. The Pac-10 was a laughingstock a few years ago, now it's right there with the SEC. I'm not worried about the long-term future of the Big Ten.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blogpoll Roundtable II

Burnt Orange Nation, the outstanding Texas Longhorns blog, is hosting the second Blogpoll Roundtable of the season. Here goes:

Handicap your team's chances to win your conference championship. If your team is not the favorite, who is?

IU's chances are really, really remote. Nevertheless, for the first time in a couple of decades, it's possible to construct a non-batshit scenario in which it could happen. IU's home conference games are against Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State, and Purdue. The road games are at Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Northwestern. Michigan and Ohio State are off the schedule. Suppose IU loses to Wisconsin and Penn State. While I'm certainly not anywhere close to predicting that they will win all of them, it's not a stretch to think that IU could win any of the other six games. If that happens, and no one else is better than 6-2, and Penn State and Wisconsin both end up 5-3 or worse, the tiebreakers would work in IU's favor. Assuming a November home win against Ball State, IU will have a perfect non-conference record. In a tie with Michigan and/or Ohio State, the non-conference record and "longest Rose Bowl drought" tiebreakers would favor IU. Again, way less than a one percent chance that this all happens, but the scenario does not require a crazy outcome in any single game. IU is a home dog this week against a team that went 2-10 last season, so trust me, I'm not going to get ahead of myself.

I would consider Penn State and Ohio State the favorites. I still would not be surprised if Michigan played a role. Wisconsin? Well, I was skeptical at the beginning to the season, and nothing the Badgers have done so far has convinced me that the Badgers are a legitimate top 10 team. If anything, Wisconsin looks better in comparison to teams like Michigan and Iowa because of those teams' stumbles, but I'll be surprised if UW beats Penn State or Ohio State.

Outline the (realistic) best case and worst case scenarios for your team.

It's IU football, so losing out is always a possibility. Realistically, however, IU plays Illinois, Minnesota, and Ball State at home and Northwestern on the road. Even if IU stumbles, it's hard to imagine that the Hoosiers won't find two wins there. That would make 5-7 the realistic worst case scenario, which would say more about the schedule than about the caliber of IU's team. Best case? As I note, the conference champions scenario above is a stretch. I do think 8-4 is probably the best case realistic scenario. If IU continues to play well, the Hoosiers should beat Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Ball State to get to seven wins. If IU does that, it's not hard to imagine one win out of the following: Penn State, Purdue, @Wisconsin, @ Iowa, @ MSU.

We're only three games in to the season, but teams and storylines are starting to take shape. Compare your team to a character or theme from a fable or children's tale.

It's not really a fable or fairy tale, but more of a recurring theme. I have to go with Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. IU looks promising, but just when IU fans start to believe, that's when someone like Zooker hangs 60 on us.

Imagine you're the coach of your team. Give three specific changes you'd implement immediately which you think would have the biggest impact on improving the team.
I hate this question. I'm not an x-o guy. Bill Lynch, whatever his future, knows lots more about football than I do.
1. Marcus Thigpen. I would find a way to put the ball in Thigpen's hands other than lining him up as a running back. He's a dangerous kick returner and the fastest guy on the team, and he should be on the field, but I don't see him as a traditional running back. Thigpen's numbers are solid right now, but I'm not sure that will continue as we play bigger, faster, better teams.
2. Fullback. IU has struggled in short yardage and goal line situations. Perhaps we should work out of a two back set more often, with Josiah Sears at fullback and Demetrius McCray at tailback.
3. Eh. That's all I've got. It's early in the morning. I'll edit if I think of something else.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Recent history with Illinois: an exercise in futility.

Thanks to Northwestern's occasional brushes with respectability, IU and Illinois have quite often found themselves in a battle for 10th place recently. In the last decade, IU and Illinois have had many rotten Big Ten seasons. In the eleven seasons since the teams began playing annually in 1995, Illinois has been 1-7 in the Big Ten three times; IU has been 1-7 six times. IU has only one 0-8 Big Ten season in that span (1995); Illinois has three (1997, 2003, 2005). In three of IU's six 1-7 seasons, the Hoosiers' only Big Ten win was against Illinois (1997, 2003, 2005). Does that last list of years look familiar? It means that in each of the three seasons in which the Illini went 0-8, IU would have gone 0-8 but for defeating Illinois. Of Illinois's three 1-7 seasons, on two occasions a win over IU has been the Illini's only Big Ten win (1996, 2004). On each occasion, IU also finished 1-7 in the conference. In sum, while Illinois has managed a couple of bowl games and a Big Ten title in that span, mostly both programs have been awful. Since the four-year hiatus that I described yesterday, Illinois leads the series 7-5. Illinois won 6 of the first 8, while IU has now won 3 of the last 4. Illinois has won twice in Bloomington during that time (1995, 2001); IU won in Champaign in 2006, its first win there since 1979.
Both programs seem to be improving. This season, instead of attempting to stay out of 11th place, both teams point to the game as integral to the program's bowl hopes and future direction. Still, it will take a while to move beyond the stink of the last decade.

College Basketball Prospectus.

I'm a few days late on this, but the folks as Baseball Prospectus are launching a college basketball site, (the site isn't active yet, so don't bother). Among the contibutors will be Ken Pomeroy, well-known for his rankings and analysis, and John Gasaway, of the now-dormant Big Ten Wonk. I should clarify that while Pomeroy will be a regular contributor, it is unclear what role Gasaway will have beyond a comprehensive, apparently multi-part preview that will begin running in October. In what he describes as BTW's second-to-last post, the Wonk reports that he will make one final post in October in which he will tell us where we can find his excellent work this season. This is great news for those of us who are committed to following sports in the nerdiest way possible.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Introductory thoughts on the Illini.

Illinois Fighting Illini
2007 record: 2-1 (0-0)
2007 Sagarin: 63 (IU is #51)
2006 record: 2-10 (1-7)
2006 Sagarin: 108
Series: Illinois leads, 41-20-2.
Last IU win: 2006 (34-32 in Champaign)
Last Illinois win: 2004 (26-22 in Champaign)
Last Illinois win in Bloomington: 2001 (35-14)

I had all sorts of material ready for this week. I was going to mention that Illinois, unlike most 20th and 21st century football teams, does not play a quarterback, opting to allow Isaiah Williams, a tailback, to take the snap from center and occasionally pass the ball, generally with less success than on the typical halfback option trick play. As I have mentioned before, I refuse to call Isaiah Williams by his chosen nickname. In small part, I think it's in poor taste to borrow a nickname from an ex-player who (allegedly, wink) slashed the throat of the mother of his children and a waiter. In large part, the amount of hype surrounding Isaiah Williams seems quite excessive, and I attribute most of it to the catchy nickname. As I have ranted before, take a look at the 2006 statistics of two freshman quarterbacks:
Kellen Lewis: 190/346 (54.9%); 2221 yards; 14TD/7INT; 124/441 rushing (3.6); 5 rushing TDs; 20 sacks.

Isaiah Williams: 103/261 (39.5%); 1489 yards; 9TD/9INT; 154/576 rushing (3.7); 2 rushing TDs; 25 sacks.
Even though Lewis was way more accurate, more productive, and won more games (including head-to-head with Isaiah) in 2006, Isaiah is the poster boy, while Lewis is mostly forgotten.
All that said...he hasn't been terrible this year. Largely on the strength of a 13/18 performance against Syracuse this weekend, Isaiah is completing over 60 percent of his passes this season. He did, of course, manage only 12/24 with an interception against I-AA Western Illinois. Further, he hasn't generated many yards. His 13 attempts against Syracuse generated only 97 yards, and he has only 117 rushing yards on the season. Last season, Williams completed over 50 percent of his passes only twice (against Syracuse and Michigan State). So he is getting better. As good as Kellen Lewis, he of 643 passing yards, 9TD/3INT, 317 rushing yards, 3 TD? No. But better.
I'll take a deeper look at the Illini as the week progresses. Other notes:
  • If IU starts 4-0, it will be the Hoosiers' longest winning streak to start the season since IU began 4-0 in 1990. IU also started 4-0 in 1986 and 1985, and went undefeated in the first six games (5-0-1) in 1988. Before 1985, the Hoosiers' most recent start of better than 3-0 was the 8-0 start in 1967, IU's only Rose Bowl season.
  • Illinois and IU are "protected rivals," meaning they play every season. I can't remember exactly what year the Big Ten normalized the protected rivalries (each school now has exactly two), but IU and Illinois have played every year since 1995 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In contrast, during the scheduling wackiness associated with Penn State joining the conference, IU and Illinois did not play at all for four years (1991-1994). After losing in Champaign in 1989, IU did not play there again until 1996.
  • The two most "forced" protected rivalries are Illinois-Indiana and Purdue-Northwestern. Frankly, I'm surprised that the two aren't switched. Champaign and West Lafayette are less than 100 miles apart, and Purdue and Illinois have played 84 times (as opposed to 63 meeting between IU and Illinois). Before the Big Ten normalized scheduling in the early 1960s, IU and Illinois played only sporadically. From 1915-1927, IU and Illinois played only twice. They didn't play at all from 1940-43, 1952-58, or 1961-64. I have absolutely no inside info. For all I know, all four schools wanted the protected rivalries arranged this way. It still strikes me as odd.

Blogpoll, draft ballot.

1Southern Cal--
5Penn State 1
6Ohio State 1
7South Carolina 1
8California 1
9West Virginia 1
10Oregon 1
11Texas 6
12Boston College 4
13Alabama 13
14Missouri 4
15Texas A&M--
16Georgia 3
17Wisconsin 3
18Rutgers 8
19Clemson 7
20Miami (Florida) 2
21Kentucky 5
22Georgia Tech 9
23Nebraska 11
24Virginia Tech 2
25Hawaii 1

Dropped Out: Louisville (#14), UCLA (#17), Auburn (#21), Tennessee (#23), Washington (#24), TCU (#25).
Watched: Indiana-Akron, Michigan-Notre Dame.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

IU 41, Akron 24.

As with last week's game, this one was a bit frustrating because IU squandered an opportunity to put the game away early. Nevertheless, IU is 3-0, which hasn't happened all that often in our history (I have some notes on this, but not with me--yep, a blogger with handwritten notes. What's my problem?). We haven't defeated even a lower-tier BCS conference program, but we have handled two teams predicted to contend in the MAC, including one game on the road. With Ball State at home in November, IU will have an excellent chance to go 4-0 in the non-conference. Further, while most Big Ten fans wouldn't consider this a positive, the conference appears to be historically bad. Michigan's woes are well-documented. Minnesota is 1-2 even against a classic Glen Mason-style schedule. Northwestern lost to Duke, loser of 22 straight, at home. Wisconsin is nominally undefeated, but hasn't looked much like a top 10 team. Iowa, I can't really figure out. I know that the Hawks often find a way to screw the pooch in that rivalry, but this year? Before Saturday I though Iowa State was by far the worst BCS conference team, perhaps one of the worst in I-A. Illinois has been okay, and is one of the few teams that has been tested against teams from power conferences, but Zook is still Zook and Isaiah Williams is still a tailback. My point is that the nonconference losses could help IU in terms of bowl positioning if the Hoosiers find their way to eligibility.
As for the game, the pass defense continues to be a concern. IU allowed 250 yards, 9.3 yards per attempt, and 13.2 per completion. Akron completed nearly 70 percent of its 27 attempts. On the other hand, rush defense continues to be respectable. On 41 attempts, Akron managed only 120 yards (2.9 per carry).
Offensively, of course, it was the Kellen Lewis show. IU rushed for 338 yards, and Lewis accounted for 199 of that yards and added 137 yards passing on 19-24 with one interception. Demetrius McCray and Marcus Thigpen both were productive, averaging 4.6 and 6.5 yard per carry.
Unlike the WMU game, IU didn't have a dramatic edge in turnovers (2-1). So, this was more of a "straight-up" win than the WMU game. It will be interesting to see how IU handles Isaiah Williams. IU's rushing defense has been good so far, but not against a runner like Williams. As much as I mock Isaiah's passing ability, he did some damage against the Hoosiers in the first half last year. I think we will need to improve a bit to beat Illinois, but unlike many of our conference brethren, we have escaped the bulk of the non-con schedule unscathed.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sigh. Sometimes I hate my school.

If someone with no familiarity with college football undertook a tour of college campuses during football season, he wouldn't notice much of a difference between IU and the traditional powers until he entered the stadium and wondered how a school with such a strong tailgating culture could possibly play a football game in front of only 30,000 people. Regardless of attendance in the stadium, the pleasant, park-like fields south of 17th Street always are populated with thousands of students, most of whom never enter the stadium for even a down. This was a problem even during the respectability of the mid-Mallory era, but in the 13 years since IU's last bowl bid it has become an epidemic. Every school has its share of front-running fans. Even at schools that always sell out their stadiums, such as Notre Dame and Michigan, tickets are much easier to find during a bad year than in a good year. I've long maintained that bitching about the marketing department, the band, and local merchants is rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. IU's attendance has never been great, but it was way better in the 1987-1992 era than it is today. Just win, baby.
What bothers me about the perpetual tailgaters is that not going to the game has somehow perversely evolved into a point of pride for these students. Take today's IDS article. Again, I'm hesitant to complain about attendance because the main cause of bad attendance is IU's failure to field a competitive team. I don't like to lecture people about how they should spend their free time and their disposable income. Still, if you are a front runner who won't show up until we go 8-4, at least admit what you are. Don't do what Sarah Stonehouse did:
Senior Sarah Stonehouse said she requests off work on Saturdays so she won’t miss the tailgate.“It’s really important to tailgate and support IU’s football team,” Stonehouse said. “We’re here for a reason. The football players all know even if we’re not in the stadium there are like a thousand people outside supporting them.”Many students who don’t attend the game say they still root the team to victory regardless of where they are.“We’re all here to support Indiana, if you go to the game or not,” said freshman Logan Engels.
What utter bullshit, Sarah Stonehouse and Logan Engels. In what way are you supporting the Hoosiers by bonging beers in a field while a football game transpires a block away? Financially, by purchasing student tickets? By making noise while the other team is on offense? By sticking around until the end and singing Indiana, Our Indiana with the team? By audibly encouraging the team during the game? By packing the stadium and thereby allowing the AD to take a good aerial photo of the stadium other than when Ohio State brings 25,000 fans? By creating a spirited student section that will encourage the recruits who are visiting campus to sign with IU? None of those, obviously. To the contrary, the perpetual tailgaters, by their mere existence, personify indifference. If IU is going to draw 30,000, I would rather draw only 30,000 fans to the stadium instead of drawing 30,000 spectators and another 15,000 people who can't be troubled to walk across the street. Anyone who has watched IU football on TV knows that rather than support, these people bring ridicule upon our university and football program. The most famous example was a couple of years ago, when a national telecast showed a tailgate party with a bunch of people outside a half-full stadium. They were huddled around a TV watching a different game. Yeah, that's "support."
Again, I'm not telling anyone what to do. If you want to support the team, support the team. If you don't want to, don't. But be honest. If you are going to stand in a parking lot getting drunk while the football team fights for the glory of old IU, don't insult their or our intelligence by claiming that tailgating sans game attendance is school spirit. Even if you are wearing an IU T-shirt, it isn't.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Akron roundup.

Akron Zips
2006 record: 5-7
2006 Sagarin: 105
Conference: MAC
Coach: JD Brookhart (4th season, 19-19)
Series: First meeting
The Zips are not far removed from the pinnacle of their football success: in 2005, Akron won the MAC and played in the Motor City Bowl (losing to Memphis), its first bowl game. This year's Zips earned some preseason accolades. One site I saw (link lost) picked Akron to win its division.
In any event, Akron is 1-1. The Zips beat Army 22-14 in Cleveland (in from of 17,000 at Browns Stadium) and lost to Ohio State 20-2 in Columbus. Akron's defensive performance has been more impressive than its offensive performance. Against Army, Akron's offense was fairly efficient (3.8 yards per rush, 5.3 per pass attempt) and the defense scored on an interception return. The Zips held Army to just 2.0 yards per carry and 242 yards of offense. Akron led 22-7 until Army scored a TD in the last minute to make the score appear more respectable than it was.
As for the Ohio State game: well, how often can a punter take credit for 100 percent of his team's scoring in a given game? Akron mounted a respectable 34 yard drive on its first possession after the Buckeyes went three and out. The Zips punted from the Buckeye 42 and downed the ball at the 2. They should have gone for it. Akron did not enter OSU territory again until recovering a punt at 6:13 in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, Akron did force a safety and had a 2-0 lead until halfway through the second quarter. While OSU didn't score much, the offense was fairly efficient: 4.5 per rush, 5.4 per passing attempt, four punts.
Akron's offense was truly dreadful. The Zips managed only 69 yards of offense (including 3 yards rushing on 19 attempts) and punted 14 times. After two first downs on the first drive, the Zips didn't have another until late in the fourth quarter.
I'm not sure what to expect. IU seems to be favored by about 13. While IU won't physically overpower Akron the way Ohio State did, the usual mismatches provided by Lewis, Hardy, and Thigpen may well produce a more lopsided score.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

BTB Roundtable, week 3.

Michigan Sports Center is hosting the roundtable this week and will have a summary post up by the end of the week.

1. Now that two weeks of play are behind us, what is one encouraging surprise and one downing disappointment from your team?

The most encouraging surprise for the Hoosiers has been the defense in general, particularly the run defense and pass rush. Certainly, IU hasn't played a tough schedule. Indiana State was one of the worst teams in I-AA last season and Western Michigan is breaking in quite a few new contributors. Still, IU somehow leads the nation in sacks with 13. IU's defense registered only 14 sacks all of last season, so even considering the competition this is a positive development. Greg Middleton has three sacks. Last season, Kenny Kendal led the team with four.

As for the rushing defense, IU has allowed only 76 yards and 1.3 yards per carry. I'm not quite as enthused about this, because IU had similar performances early last season, and ended up allowing about 4.5 per carry for the season.
I don't really have any major complaints. Kellen Lewis is 32-61 (52.5) and I would like to see him make some strides re: accuracy (on the other hand, can you imagine the hype if Isaiah Williams, the Illini's direct-snap tailback, ever completed 52.5 percent of his passes?). Marcus Thigpen is a magnificent kick returner and dangerous player, but I'm not sold on him as a starting tailback. I'm concerned about IU's ability to mount any sort of conventional run offense against a quality team.

2. A look at the current Big Ten standings shows things dead-locked record-wise for the most part. Once conference play actually begins, which two or three teams pull away from the rest of the pack?

Not a clue. Regardless of what has happened and what might happen against Notre Dame, I can't rule Michigan out. Penn State has looked the most impressive, but I just don't know. Other than Michigan's performance, nothing has shocked me yet, and I agree with Lake the Posts that this could be one of those seasons where someone backs into the Rose Bowl at 6-2.

3. Has your team ever played in a game that was just downright boring and impossible to watch? I ask this because going into the Michigan-Notre Dame game, looking at it on paper, it is shaping up to be one of the ugliest we may see all year.
I'm an Indiana fan. The answer is self-evident. I'm not sure that a Michigan-Notre Dame game can ever be really ugly. First, regardless of record, those two teams--the helmets, the classic uniforms--just look right on the football field together. It's a highlight of September even for fans with no connection to either team. Neither team is as bad as the records suggest. The two top QB recruits in the country will face off. Count your blessings if that game is the most boring or painful you can imagine.
While IU's 2006 season was often encouraging, two of last season's games fit the bill. First, the 14-7 pillowfight that IU lost to Connecticut on a dreary, drizzly day. A Marcus Thigpen kickoff return accounted for IU's only points. Second, the penultimate game of the season against Michigan. It was an ugly day, Michigan was ranked #2, and IU had fallen down the week before in its first shot at becoming bowl eligible, giving up about 150 points and 2000 yards to a lousy Minnesota team, squandering all of the positive feeling generated by IU's 46-21 spanking of MSU the week before the Gopher game. Ball State had given Michigan a scare the week before, so we didn't even have a glimmer of maybe-we'll-sneak-up-on-them hope. The result was as predicted.

Akron history.

As with all of the non-Big Ten opponents, here's a bit of historical background on the Zips. Akron is a fairly recent newcomer to I-A in the grand scheme of things (first year: 1987). Akron is slightly above .500 historically and has had seven winning seasons in the 19 seasons since moving to Division I-A.
Here are Akron's results against BCS conference teams:
Cincinnati: 2-2 (0-1 since Cincinnati joined the Big East)
Florida: 0-1 (1990)
Illinois: 0-1 (1996)
Iowa: 0-1 (2002)
Kansas State: 0-1 (1995)
LSU: 0-1 (1997)
Maryland: 0-1 (2002)
Michigan State: 0-2 (1913, 1914)
Nebraska: 0-1 (1997)
NC State: 1-0 (2006)
Notre Dame: 0-1 (1910)
Ohio State: 1-6 (0-2 in only post-1900 meetings, 2001, 2007)
Oregon State: 0-1 (1987)
Penn State: 0-3 (1999, 2004, 2006)
Pitt: 0-2 (1900, 1998)
Purdue: 0-2 (2001, 2005)
Rutgers: 0-1 (1990)
Tenessee: 0-1 (1989)
Virginia: 0-2 (2002, 2004)
Virginia Tech: 0-5 (189, 1991, 1995, 1996, 2000)
Wisconsin: 0-1 (2003)
In sum, lots of losses. The win over Ohio State occurred in 1894, before the Big Ten existed. That makes last year's win over NC State Akron's only win over a team from a major conference. More tomorrow.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Blogpoll, Provisional Week 3.

1Southern Cal--
2LSU 6
4Florida 2
5Texas 1
6Penn State 7
7Ohio State 1
8South Carolina 11
10West Virginia 5
11Oregon 14
12Nebraska 2
13Georgia Tech 5
14Louisville 4
15Texas A&M--
16Boston College 6
17UCLA 6
18Missouri 6
19Georgia 12
20Wisconsin 3
21Auburn 9
22Miami (Florida) 6
23Tennessee 3
24Washington 2
25TCU 4

Dropped Out: Virginia Tech (#11).
  • LSU: yeah, yeah, you were right, I was wrong, blah, blah, blah.
  • Georgia: ditto.
  • Wisconsin: I told you so.
  • Washington: There's a fair chance that the Huskies will lose the next five, but at this point, they flew across the country and spanked a quasi-BCS conference team, then flew home and ended the nation's longest winning streak.
  • TCU: I'm sure some voters will move TCU up because of a fine three quarter performance in Austin. Still, they lost by three touchdowns. I want to try to treat non-BCS teams fairly, but there isn't a BCS conference team in the country that would move up after losing by three touchdowns anywhere to anyone.
  • Miami: I'm sure some might question leaving Miami in the poll while dropping VT, but at least Miami has looked impressive once, against Marshall, a team that played credibly against WVU this week.