Loren Tate: Hearty effort + schedule = optimism

Loren Tate: Hearty effort + schedule = optimism

Are you a dreamer?

Did you see bowl bubbles floating skyward after Illinois’ 45-17 rout of Cincinnati?

All of a sudden, six wins and a December trip to Florida or Texas doesn’t seem so unthinkable. OK, maybe it’s unlikely, but Saturday’s showing flashed possibilities.

Illinois has twice earned the necessary six wins with Nathan Scheelhaase as quarterback and won both bowl games. All things considered, that is a worthy goal in 2013.

Washington’s Huskies, with an extra week off after scuttling Boise State, stand as a tall order Saturday in Chicago. And then comes a Miami (Ohio) team that misplaced its cradle (of coaches), gave up 93 points to Marshall and Kentucky, and features a senior quarterback (Austin Boucher) who has completed 39 percent of his passes.

At worst, Illinois should reach October with a shot at it ... quite a change from the preseason prediction of the Illini in the Big Ten cellar.

There’ll be massive swings and adjustments over the course of the season — Cincinnati, for example, will miss Munchie Legaux — so we can’t really envision October and November. Will Illinois’ pass defense be adequate? How about the running game? Can they avoid another collapse when the going gets tough?

Based on two weekends, here’s my view of the UI’s conference slate ... in order from the most likely success stories to the most unlikely.

Purdue
Akeem Hunt ran the opening kickoff 99 yards, but the Boilermakers still had a nervous 20-14 win against an Indiana State team that permitted 73 points to Indiana. The schedule is unfair to new coach Darrell Hazell as they tangle with Notre Dame on Saturday, and the first four conference games are Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Quarterback Rob Henry, who struggled against Cincinnati, was somewhat better against the Sycamores, but the Boilermakers failed twice inside the 5-yard line.

Indiana
Kevin Wilson will have the quarterback position figured out by November, but he says it’s still a three-way battle after the 41-35 loss to Navy.

“Our offense was pretty good the last three quarters,” Wilson said, “but we only had eight possessions (Navy rushed for 444 yards, controlling the ball for 11 more minutes). It’s disappointing.”

Michigan State
Mark Dantonio is unhappy with veteran Andrew Maxwell and is getting raw freshman Damion Terry ready for Youngstown State. Maxwell and sophomore Connor Cook have completed 47 percent of their passes, and the Spartans were held to 66 aerial yards in a win against South Florida.

Thank the defense. This unit is exceptional at attacking and shedding blocks. It looks like Michigan State will have a lot of close, low-scoring games, and one of them could be in Champaign.

Penn State
Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg has thrown for 589 yards as Bill O’Brien nurses him through the early schedule. The Nittany Lions are always tough at home, but they might lose some of their swagger as they host Illinois after tangling with Michigan and Ohio State.

The toughest four games on the UI’s conference schedule:
   
Wisconsin
Big Ten teams haven’t had much fortune traveling to Arizona State, so this game — one of four matching the Big Ten and Pac-12 on Saturday — will reveal much about Gary Andersen’s team.

“Speed is a concern,” Andersen said. “Our ability to tackle in space will determine how we do defensively. We are still evolving.”

Northwestern
Call the Wildcats opportunistic as they host Western Michigan.

“We’ve had 16 interceptions in the last five games,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said, the last four coming in Saturday’s win against Syracuse.

Northwestern has gathered too much momentum to think the Wildcats will be stopped before the early-October dates against Ohio State and Wisconsin. They’ll play for a favored bowl slot Nov. 30. Will the Illini?

Nebraska
The Huskers are No. 15 in the coaches’ poll as they confront UCLA in front of another madhouse in Lincoln.

“It’s loud, and our people are passionate about it,” coach Bo Pelini said, “and that extends to our players when we play here. We missed a lot of tackles (in a 36-30 loss at UCLA) last year. They’ll try to spread us out and create one-on-one opportunities for their playmakers.”

But can the Bruins perform in front of 91,000 in Lincoln as they did in Los Angeles? That’s the question facing the travelers ... and the Illini will serve as the fifth consecutive home foe for Nebraska on Oct. 5.
 
Ohio State
The fuss is whether quarterback Braxton Miller will be sufficiently recovered to be effective Saturday at Cal.

“I’m fairly optimistic,” said coach Urban Meyer, who also has defensive concerns about Sonny Dykes’ fast-paced attack. “We’ve never faced anything quite like this.”

For all the talk, the Buckeyes should have too much talent to succumb to a freshman quarterback (Jared Goff) and will carry championship dreams until they are stopped.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

 

 

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walker wrote on September 11, 2013 at 10:09 am

You pretty much nailed it Sir Tate.  Nice synoposis

Moonpie wrote on September 11, 2013 at 11:09 am

The obvious quesion is whether Wes Lunt is one of the dirty Ok-State players. But don't expect the Sleepy Gazoo to do any reporitng. Because Gazoo sportswirters always seem to think they work for the athletic department, making Lunt "unavailable" to the media is some sort of Supreme Court ruling to them. The same for when Beckman booted the running back. No reporting from the Gazoo on why. Just jock sniffing.

aaeismacgychel wrote on September 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Lunt was not one of the players named as to have taken money or to have gotten unfair academic or employment "benefits". There are a lot of troubling allegations though there so I can certainly understand your concern. My guess is that some of the accusations did indeed happen (I also think they happen at most programs, especially when it comes to academics and other deals to get recruits), but I will also say that there seem to be a lot of holes and sourcing issues with the expose. So while I do think some of it is true, I also am not completely buying it either. That said, all things considered, it does not appear that Lunt has been accused of being involved with this (and most of it spans from a period 4-10 years ago)

jdstieg wrote on September 11, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Hey Moonpie. Same stuff from you.  Different day.  You must really be ignorant.

walker wrote on September 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm

That is hardly even a remotely relevant question. Certainly not an 'obvious' one. This situation at Okla State is not our mess and doesn't need to be probed by the N.G. Wes Lunt was in grade school when all of that was going on.  

TheChiefLives wrote on September 12, 2013 at 10:09 am

Moonpie-

Here you are again showing your lack of knowledge.  This article had nothing to do with Wes Lunt or OKst, so how that was the "obvious" question is beyond me.

And as for the reporting...ONCE AGAIN, Loren Tate is a COLUMNIST, not a REPORTER.  Learn the difference between the two as to not bring down the collective IQ of the posters on this site. 

A reporter reports events, facts, and circumstance (allegedly without much bias). 

A COLUMNIST gives their OPINION of things while trying to provide insight.  That insight is usually derived from interviewing other people and getting their OPINIONS as well.  A COLUMN is something you read for a perspective (synonym of OPINION).  If you don't agree with his opinion, don't read the column.