College football writer and AP voter Bob Asmussen’s musings after the eighth week of the season:
— Ten minutes in, Wisconsin was on pace for a 126-0 victory. It looked about that bad for Illinois.
But the team didn’t yell “Uncle.” The fans didn’t leave before the halftime show. The BTN didn’t switch over to “The Best of the Journey.”
Oh, Wisconsin is still too good for Tim Beckman’s football team. Melvin Gordon is still too strong and elusive for Tim Banks’ defense.
Banks could have used J Leman, who was working the sidelines for the BTN. Think anyone would have noticed if he had slipped on his orange jersey? It would have helped.
Gary Andersen, in just his first year in the land of cheese and beer, already seems to have the Illini’s number. Just like Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema before him.
There was a time when the Illini dominated the Badgers. But Don Morton was the coach and the Kohl Center was the dream of a rich guy from America’s Dairyland. Things change. Although they are still good with their milk products up north.
One thing that hasn’t changed is Wisconsin’s dominant run offense. Close your eyes and you could imagine Ron Dayne ripping past the Illini defense. Again.
There is time for Illinois to regroup. Six more games’ worth. But one of those six is against Ohio State, which is hunting for a national title. While the Illinois Big Ten losing streak balloons, Ohio State has won 19 in a row overall.
Michigan State isn’t close to being Badger good. On offense. But the defense is among the best in the country.
Simple goal for next Saturday: keep the fans in their seats until halftime. And don’t trail 21-0 after 10 minutes.
On the Big Ten
— We might have identified another beatable team on the Illinois schedule, one you would have never guessed three weeks ago: Northwestern.
Once considered a potential BCS buster, the Wildcats looked very minor bowly in a home loss to Minnesota. That makes three falls in a row for the smart guys from Evanston, starting with the close loss at home to Ohio State.
With quarterback Kain Colter out because of an injury, the Northwestern offense looked like it did back in the Francis Peay days. In other words, brutal. They also missed tailback Venric Mark, another banged-up star.
Northwestern visits C-U on Thanksgiving weekend. Unless Pat Fitzgerald finds unexpected help, the Wildcats could be riding a seven-game losing streak at Memorial Stadium. Minnesota was supposed to be the easy game during the stretch run. Nope.
— Not only did ailing Jerry Kill make it to Saturday’s game in Evanston, the coach actually drove from the Twin Cities. With his wife. Talk about team players. And they saved the Gophers travel expenses.
Kill’s move gives a giant boost to Minnesota’s postseason chances. Now with five wins, the Gophers need only beat Nebraska, Indiana or Penn State in the next three games to earn the magic sixth win. The final two against Wisconsin and Michigan State are going to be tough, but you never know.
— I was at a football game and a soccer match broke out. That must have been the feeling at chilly East Lansing, where Michigan State shut out inept Purdue 14-0. Boooor-ring. One of the touchdowns by the Spartans, naturally, came courtesy of the defense.
Even Mark Dantonio sounded disgusted with the offense after the win. Who could blame him?
Connor Cook may someday follow in the list of Michigan State greats, but he isn’t there yet.
The front-runners to reach the Big Ten title game go outside the Legends Division for only one more game: next week’s trip to Illinois.
— All Ohio State has to do is win. Probably. Win the rest of its games and with limited help the Buckeyes should play for the national title.
The 19th consecutive win for Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and Urban Meyer wasn’t easy. Iowa led into the second half before Miller led a rally. He had one of those Marcus Allen-like reverse-field runs at a critical time. His missed time early in the season cost him a shot at the Heisman, but he is certainly among the most dynamic players in the country. And Hyde gives the team another viable threat.
On the rest
— The initial BCS standings will be revealed today on ESPN. Important safety tip: Don’t read too much into the first batch.
The standings are fluid. Like water, not glue. Today’s title-game front-runner can easily become tomorrow’s Gator Bowl fodder. The only standings that really matter will be announced in December after all the conference titles have been settled.
Expect the first BCS standings to be heavy on the SEC and Pac-12. And don’t count on a lot of love for the Big Ten. All of it can change with an upset or two.
It won’t be as exciting as next year, when four teams will be chosen for the playoff.
Good news though, the former Secretary of State is going to help decide who is in the first playoff. She probably won’t be criticized at all. Because football folks are known for their open-mindedness.
I.T.G.S.O.T is happy that Condoleezza Rice is going to be part of the show. Smarts, which she has oodles of, outweigh any concerns that she never played football. That panel is loaded with football people. The guess here is that Rice becomes the voice of reason on the panel.
— So, which team does Bill Murray actually root for? Based on the 2005 NCAA basketball tournament, the answer seemed to be “Illinois.” But maybe all those years as a Cubs fan have worn down the funnyman.
On Saturday, he showed up in Clemson, S.C., wearing purple and rooting for the Tigers. He picked Clemson to beat Florida State during an appearance on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” making the weekly celebrity picks. Lee Corso took a few jabs at Murray before the two ended the show with an on-air wrestling match. Looked like the aging coach more than held his own.
— The power structure continues to change in the SEC. No, Alabama is still top dog. But Missouri is suddenly a team the others have to take seriously.
Playing without injured quarterback James Franklin, the Tigers were plenty offensive with Maty Mauk in charge.
The freshman from Ohio led the Tigers on a two-play touchdown drive to open the game against Florida. By the time it was over, Mauk had 295 yards in an easy 19-point win.
The victory could push Missouri into this week’s Top 10. That’s a giant leap for a team that was outside the rankings at the start of the season.
Missouri will need plenty of help to think about a BCS title shot. But the Tigers have a chance to impress voters in the final five weeks with games against South Carolina and Texas A&M. Alabama isn’t on the regular season schedule.
— Put the Brett Hundley Heisman campaign on hold. The UCLA quarterback threw a pair of interceptions and led the Bruins to just 10 points in a loss to Stanford. UCLA was undefeated going into the game and was thinking about a Southern Cal-ish undefeated season. Maybe next year, when Hundley will likely be making wads of cash in the NFL.
— Yes, that was former Illini fullback Jay Prosch catching an important pass for Auburn early in Saturday’s game at Texas A&M.
No doubt, Prosch would have had a giant impact had he stayed in Champaign. Just ask Mikel Leshoure, who followed Prosch in his record game against Northwestern.
Prosch’s 56-yard catch and run keyed an early Auburn drive. Unfortunately, the CBS announcers called him “prOsh.” Close enough. He got the last laugh with Auburn pulling an upset against A&M.
— Former Illinois defensive assistants Vic Koenning, Dan Disch and Keith Gilmore didn’t get the win. But they sure scared Top 10 Miami on Thursday night.
The undefeated Hurricanes needed a last-second touchdown to rally at raucous North Carolina. From the looks of Kenan Stadium, you would have thought a basketball game broke out.
North Carolina did more than damage Miami’s reputation. It also knocked out star running back Duke Johnson.
The North Carolina defense was stellar, picking off four Stephen Morris passes. That matched the Morris interception total for the season.
Koenning drew raves from ESPN announcers David Pollack and Jesse Palmer. They pointed to his creative coaching despite talent and depth limits. The Tar Heels got hit hard by defensive departures after last season.
While the Tar Heels dropped to 1-5, Thursday’s near-miss was another sign that Larry Fedora, Koenning, Disch and pals have the program on the right track. North Carolina is in rebuild mode after a heavy hit by the NCAA. Fedora has a long contract, a sign that North Carolina leaders know they will have to be patient. Not always easy to do with today’s “win now” mentality.
Miami should look its dominant self in next week’s game against Wake Forest. Then comes a trip to Florida State. Win that one and the Hurricanes can think about the BCS title game.