College football writer and AP voter Bob Asmussen’s musings after the fifth week of the season:
— That’s how the big boys do it.
Invite a midmajor to town and blow their doors off. Run a bunch of exotics, just to show your willingness to be creative. Wear a different jersey to prove you don’t fear jinxes. Go against the grain. Tell everybody the plan is to have fun and really mean it.
“Coming into the game, this is what we thought would happen and what we needed to do,” receiver Ryan Lankford said.
Onside kick in the first half? Why not? Two-point conversion pass by the holder? Sounds reasonable.
“’We could have done whatever we wanted,” Illini receiver Steve Hull said. “That was the type of feeling we had on the sideline.”
All that pent-up frustration from a year ago was exorcised during a 3-1 nonconference run by Illinois.
“It’s definitely a better feeling than we had last year,” Illini linebacker Jonathan Brown said. “I don’t think we played our best defense. We’ve got to keep improving day to day.”
Don’t bother to ask about 2-10.
“We didn’t really think about the past coming into this year,” Hull said. “We really wanted to focus on the new and where we were going now. We had that in the bank as motivation.”
Tim Beckman’s job security is no longer a topic. The 3-1 start, with chances for more wins, eliminates that.
No question, Beckman’s second team looks better than the first. Much better. The players perform with confidence. There is little uncertainty. More of a “let’s get it done” attitude.
They lost to Washington. That wasn’t going to happen again.
“We kind of seemed a little off (against the Huskies),” Hull said. “We didn’t know what it was. Maybe in the first half, we got caught up in the big stage. This game really solidifies ‘OK, we know that was a fluke. We just messed up.’ “
When something does go wrong — like Nathan Scheelhaase’s first-quarter interception Saturday — the Illini quickly move past it.
Dwelling on the negative is gone. Even for the fans. To borrow a term from Ron Turner, the program is focusing forward. Sounds painful.
Is Illinois a world power? Hardly. It can beat up the RedHawks of the world but isn’t ready for Alabama or Oregon or Clemson. That might be years away. If ever.
But getting there is more than half the fun. Climbing is the challenge. Where is the joy for Alabama? Nevermind.
— Time to assess Scheelhaase’s place among the all-time Illini quarterback bests. Five more touchdowns on Saturday. Nice. Next on the TD list is Jack Trudeau. That’s good company.
Scheelhaase won’t catch Kurt Kittner for career touchdown passes, but he’s getting closer by the week.
Bottom line for Scheelhaase will be the team’s record. Don’t overlook that he was the first quarterback in school history to lead the team to bowl victories in consecutive seasons. He’s got a chance now to reach a third bowl in four years. Not bad for a guy from Kansas City who some thought didn’t have the arm to play quarterback in college.
Those arguments now look just plain dumb. In his one down year, Scheelhaase was ailing. Hard to know where he would be careerwise with a healthy 2012 season.
Best part about Scheelhaase’s career is that he didn’t let the negativity keep him down. He rose above. Maybe being married to his high school sweetheart has played a major role. It’s a lot more romantic notion than giving offensive coordinator Bill Cubit all of the credit.
— Looks like Miami (Ohio) is going to have a coaching opening after the season. Don Treadwell, a proud alum, isn’t getting it done.
The hunt for his replacement should last about five seconds. Call the banker in Florida who knows a thing or two about the school. Ron Zook, who won a ton of games for the RedHawks as a collegian, is sitting in Ocala, waiting for a call.
The school could bring the energetic Zook back for an eight- to 10-year run and find a coach-in-waiting successor, with Zook doing the picking.
We know Miami can win with the right guy in charge, and Zook is the next right guy. Would he take on the challenge? Certainly. Would it work? Given the right staff and Zook’s bundle of work ethic, likely.
Miami is a low-pressure job with a tradition that deserves better than what we saw on the field Saturday. Somewhere, Big Ben was hiding his head in shame. The quarterback, not the clock.
— Nothing like success on special teams to make the game seem easier. Illinois can return punts and kicks with skill, punt at a reasonable level and kick it straight regularly. (Need to learn from Saturday’s 27-yard miss. Ouch.)
— The basketball games between the schools have been classics. Now, we get to see what Illinois-North Carolina looks like on the football field.
Wisely, the schools agreed to a two-year deal, with games in Chapel Hill in 2015 and back in C-U the following year.
I.T.G.S.O.T. thought this might become a permanent arrangement. The Tar Heels were a logical expansion target by the Big Ten before they instead decided to hitch their wagon (farm term) to the ACC. Down the road, the Big Ten and UNC are going to regret the inability to become one.
— Advice from a one-time visitor to the North Carolina campus: make plans now to go to the game. Kenan Stadium is one of the underappreciated gems in college football. Promise you will have a blast.
— Speaking of basketball, too bad they didn’t have Saturday’s scrimmage on the Memorial Stadium turf. Yes, the last time they tried it didn’t go well. But the feelings in town and on campus about the basketball team have changed. In a good way. Have a feeling there would have been a huge crowd at Memorial Stadium to watch John Groce’s and Matt Bollant’s teams. No way to know for sure, but I.T.G.S.O.T. wants to see next year’s event back inside the biggest stadium in the city. If weather is a worry, there is such a thing as a canopy.
On the Big Ten
— The anti-shocker (new phrase sweeping the nation) came from West Lafayette. The Boilermakers had no answer for Northern Illinois and Heisman candidate Jordan Lynch. The Huskies have been a part of I.T.G.S.O.T.’s Top 25 for weeks. Saturday’s dominating performance should bump them into the Top 25.
Nothing teams like Northern Illinois enjoy more than winning games at Big Ten stadiums. They haven’t done it every time, but enough that Jim Delany’s teams should be nervous.
The Huskies are 2-0 against the Big Ten this season, beating Iowa in the opener. That win looks better each week.
On the rest
— Karma 1, T. Boone Pickens University 0. Actually, West Virginia posed as Karma on Saturday, upsetting Oklahoma State and sending a sky-is-falling attitude to Stillwater. Looks like an NCAA probe is next. Yikes. When does golf season start?
The Cowboys won’t drop out of the N-G Top 25, but it’s a close call.
— Visors off to Central Florida, which lost a close game to Steve Spurrier and South Carolina. Lots of college football cred piled up in a game like that. A win would have been better.
— Beamer Ball still works at Virginia Tech. Somehow, the Hokies are 4-1 after Thursday’s win against Georgia Tech. Give Frank Beamer and right-hand man Bud Foster a ton of credit for keeping the team together.
Virginia Tech got smacked hard in the opener against Alabama and looked to be suffering a post-frat party hangover in close wins against East Carolina and Marshall. Georgia Tech was supposed to put Virginia Tech out of its misery. Didn’t happen. Logan Thomas played like his old self, and the defense held on. Now, the Hokies can talk about an ACC title without hearing laughter.
Just a hunch Virginia Tech makes a run at a BCS berth. And the Beamer legend grows.