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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
9/29/2007 04:15:00 PM

Saturday Observations Part II

Oakland Arena
Regus Benn burned Penn State for a pair of scores in the Illinois victory.
Somebody’s got to win the Big Ten this year. Why not Illinois?

Watching the Illini these days, I almost forget they went 2-10 last year. Part of that is because I don’t remember them being all that bad (remember the Ohio State game?), part of it is because it seems like Juice Williams has been a household name for years already and of course a big part of it is we all know how well Ron Zook has recruited there.

With their 27-20 upset of suddenly reeling Penn State on Saturday, the Illini improved to 4-1, the sole loss a 40-34 opening-week thriller against 4-0 Missouri, currently ranked 20th in the country. Not bad considering Illinois is still very much a work in progress. Williams was his usual erratic self Saturday, throwing a 29-yard touchdown to freshman stud Arrelious Benn (who also had a 90-yard kick return) but also throwing two picks. The defense gave up 427 yards but came up with stops when the Illini needed them (including three interceptions of Anthony Morelli).

If you look at the rest of Illinois’ Big Ten schedule, the only game that doesn’t seem winnable is its Nov. 10 trip to Ohio State. Next week brings vulnerable Wisconsin to Champaign, the week after a trip to 2-3 Iowa (which lost 38-20 on Saturday to the same Indiana team the Illini handled easily last week), the week after that a home date with Michigan, which trailed Northwestern for three quarters Saturday.

Don’t go booking those tickets to Pasadena just yet, Illini fans -- but the Big Ten has two other New Year’s Day bowl slots, and landing one of them is certainly an attainable goal.

∙ It figures the week I move LSU to No. 1 the Tigers come out and play like garbage for a half against Tulane, going to the locker room up just 10-9. LSU pulled away from there to win 34-9 but never really got its running game going, while Matt Flynn was sacked five times. Think someone was looking ahead to Florida?

Steve Spurrier’s latest quarterback shuffle paid dividends, at least this week. Chris Smelley was an efficient 19-of-37 for 280 yards with two TDs to Kenny McKinley in a 38-21 win over Mississippi State.

∙ Notre Dame covered the spread! Interestingly, the 0-5 Irish’s offense finally seemed to come to life in the second half after Charlie Weis pulled hobbled QB Jimmy Clausen in favor of Evan Sharpley. Sharpley threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns to turn a 23-0 halftime deficit into a 33-19 loss. I can’t believe I just wrote that as if it were noteworthy.

∙ Virginia Tech will likely be dropping out of my Top 25 this week. I’m giving the Hokies the benefit of the doubt all season but their offense is simply pitiful, netting just 241 yards in a 17-10 win over 1-4 North Carolina.
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments |


Posted: 5:09 PM   by Brandon
OU loses to CU...thoughts? And will K-STATE upset Texas again? And, is the Big 12 still dumpy?
Posted: 5:21 PM   by GatorBait
For some reason Illini seems to always be overlooked. Good for Zook for doing well. Go Illinois!
Posted: 5:36 PM   by Dan
All the SEC fans will say that Colorado's win (and K-State, if they can hang on) shows that the Big 12 is overrated, yet when their top teams lose conference games, it shows how deep the conference is. Such a double standard...
Posted: 5:43 PM   by Ivan
Yeah, LSU must have been looking ahead to Florida, but their performance against Tulane shouldn't make you feel bad about moving them up to #1--they've still accomplished more than USC over the past five weeks, and their score this week (34-9) is pretty darn close to USC's score over similar pushover quality Idaho in week one (38-10), and after week two which you made the cliche, poorly founded argument of "no reason to punish a team for taking a week off after a mediocre performance" argument of keeping the Trojans in first place. Tell me this--how does that logic work in rankings when conference standings will have a 4-0 team over a 3-0 team based on MORE WINS?
Posted: 5:47 PM   by Tiger_Donnie
gatorbait, maybe illinois is overlooked because they went 4-20 over the last 2 years.

I'm just glad they're making Mizzou look good.
Posted: 5:52 PM   by Ivan
Dan, I'm an SEC fan, and I don't think the Big 12 is overrated. Everyone in the press has been saying all along that OU has blown out mostly cupcakes in OOC play and has therefore been hyping them with due timidity. Same for Texas--all the sportswriters and talking heads have been saying that UT has had scrapes and close calls against some very lousy teams, and that's why they're not in the NC talk. I wouldn't call THAT overrated, would you?
HAHA SEC-honks have such a complex when it comes to subjective rankings. Keep rationalizing or IRRATIONALIZING every little thing to keep your self-esteem up on a weekly basis. It will all play out in the end.
Did Illinois win? Wow.

Besides the tip toe interception on the sideline, Morelli gift wrapped Zook's super bowl win for 2007.

Unless "Juice" Williams actually does something consistent for an entire game, the Illini will not beat a team that takes care of possessing the ball.

Enjoy Champaign! this is your high point of the season!
Posted: 6:03 PM   by Ivan
I agree, sportsdude. The rankings are subjective, but unfortunately they often determine how the end plays out. And then again, sometimes things turn out the way they did last year. . .
Posted: 6:28 PM   by Ivan
I agree, sportsdude. The rankings are subjective, but unfortunately they often determine how the end plays out. And then again, sometimes things turn out the way they did last year. . .
Posted: 6:35 PM   by Charles
I don't think the Big 12 has been overrated. No one to my knowledge has stated that it is one of the better conferences. I have felt that OK had done little to justify an elite ranking. I think what we are seeing in the Big 12 is more of the little guys getting stronger and the absence of any elite teams.
Posted: 7:09 PM   by Chris
You want to move us Hokies out of your top 25. But who are you going to put there? You may not like the way we're winning, but we're winning. That's more than I can say today about Oklahoma, Texas, Clemson, West Virginia, Penn State, and maybe Rutgers, Wisconsin, and Alabama (shall I go on?) Our only loss is to the best team in the country at their place at night. No team would have beaten them that night. I don't know about you, but I'll take the ugly wins.
Posted: 7:14 PM   by Shape
Good luck with your rankings this week.
Posted: 7:25 PM   by Crohde
Colorado upsets OU and K-State beats Texas again. The big 12 north is back. and all of a sudden the north looks like a a 5 team race for the north title.
Posted: 7:33 PM   by TrumanHugh
Cal 31...Oregon 24...Hey Stewart, how's that hindsight now?!
Posted: 7:49 PM   by OaktownJ
With WV, TX & OK losses, one would *think* Cal might move up in Stewart's power rankings, but I don't envy him dealing with the turmoil this weekend.
I would not call 19 of 37 passing "efficient". That is only slightly over 50%.

I see no shame in dropping a team out of the top 25 even it is has a 4-1 record. Evaluate the teams. Remember there were a number of undefeated teams NOT ranked in the top 25 going into this week with several one loss teams ranked.

To some extent, it seems like every week should just be a new ranking. For instance, let's say Tim Tebow gets injured tonight and is lost for the season yet UF wins. I could see dropping them in the rankings since they are not likely to be the same team without Tebow.

I hear Mel Kiper spout off how UF should start the year #1 just because they are the defending national champs. That really defies logic as UF lost a lot of talent and are not the same team as the one the won last year.

Zook has done an amazing job getting kids to come to Illinois. And then seems to be doing a good job coaching them--something he did not do well at UF.
Random musings...
Does anyone else think Urban Meyer sees QBs as expendable or easily replaceable by running Tebow so much?

Georgia and Auburn are interesting schools: Vince Dooley is an Auburn alum and coached UGA; Pat Dye is a UGA alum and coached Auburn; Auburn's def coordinator (Will Muschamp) played at UGA as did line coach Hugh Nall; UGA's line coach Stacy Searals played at Auburn.

Is Kirk Ferentz on the hot seat? If not, why not?

Other coaches I think are on the hot seat: Franchione, Gundy, Stoops (AZ), Bowden (Clemson), Gailey, Carr, Nutt.

Everyone talks about ugly Oregon uniforms. How about Minnesota's uniforms?

Did anyone else think UW's uniforms in the USC game think they looked a lot like Notre Dame? Where is the purple of Washington?

I am impressed with Kentucky. They could easily have stumbled against Florida Atlantic, but they took care of business easily.
The team is Auburn, the victim - again - is Florida!
The USF win over West Virginia makes us look a little better. Bring on LSU!!!
Posted: 12:02 AM   by Mike
"those who didn’t watch at all will likely discount USF’s upset on account of West Virginia being 'overrated' (as it turned out Auburn was)" ---

NOT so fast, my friend. Auburn didn't look overrated this week!
Posted: 1:09 AM   by SasQuatch
Sam Dawg Fan,

Good musings.

I agree with you about interesting coach roots. I was impressed this week to learn more about Bobby Bowden's roots myself.

Hotseat? Maybe all you mention (especially the T A&M coach) except Gundy. I think he's safe in Stillwater given his display of committment to player and the national reaction.

Uniforms? The Washington Huskies were wearing 1960 throwback uniforms in honor of that team, many of whom were honored at the game. You did not mention it, but the LSU team chose neutral colors in honor of their joint Tulane/LSU support of the victims of hurricane Katrina.

My musing? Just one . . how does the number one team in the country amass all those penalties which gave one of my teams (Washington) a chance? Seems like awfully poor play to me . . I can excuse Washington mistakes to frosh inexperience . . but isn't that supposed to be the juggarnaut that is going to claim it all in USC?

My congratulations this day to the LSU Tigers and the Washington Huskies. You did not let me down.

P.S.: "Chaos" via upsets this Saturday (headline)!?! Only to those who had preconceived (and prepublished) rankings.
Posted: 10:30 AM   by Bo
Stewart was forced to eat his words this weekend. The "no one can stop them" offenses of West Virginia and Oklahoma seem so ordinary after all. The "dominant" Rudgers defense was lit up like a Christmas tree. And his hindsight of Cal, Oregon. Boy. Dude, don't write it like it's edged in stone, especially when teams were only tested against Div-II schools!!! Feeling silly now?
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