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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Bowl Playoffs 2013

The lesser bowls have come and gone, and with New Years upon us, it’s time to revisit our annual notional 16-team Bowl Playoff Championship for college football.  Although we will soon see a limited four-team playoff, this FCS-style tourney is still a decade or two away.  Check the bracket…


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Here’s how it works:

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Bowl Playoffs 2012

It’s that bowling time of year, and so we dismiss the BCS National Championship in lieu of a superior 16 team playoff scenario that everyone would like to see, the Beemsville Bowl Playoff Championship (BPC; TM still pending).  It’s our third annual BPC, so check out the 2011 and 2010 versions for fun.  Here’s how it works…

  • Six automatic BCS conference qualifiers, The champions  from the six current BCS conferences:  SEC – Alabama, Pac 12 – Stanford, Big 10 – Wisconsin (groan), Big 12 – Kansas State, ACC – Florida State, and Big East (double groan) – Louisville.
  • Two at-large conference qualifiers, the champions of the next two highest rated conferences.  This year that’s the MAC – Northern Illinois(!), and the WAC -Utah State.  This changes every year.  Last year we had Conference USA and the Mountain West in here.
  • Eight at-large teams, selected from the remaining highest rated teams using the BCS formula.  No limits on the number of entries from a conference, and this year the SEC dominates with five.  At-large teams are: Notre Dame, Florida, Oregon, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, South Carolina, and Oklahoma.
  • Teams are seeded according to BCS formula. #1 to #16 based on relative ranking.  Higher seeds host the first round; highest surviving seeds then host the second round.  Bye week after the second round.
  • Semi-finals and the final rotate between the four BCS bowl sites. Jan. 1 is your semi-final date.  This year the Orange Bowl gets the championship on Jan. 12.


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Bowl Playoffs 2011

The fail of college football having provided us with an intra-conference rematch for the so-called BCS National Championship, it’s time again to dust off the ol’ playoff scenario.  Yes, it’s the Beemsville Bowl Playoff Championship (BPC; TM pending).  Our playoff system is a 16 team affair, with the semi-final and final at neutral bowl sites.   Here’s the setup…

  • Six automatic conference qualifiers, your champions  from the six current BCS conferences.  That would be SEC – LSU, Pac 10 – Oregon, Big 10 – Wisconsin, Big 12 – Oklahoma State, ACC – Clemson, and Big East (cough, cough) – West Virginia.
  • Two at-large conference qualifiers, the champions of the next two highest rated conferences.  This year that’s the Mountain West – TCU, and Conference USA – Southern Miss.  Some years you might get a  WAC or MAC team in here.
  • Eight at-large teams, selected from the remaining highest rated teams using the BCS formula.  No limits on the number of entries from a conference.  This year your at-large teams are: Alabama, Stanford, Arkansas, Boise State, Kansas State, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Baylor.
  • Teams are seeded according to BCS formula. #1 to #16 based on relative ranking.  Higher seeds host the first round; highest surviving seeds then host the second round.  Bye week over Christmas.
  • Semi-finals and the final rotate between the four BCS bowl sites. Jan. 1 is your semi-final date.  This year the Sugar Bowl gets the championship on Jan. 10.

Have a look at this year’s match-ups (click on the image to view larger):

Some clear winners and losers here and a lot of interesting match-ups.  Think about the sponsorship money this might demand…  Would an equitable split of all that money acquired by the NCAA for this playoff help other schools with their non-revenue sports?  You bet…

Take note, Mr. AD

The Zooker

Illini fans cursing the television Saturday, while Illinois shuffled to another lethargic loss at Purdue, saw a familiar theme of the last decade or so.  It was the inexplicable letdown, the inconsistency, the ability to lose when you should win.  No one would blame said fans for typing a quick email to new Athletic Director, Mike Thomas:  This is why you can’t get a sellout.  This is what you’re up against.  Do something about it.

We’re not going to recount and analyze the game versus Purdue, because it was depressingly similar to the OSU game.  Lack of urgency, defense off-balance, poor scheme and play-calling by the offense (Note to Petrino:  there’s this play called a screen pass – use it), and horrible special teams.  And about those special teams – coming into this game, the Illini were 119th of 120 teams in kickoff returns, 112th in punt returns and 107th in net punting.  Who personally coaches the special teams?  You guessed it, Ron Zook.   Continue reading

Pentagram: Loss #1

Illiniois’ 17-7 loss to Ohio State was the first of the year, but with schedule shifting towards the perilous and the team continuing to make the same kinds of mistakes, it surely won’t be the last.  This game was there for the taking.  The Buckeyes weren’t very good, completing a single pass on the day (albeit for a touchdown), but the Illini were worse.  Coach Luke Fickell seemed to be following the script of earlier foes: play it close and vanilla and wait for Illinois to screw up.  Which is just what happened.

Across the street, Bruce Weber’s basketball team opened practice before the game with an open scrimmage.  Expectations are low to middling, with lots of new players, a transfer point guard who has health issues (Sam Maniscalco), and a highly athletic but inexperience center in Myers Leonard.  Swingman Brandon Paul figures to be the go-to guy on offense, but the team will stress defense first and attempt to ratchet up the pressure.  Hey – they should be an interesting group to watch.  The schedule is soft, and if they can win some close games they could be OK; if not, Bruce already has his excuses ready to go.

Back to the football team.  Five points in your pentagram loss… Continue reading

Unzooker, then Roll


In a flip of the standard script, the Fighting Illini are 6-0 after last weekend’s victory over Indiana, while Ohio State is 3-3 and just completed a disheartening 2nd half collapse at Nebraska.  The Buckeyes are reeling right now, with a new inexperienced coach, quarterback problems, and the still looming but unlikely possibility of more NCAA sanctions.  But, as anyone in the Big 10 can tell you, athlete for athlete, they are still at the top of the conference for talent.  I don’t follow the Vegas lines, but if I did I’d keep a close eye on this one.  Illinois might be favored this game, but not in my book.

OSU will welcome the return of running back Dan Herron after the whole bling-for-tattoos scandal that cost Jim Tressel his job and sent Terrell Pryor to the NFL.  They will also be desperate for a win having dropped two in a row.  For them, it seems to come down to whether or not  and how well freshman quarterback Braxton  Miller can play.  The Bucks looked pretty good before he sprained his ankle, and pretty awful after he went down.  OSU will try to control the line of scrimmage and run as much as possible.  They will sit around and wait for the Orange and Blue to make those trademark mistakes… Continue reading

Illini Football Preview

Nobody believed in us.  But we we worked hard every day and tried to get better.  Just wanted to help the team and prove the doubters wrong.  Just need to execute our gameplan, control the line, and limit the turnovers…  Any of these sports cliches sound familiar?  You’ve heard them before – especially the ‘nobody believed’ – and you’ll continue to hear them from Coach Ron Zook’s 2011 Fighting Illini football team.

Major publications have pretty much panned the Illini, picking them way down in the depths of their division in the Big 10, with most doubting they’ll be above .500.  The venerable one, Loren Tate, has noted this trend and talked about it for weeks – pointing to the way last year’s team man-handled the likes of Purdue, Northwestern, and Penn State, and should have beat Michigan as well, yet all these teams are projected above Illinois.  You can almost see the distatesteful sneer on Loren’s face as he concedes the Illini football ‘brand’ is such that the team fosters doubters.

At least one journo has picked Illinois as a surprise winner – a Pennsylvania writer known for his wit and sarcasm.  He noted that Illinois may be the most schizophrenic team in college football, with a pedigree that includes two BCS games in the past decade, as well as two double-digit losing seasons.


In Beemsville, it’s hard to get too excited about the Orange & Blue under Zook, but we manage to do it anyway.  Here’s why:

  • The schedule.  No more opening loss to Missouri, eight(!) home games, and the tougher games at home.  When you contrast it with the schedules of say, Michigan State or Nebraska, there’s cause for optimism.
  • The two coordinators.  Vic Koenning doesn’t have as much talent returning, but he had the defense playing much, much better last year.  Paul Petrino is the real deal on offense, and his unit could break some records.  Both these guys were major upgrades with the potential to make the Zooker look good.
  • The offense.  Led by second-year QB Nathan Scheelhaase (aka ‘Steelhorse’, according to the Rube), the offense should roll some teams.  Maybe not Boise State rolling, but they should be putting points on the board.  The O-line is good, the backs and receivers are good, and it should be fun to watch.

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Sanctions in order for Vols, Bucks

As we prepare for March Madness, one pending item and a new development in college sports still merit some attention.  Last week Jim Tressel, head football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, admitted prior knowledge of a couple of players receiving benefits in exchange for memorabilia from a local tattoo parlor.  This, you may recall, involved five of the Buckeyes’ best players (including star QB Terrelle Pryor), which led to five-game suspensions of those five.  Now that suspension did not include the  Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas on Jan. 1 (we can’t disappoint all those loyal fans who made travel plans, can we?), but will include such high powered opponents as Akron and Toledo.  Coincidentally, these same two opponents are who Tressel himself will miss as OSU announced self-imposed penalties for this affair.

But back to that little detail about the prior knowledge:  Yeah, Tressel knew about it.  He knew about two of the players and did nothing for seven months, which meant allowing those two players to compete all season.  He knew he had a duty to self-report, and not doing constituted a major NCAA violation.  He has claimed concerns over the safety of the two players, and we must take him at his word, but he was likely more concerned about the ramifications for a football program poised for another run at the mythical national championship and BCS glory.  But when Yahoo! Sports broke the story last week, Tressel and company had no choice but to come clean.

The situation is eerily similar to what went down with the Tennessee Volunteers basketball team and their coach, alleged human Bruce Pearl.  In that case, Pearl didn’t come clean with the NCAA until late in the game – in fact he lied to cover up his own violations.  The Vols and the SEC suspended Pearl for eight games, docked his pay $1.5 million over the remainder of his contract (about $300,000 a year), and restricted him to on-campus recruiting only for the year.  In comparison, OSU has fined Tressel $250,000 next year (he makes about $3.9 million) and suspended him two games.

Two cases of programs enacting pre-NCAA punishment in an attempt to lessen the sanctions.  But the sanctions must still come.

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Pentagram: Double W Day

Nate & Mikel

Well, fellow Orange & Blue sufferers, we end 2010 on a positive note.  It’s a rarity, so savor it while you can.  With that convincing 38-14 win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl, the Fighting Illini gridders enter next season with momentum and promise.  The game’s result was something of a surprise, as many had tabbed the Bears playing in front of a home crowd with their potent offense as the favorite.  More surprising was the manner of victory, with Zook’s boys dominating on defense and ripping off an impressive 13 passes in a row to set up Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford’s cannonballing runs.

A few hours later, in Iowa City, the hoops team earned a Big 10 road win against the Hawkeyes, 87-77.  These Illini rediscovered their shooting touch, hitting at around 66% for the game (and by the way, if you can’t win when you shoot that well, you might as well stop playing), but many of the previously noted problems with this team were once again present.  Still, Fran McCaffrey’s version of the Hawks, while still undermanned, played hard and smart.  If they don’t lose their way completely they will upset some teams this year.

But back to the bowl win.  Sure, this was one of the also-ran bowls.  Sure this team only finished one game above .500, but for a program that’s struggling to move up in the conference pecking order, that hasn’t won a bowl game since 1999, that has been an irregular post-season participant since the early 90s, you just can’t discount the potential momentum.  Last night we saw the payoff of 15 extra practices with the improved coordinators.  We saw potential in underclassmen and returning players.  Now the coaching staff has something else to talk about when they hit the recruiting trail.  The DIA has additional fodder for season ticket sales.  The Zooker doesn’t have to hear as much rumbling and grumbling from the alumni.   As an example, look at what regular bowl participation has meant to teams like Iowa and Mizzou – teams whose success Illinois should be able to emulate.  Those two squads have parlayed regular post-season success into improved recruiting and program atmosphere and a chance to compete for their conference championships on good years.   And that’s just what we’re hoping for around here.

Five points in your double victory pentagram:

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