Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Era? Not Aboard This Sinking Ship.

New Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas fired Ron Zook after his team tanked last year down the stretch, dropping the final 6 games of the regular season after starting the season 6-0. Recruiting had fallen off, fans/boosters/alumni were all losing faith, Memorial Stadium was half empty, and it looked like the players were just going through the motions. Thomas graciously thanked Ron Zook for taking a program from the depths of what he inherited to a respectable Big Ten program, and promised Illini Nation that a new coach, with new energy, was necessary to take a program on the cusp of perennial success into a new era. Illinois was a sleeping giant, we were told, and the right coach could tap the existing talent on the team, change the culture and philosophy in Champaign, and bring in new top notch talent to guide Illinois into a new era. Thomas' answer was Tim Beckman, and he's given us a new era for sure. An era even worse than the one before it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Great Season Continues as Notre Dame Beats Michigan

After last year's debacle in Ann Arbor, the pressure was on Brian Kelly and this Notre Dame team to not only come out and prove that the team has grown since last year, but that their 3-0 start to this season is not a fluke. Kelly and the team answered in a fashion that is quickly becoming the core identity of this team - fierce, physical, and opportunistic defensive play. For a program that has struggled mightily with Michigan's Denard Robinson for his entire career, forcing him to turn the ball over so many times only illustrates how this Notre Dame program has progressed in Kelly's third year.

Beckman Era Off to Rough Start

Beckman isn't off to the greatest start
Lost in the shuffle of the rest of the college football world this past weekend was 52-24 trouncing that Illinois was given at the hands of an explosive Louisiana Tech football team. The loss came only two weeks after a similarly embarrassing performance against Arizona State on the road, and has Illinois reeling at 2-2 entering Big Ten Conference play. The 2-2 record is astounding when you figure that the beginning of the schedule was configured to ease Tim Beckman's transition as coach. There's no doubt that this team should be 4-0, or 3-1 at the latest. I mean, doesn't this team have all that talent that Ron Zook was known for recruiting?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nunn Commitment Only the Beginning for Groce

When John Groce took over as head basketball coach for Illinois, it was after an arduous search that left many in Illini nation disappointed in the final choice. I disagreed and outlined why I thought he was an outstanding choice, given his abilities as a recruiter, his modern offensive philosophy that takes advantage of the players actually on the team, and his up tempo coaching style. But most importantly, I felt, was his energy, enthusiasm, and ability to forge relationships with everyone he comes across. I thought that these skills would be invaluable to everything the program did in his tenure, from actually getting into the Chicago recruiting scene, to schmoozing alumni, to hiring the best assistant coaches, to rehabbing the tarnished Illinois basketball brand. Groce seemingly got off to such a great start, garnering rave reviews from Champaign about from nearly anyone who came into contact with him. But it wasn't until the commitment of Kendrick Nunn, the senior shooting guard from Simeon Career Academy, that Groce had the entire fan base behind him.

Irish Forging Identity as Michigan Awaits

When Brian Kelly was hired at Notre Dame, he explained his decision to accept the job in his introductory press conference with the phrase that "there's a football coach, and there's the football coach at Notre Dame." Kelly made it his mission to reshape the Notre Dame football program into one of modern excellence, forging an identity of toughness, respect, and excellence without compromising any of the core values that makes Notre Dame special. This, of course, is a multifaceted undertaking, and given the depths of ineptitude that the program had reached, an enormous undertaking at that. On the field, Kelly knew that in modern college football, you needed to win in the trenches, particularly in the defensive front. So, as Kelly, ever the offensive minded football coach, goes through his third season as Notre Dame coach, it's amazing that his team has taken the identity of a fierce defensive team.

Friday, September 14, 2012

New Bears Offense Collapses in Loss to Packers

Well, that was ugly. The "new look" Bears offense returned to Earth last night against the Packers, with the lack of protection, bunches of interceptions, and Jay Cutler temper tantrums illustrating that maybe, just maybe, this Bears team has not yet turned the corner into a modern NFL offense orchestrated by a true franchise quarterback. Last night's game was more reminiscent of Bears performances in recent years, with the defense playing a great game considering the circumstances, while the offense shot themselves in the foot with turnovers and a record amount of pouting and finger pointing from Cutler. It was, above all, an embarrassing performance for a franchise that was looking to establish itself as one of the elite teams in the NFL.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2012 Chicago Bears

Wow. What is there to say? We've never seen a Chicago Bears team like this in years, if ever, as the Bears overcame a slow start to put on an offensive show yesterday against Indianapolis. We were all excited before the season began at the prospect of finally getting some playmakers at wide receiver to help Jay Cutler, but I don't think anyone expected these results. And with the way that the defense played, specifically Tim Jennings, the sky is the limit for this Bears team. We'll know for sure if this team is for real after their game Thursday against the Packers, but it's hard not to be pumped.

Week 2 Notre Dame and Illinois Recap

Sort of a mixed bag this week, as Notre Dame eeked out a win against a better-than-advertised Purdue squad, while Illinois got pummeled in the Arizona desert Tuco-style. It leaves fans of both programs wondering what direction the teams are going to head the rest of the season. For me, I feel that both results, whether it was an escape by ND against Purdue, or the embarrassment by Illinois against ASU, are not indicative of how those teams will play the rest of the season. I'll explain why, starting with the Irish.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Even With All the Upgrades, It All Comes Down to Defense for Bears

Cutler and Marshall, the new look Bears
It's hard not to be pumped for this Bears team, a team that is moving in a new direction, albeit with veteran players. We just saw an offseason unlike any in recent team history. There's a new GM, a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterbacks coach, new wide receivers, a new quarterback, and a new running back. All of these, from Phil Emery to Michael Bush, combine to give the Bears a more exciting offense than we can remember. This from an organization that has built themselves on special teams and defense for decades. So it's crazy then that the real question marks for this team going forward are on the defensive side of the ball. Will Shea McClellin and Israel Idonije combine to ease the pass rushing burden off of Julius Peppers? Will the health of Brian Urlacher be a continuous issue for the Bears' linebackers corps? Will Tim Jennings bounce back from a down year to be a reliable second option to Charles Tillman? And speaking of Tillman, can he continue to play at a high level similar to his first Pro Bowl last year? Will the Bears finally find some consistency at safety, a position that has dogged Lovie Smith's entire tenure? These questions permeate a unit that was still strong last year, and has been the strength of a team for years. So, in a way, the questions behind the strength of such a unit mean that this team and it's potential success comes down once again to the defensive unit.

Irish In Form As Season Kicks Into Gear

Sure, it's Navy. Notre Dame should stomp a team like Navy every time they play them. But let's not confuse things - this isn't Florida State playing Savannah State, or Arizona State playing Northern Arizona. Navy had beaten Notre Dame a few times recently, and it is a program that has gone to four bowl games in the last five years. That's why it's encouraging to see such a dominating effort from the Irish. A win like that should set the tone for the rest of the season.