Whenever Illinois has a big win, it reminds me of a quote from former Minnesota basketball coach Clem Haskins, who used to say, ``Hats off to the Illinis,’’ with a plural ``Illinis.’’
And that reminds me of meticulous Peoria sportswriter and newspaperman Gary Childs, who found great delight in Haskins' plural Illinis. And that makes me sad because Gary, one of the sweetest, most honorable men I ever knew, left us too soon—the victim of an unspeakable cancer.
But I also know that Gary, who loved Illini sports and always carried a Thesaurus, is up there smiling down on us today. Because Illinois has defeated Rutgers handily, 24-7, for Lovie Smith’s first FBS win.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Never mind that you should take the under, even if it’s 0.5, on combined Illinois/Rutgers victories the rest of the way.
Enjoy this feeling, Illini’s. You can now march on. Just try to be competitive, as Smith said before he embarked on what was likely to be a long journey.
IRISH DETERMINED IN DEFEAT
I know the world is going to look at Notre Dame’s 17-10 loss to Stanford as an unmitigated disaster. The Cardinal was without Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey, and the Irish were at home, facing a messy 2-5 start if ND couldn’t get its act together.
The Irish didn’t. After being frustrated by their offense in their first three losses, when they surrendered an average of 41.3 points a game, and being frustrated by the torrents of Hurricane Matthew as well as N.C. State in their fourth loss, the Irish opted for something completely different.
Their defense surrendered only eight points, but ND lost 17-10, blowing a 10-0 lead on a 50-yard Pick Six, yet another bad snap for a safety and giving up the clinching touchdown when Stanford fumbled into the end zone and recovered.
Aside from the obvious—2-5 is an awful place to be for a team that started the season 10th in the nation—I was impressed with what Brian Kelly and some players said afterward. Disaster or not, they're not looking for FEMA help.
``I told the guys, `This is the No-Apology Zone,’ ’’ Kelly said. ``Everybody knows where we’re at. We’re 2-5. We’re going to get reminded about it by everybody in the country about a million times. No one needs to apologize. What we need to do is coach better and execute better. That will cure a lot of things.’’
Meanwhile, Stanford (4-2)—which was coming off of two lopsided losses to Apple Cup combatants Washington and Washington State—was thrilled to win, but also aware that this season also will be a tougher deal than anticipated.
``Both sides made plays. Both sides made mistakes,’’ Stanford coach David Shaw said. ``That's what happens when you're coaching college kids. Both teams are very talented and have some inexperience. Both teams are going to be very good in the coming years.’’
We `experts’ just didn’t know this stuff when we put the Irish (10th) and the Cardinal (8th) in the pre-season top 10.
The world may be pointing fingers at the Irish. There’s no finger-pointing in the locker room, senior linebacker James Onwualu said: ``A lot of teams would turn on each other, but you don’t see that with this team. Guys are still patting each other on the back, trying to hold each other up. That isn’t found in a lot of locker rooms. You lose a game or two and you turn on each other, especially defense against offense. `Oh, why didn’t you score?’ There’s none of that. We’re all just trying to get better.’’
Notre Dame now has a bye week to work on things.
BADGERS & WILDCATS & HUSKERS
Officially, the record will show that the biggest winner of this Big Ten weekend was Ohio State, which needed a big comeback and overtime to survive a mesmerizing upset effort by Wisconsin. The Buckeyes remain on track for their highly anticipated national championship showdown with Alabama.
But, oh, won’t that Michigan-Ohio State clash of titans be fun?
There were other significant winners this weekend: Nebraska survived a solid effort by Indiana and remained unbeaten. I’m sorry, but I still want to see the Cornhuskers unmasked in Madison on Halloween weekend before I anoint them as anything above a really good team that has handled a really undistinguished schedule.
Meanwhile, Northwestern pulled off its second straight impressive road win, and never mind that the authorities who have been looking for Jimmy Hoffa have now expanded their search to include Michigan State.
Oh, and by the way, I know that the Badgers are devastated at being unable to win after leading Ohio State 16-6 at halftime. And they should be. But they need to shake it off and give themselves a second chance, in the Big Ten championship game.
As I’ve mentioned before, this is a breakthrough season for the Badgers in many ways: A 2-2 record vs. top 10 teams. A freshman QB with an incredibly bright future. And a coach who can go toe-to-toe with Urban and Harbaugh.
The wins will come. I’m very proud to be a Badger this morning.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS,
THE JUGGERNAUTS. . .
1, Ohio State (6-0, 3-0): The Buckeyes may be mortal after all. But they also remain unbeaten, after surviving a supreme effort from the excellent Badgers, 30-23, in overtime. (No. 1 last week)
2, Michigan (6-0, 3-0): Harbaugh makes most of bye week, announcing a homecoming queen and working on a chain gang at a high school game in California. (2)
THE BEST IN THE WEST. . .
3, Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2): The best damned two-loss team in the nation—and one of the best teams in the nation, period—can hold its head high after another outstanding effort. (3)
THE MUDDLE IN THE MIDDLE. . .
4, Nebraska (6-0, 3-0): Showed resilience in 27-22 win at talented, determined Indiana. Cornhuskers are 6-0 for the first time since they started 11-0 in 2001, and lost to Miami in the BCS national championship game. (4)
5, Northwestern (3-3, 2-1): Holy Road Trip! Wildcats have won at Michigan State and Iowa in their last two, and put themselves in position for a solid bounceback after tough 1-3 start. (6)
6, Iowa (5-2, 3-1): Hawkeyes’ 49-35 win at Purdue was their ninth straight road win, breaking a team record set in 1920-23. With trips to Penn State and Illinois left, Iowa could extend record even more. (7)
7, Indiana (3-3, 1-2): Played really well in 27-22 heartbreaker to Nebraska after playing really well in loss at Ohio State. If IU keeps it up, it should be rewarded with second straight bowl trip. Previous two bowls were in 2007 and 1993. (5)
8, Penn State (4-2, 2-1): Facing tough home date vs. Ohio State on Saturday. But plenty of opportunity remains for the quality season that James Franklin needed. (8)
9, Minnesota (4-2, 1-2): Impressive 31-10 win at Maryland was a great response after disappointing losses to Iowa and Penn State. Gophers go through the Jim Delany Bermuda Triangle (Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue) the next three weeks, where they can lock up a decent bowl trip before tough finish vs. unbeaten Nebraska, surging Northwestern and stout Wisconsin. (10)
10, Maryland (4-2, 1-2): Gobbled up by Minnesota and Penn State the last two weeks, Terrapins have lost momentum after 4-0 start. Opportunities remain to make D.J. Durkin’s first season memorable. Depends on whether they come out of their shell. (9)
11, Michigan State (2-4, 0-3): 54-40 or fight? With their ugly home loss to Northwestern, Spartans are in serious freefall. Four straight losses put the defending Big Ten champions in the hunt for flop of the year in the nation as well as the BigTen if this keeps up.
Spartans, who looked so solid after win at Notre Dame, now are frontrunners for Big Ten flop of the year after their third straight loss, 31-14 at home to BYU. (11)
12, Purdue (3-3, 1-2): Back to reality. After that feel-good OT win at Illinois, Boilermakers get punched in the mouth by Iowa. Another win would be a surprise. (12)
13, Illinois (2-4, 1-2): Took care of business at Rutgers, which could face charges of impersonating a Big Ten football team. But kudos to the Illini for giving Lovie Smith his first FBS win. The next one may not come until next fall. (13)
HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?
14, Rutgers (2-5, 0-4): When you lose your homecoming game 24-7 to the sputtering Illini, there isn’t much to say. How about celebrating scoring for the first time in three games? This is so messy, they’re going to need a mop the size of the Big Apple. (14)[/membership]