1) The BCS Championship Game dream is dead, but Penn State can still go to the Rose Bowl (at least in theory). What's your best guess about our final record and bowl destination?
Maybe I'm too superstitious for this roundtable stuff - I just don't like to make predictions about players or scores or wins. I grew up in a house where the televisions (and occupants) were routinely "shhed" for jinxing the player, game and/or team. I grew up with countless football rules - about clothing, etiquette, sportsmanship, routine, ritual, and jinxing - I've spent years trying to recover - but the one that really has stuck is the jinxing.
All that said, I think that this upcoming game will be a true measure of what this team is going to do with the rest of the season. It's a new crew of kids - they have to set their own mark on the program - be it good or bad. If they come out of Champaign with a win, I'm hopeful that they will end the season near the top of the conference and the polls.
2) Illinois beat I-AA Illinois state, but sandwiched it with losses to Mizzou (37-9 in St. Louis) and at Ohio State (30-0). They have, by far, the worst pass offense in the Big Ten and their pass defense stinks as well. They put little pressure on the quarterback (1.3 sacks per game) and they do a lousy job in protecting the passer (3.33 sacks per game). In short, the Illini stink. Who rights the ship on Saturday, PSU or Illinois? Discuss.
No one has really said anything about this, but I really think that much of Darryl Clarks woes Saturday night began after the iowa defense got to his head, literally. At the end a designed run play, Clark was hit hard, in the head. I can't help but wonder if it didn't, at least, get him "thinking" - which is one of the worst things a quarterback can do. By the end of the game it was obvious that he was pushing, and being pushed - trying to make something happen. it was a tough loss for everyone - but how Clark reacts will be telling.
illinois is either going to come into this game rabid or defeated - both can be dangerous for a team that isn't prepared.
3) The Nittany Lions are 2-8 this decade in Big Ten openers and 3-6 in Big Ten road openers. (Obviously there's some overlap there.) The two wins in Big Ten openers were during the championship years of 2005 and 2008. What's the problem?
Wow. good question. My guess is that scheduling has much to do with this. Leaving out the dark years, PSU's opening B10 losses have been to iowa, tosu and um. Those 3 tend to beat PSU regardless of where the match up comes on the schedule. I'd say that the problem that needs to be solved isn't so much being ready for the B10 - but being ready to play and defeat the top teams in the conference.
4) Last week's blocked punt for an Iowa touchdown was the turning point in the game. Twice this decade a kickoff return touchdown has been critical in an Illinois victory over Penn State and the way things are going it could happen again Saturday. What's the problem with Penn State's "special" teams? Poor coaching? Lack of a dedicated special teams coach? Not getting our best athletes on the field?
This is always a concern - so years more than others - this year, so far, it's been a big concern - having Stupar (on the sideline) on the starting defense has left a gap in our kick coverage. And they need to find (play) a kid who can kick the ball into the endzone (or at least close) - it's just not acceptable to have returners catching the ball on the 10 with 20 yards of open field in front of them.
On the other hand - I think that Penn State needs to work on their own return game just as much - the coaches don't seem to know who to play. They just need to get better.
The line is Penn State -7. Cover or no? look at me. I'm gonna say yes.
Are you going to the game? no.
True or false: Chief Illiniwek was retired as the Illinois mascot after protests by members by the Illiniwek tribe? False.
Will Chicago be awarded the 2016 Olympics on Friday? my guess is no. But then I thought Paris was a shoe in for 2012.