Bowl Watching

Like so many others, we watch a lot of college football around New Year’s.  This year, our very own Fighting Illini were in the party again, making it to one of those also-ran Bowls:  The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.  Illinois lost 35-18 and probably should have won – though you wouldn’t know it by the score.

With all these bowl games, especially in light of the inaugural 4-team playoff, the sports talkers have been discussing bowl viability, money, TV contracts, etc., and as we sit here watching Oregon pound Florida State, we have some thoughts as well.

If you’re among those who think that the major conference re-shuffling and re-jiggering is horrible, look no further than the now-departed BCS system.  Between the BCS contract and the guaranteed conference contracts to various bowls, the Big 10, Pac 12, SEC, and ACC had ample motivation to expand.  More money.  More prestige.  More TV markets.  Now that we’ve finally entered the playoff era, there’s a chance the system could correct itself over time.

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Looking at the footsballs

TV executives know we’re home and watching, and they oblige us…  Lots of sports programming available for consumption, and in Beemsville that meant Fighting Illini basketball the last two evenings.  Nice wins over Indiana State and Baylor to take the Las Vegas Invitational tourney.  This hoops team is Aggressive with a big ‘A’, allowing them to win even when shooting poorly.  Very fun to watch, and we’ll break them down later.

This morning we have some English Premier League.  No games really stand out this weekend, but hey, it’s on.  Then we have Illinois vs. Northwestern at 11:00.  Two 5-6 teams battling for a low-level bowl…  Battling for the Abe Lincoln LOL Hat…  Battling for state supremacy (not really, because NIU is better than either)…   It’s the Illinois Pension-Reform Bowl.  Whoever wins, the citizenry come out a little poorer…  And yes, most likely, Tim Beckman’s job hangs in the balance.  Like any true Illini fan, I’ll be rooting hard to beat Fitzee and the ‘Cats, but as an objective watcher of the program, I won’t be too sad if a loss initiates a coaching change.

This afternoon we have the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference Playoffs:  New England vs. New York in Foxborough.  The Red Bulls are down 2-1, needing some goals, and their top scorer is out with yellow cards.  Can the old warhorses, Henry and Cahill summon forth the magic again?  Tomorrow we get Seattle vs. LA from Century Link Field in the Western Conference.  The Galaxy hold the 1-0 advantage here and looked much the better team in the first leg, but Seattle are so tough at home.  LA will have to score to close this out because the Sounders are going to get some goals.  Should be a fun one:  Dempsey, Martins, and Yedlin v. Donovan, Keane, and Gonzalez.

Camping Illini

Everyone’s camping this week.  Not real campfire and s’mores camping, no, but pre-season sports camp.  Our kids at soccer, the high schoolers in various sports, on up to to the college kids.  As coaches with the younger set, pre-season camp is our means to get in more practice, conditioning, and training without throwing the parents into open revolt.  If you said, “OK, we’re practicing four times this week and each session is extra long,” it’s taken a bit differently than the pre-season camp concept.

Victory Badge

Across the state in Rantoul, the Fighting Illini football team have been camping at the one-time Air Force Base, doing two-a-days, knocking off the rust, and forming the depth chart.  Camp Rantoul has a long tradition for the team, going back several coaches, which typically ushers in the Beemsville football season.  Since we don’t really follow the NFL that closely, Illinois football is our pigskin outlet.  A questionable outlet, some might say…  As my uncle observed this past weekend, “it’s not easy being an Illini fan.”

We’re optimistic this year, though.  We see an above .500 season, a bowl, and gradual progress.  The reasoning is pretty simple:  start with this schedule.  It’s a lot more manageable than recent years.  Toss-up games are at home.  No multiple game road-trips.  Avoiding some of the better teams from the Big 10 East.  Also, this is the first season in (too) many where the team has both the offensive and defensive coordinators returning.  Bill Cubit on offense was a must-retain, and Tim Banks on the D gets the chance to show what he can do with a little more experience and his guys.  So the players don’t have to learn new systems for the first time in years, and you would think that little bit of consistency would pay off. Continue reading

Rough Weekend for I-L-L

chief_logo_upsideFor the Fighting Illini, it started on Friday, when we learned one key recruit who had previously committed to Coach John Groce’s team changed his mind and decided to go with his hometown school.  It continued in Chicago later that day, where a future NBA player and prodigious talent (and potential program changing guy) decided to pad the numbers at Kansas when many (including us) thought he was an Illini lean.  Bill Self and Jerrance Howard haunt us again.  The less said about that the better.  As usual, Robert at A Lion Eye/Illiniboard summed it up best.

Saturday, our first and only family outing to a football game at Memorial Stadium, and the Buckeyes were in town.  Why would we choose that game as our family outing?  Simple, really – extended family from Columbus were in town as well as my sister up from Texas.  The final score of that game 60-35 Ohio State.  And the game was on ESPN, which means they talked about our conference losing streak about 62 more times.

Sunday we learned the Illini hoops game against Bradley was not on TV.  It was on the Big Ten Network’s Digital-only internet feed (a pay service).  Why was this game not on local TV?  People care about watching two downstate schools play?  When the Big Ten Network went live, they assured us these types of things would no longer happen – games would be broadcast on their overflow channels.  Why, Mike Thomas?  And we see another game in December has likewise been relegated to the internet.  Not cool.  To make matters worse, driving back from St. Louis during the first half, and I couldn’t find the game on AM radio after losing the St. Louis station.  What?  No Illini hoops on local radio between Greenville and Divernon on I55?  When did this happen.

Silver linings, though.  Turns out, the Taylorville/Pana FM station was carrying the game once I checked.  Still pretty mad about the TV situation. Continue reading

Hope and Fools

Illinois’ 10 point loss to Washington in Soldier Field this past Saturday provided more cause for optimism to faithful Illini.  Yeah, that’s a loaded statement.  But bear with me:  Before the season started, I would have predicted a multiple touchdown loss, a possible blowout.  And while the Huskies dominated the game and exploited Illinois’ numerous deficiencies, the game was competitive in the 4th quarter.

Special teams – especially the return game – seems much better.  The Illini again won the turnovers battle.  The Cubit offense kept Washington off-guard and hit some big plays.  These glimpses of competence and good football have us looking forward to football on Saturdays despite the recent track record.

If you look at the schedule you see three games in which the Illini will be heavily out-manned as they were against UW – Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.  Of those three, the Buckeyes are the one legit power.  But the remaining schedule, when taking into account the first weeks of the season, provide some opportunities.  The Big 10 looks pretty meh again.  The Illinois offense can score.  Our optimism, for the moment, has been rekindled.

Q’s for the Weekend

Beemsville is all sports all the time this weekend.  And like any good self-promoting neo-sports/entertainment provider of content, we’re exploiting the interns to come up with new-ish ways to deliver our content.  They give us…  The weekend’s Top 5 questions:

  1. Can my son’s soccer team build on last weekend’s win and their newfound abilities to the pass the ball on occasion?  If they continue to remember their positions and responsibilities and don’t wilt in the heat, we like our chances.  However, I caught a look at the size of some of the other teams and they look to have a couple of over-age players…
  2. Can my daughter’s soccer team win against better competition?  They host their home tournament here in Springfield but have moved into a higher division.  Last tournament out the girls played very well after their first game and probably should have won a trophy if not for a slow start.
  3. Will Jurgen Klinsmann and the US Soccer Team continue their improbable 12-game winning streak with a World Cup Qualifier win in Costa Rica (tonight, 9:00 CST)?   Jozy Altidore is questionable to play and the right back position, which the Ticos will look to exploit, is a potential problem.  Also, we’ve never gotten a result in Costa Rica during qualifying.  But Landon is in form, and the team has really come together this summer… Continue reading

Illini Pigskin Preview

It’s not easy being an Illini football fan – at least over the last twenty or so years.  Not that they’ve been dismal during that time…  No, it’s the inconsistency.  Really good years where it looked like a corner being turned, followed by epic fails.  Last year was one of those fail years, and this year projects as even bleaker.  As the consummate Illini football blogger put it, this is the least anticipated opening weekend in decades.  No surprise, then, that for the first time since moving back to Central IL, we’ve not bought at least half-a-season ticket or planned to attend multiple games.  (To be fair, the kids are now doing their own sports on Saturdays, which was a major factor in that decision as well).

But we will still watch the team play on TV.  At least until it gets ugly.  And it will.  Witness the schedule:

date Opponent / Event Location Time / Result
08/31/13 vs. Southern Illinois TV MEMORIAL STADIUM 11:00 a.m. CT
09/07/13 vs. Cincinnati TV MEMORIAL STADIUM 11:00 a.m. CT
09/14/13 vs. Washington (Chicago Homecoming) TV Chicago (Soldier Field) 5:00 p.m. CT
09/28/13 vs. Miami (Ohio) (Dad’s Day) TV MEMORIAL STADIUM TBA
10/05/13 at Nebraska * TV Lincoln, Neb. 11:00 a.m. CT
10/19/13 vs. Wisconsin * TV MEMORIAL STADIUM 7:00 p.m. CT
10/26/13 vs. Michigan State (Homecoming) * TV MEMORIAL STADIUM 2:30 p.m. CT
11/02/13 at Penn State * TV University Park, Pa. TBA
11/09/13 at Indiana * TV Bloomington, Ind. TBA
11/16/13 vs. Ohio State * TV MEMORIAL STADIUM TBA
11/23/13 at Purdue * TV West Lafayette, Ind. TBA
11/30/13 vs. Northwestern * TV MEMORIAL STADIUM TBA

If you listen real closely, you can hear former AD Ron Guenther’s Dr. Evil laugh in the background…

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Randomsville Saturday

We have no theme.  We’re random on a Saturday.  It’s comics, soccer, football.  Let’s start with this:

That ending just makes way more sense…  And. of course, the biggest news out of Comicon in San Diego was the Superman-Batman movie announcement.  Odds that Superhero movies have moved on from the general public wheelhouse by then?  I don’t know…  Maybe they should enlist Jeph Loeb to co-script.

I think I need the ‘Because I’m Batman’ t-shirt.

In other news, we did not get tickets to the USA-Mexico World Cup Qualifier at Columbus Crew Stadium in September.  They had to do a lotto for the chance to buy overpriced tickets, and neither me nor my co-worker friend were selected.  Now U.S. Soccer was very gracious and even offered a merch discount on my next purchase…

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At least it’s Hoops Season

Fighting Illini fans have watched their football team implode, with the Orange and Blue in the midst of a long conference losing streak that’s not likely to end soon.  But across the street at the Assembly Hall, the basketball team looks intriguing.  The old Central Illinois saying once again rings true:  At least we have basketball…

The football team’s offense is just terrible.  Not much hope of scoring or moving the ball.  The venerable one checks in with his analysis here.  It ain’t pretty. At A Lion Eye, Robert breaks it down (again) with clear emphasis on recruiting misses and general unluckiness with offensive lineman.  This, right here, is the key.  Until we upgrade the line, it doesn’t matter what system you run, who calls the plays, etc.  No time to throw it and few holes for running backs.  And all you have to do to get better is win some recruiting battles for O-linemen in your home state.  If Beckman and company want to keep their jobs, they must address this trend first.  Until then, like many others, I just don’t have a lot of time and patience for this team.

On the other hand, John Groce has been building something.  In seven months on the job he’s already accomplished two things his predecessor either couldn’t or wouldn’t do.   1) Bring in a top recruiting class and win some recruiting battles.  2) Run a fast break and transition offense. Continue reading

Some Illini Musings

The big news of the day for the Orange & Blue wasn’t good.  Top Point Guard prospect Demetrius Jackson chose to stay close to home and play for Notre Dame.  Jackson has been the focus of Coach John Groce’s recruiting efforts for months, the kind of versatile, athletic guard needed to run Groce’s system.  We’ve been hearing for several weeks that Illinois led, that he was on his way to Champaign.  For Illini fans, it’s a familiar hoops recruiting refrain when it comes to top prospects, and it goes a little something like this:

It’s known as the Illini Hoops recruit nutpunch.  Go on down the line:  Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, Shaun Livingstone.  All too familiar the last 6-8 years.  Painful. Continue reading