CHAMPAIGN — Longtime Boston Globe sports reporter Michael Vega scouted a string of college football games Saturday on the newspaper’s bank of TV sets.
One game, in particular, caught his eye: Illinois at Michigan State.
Why did he care about a faraway matchup in the Big Ten? Because Vega is the lone Massachusetts voter in The Associated Press football poll. He likes to stay informed.
“I watch the games at work,” said Vega, now the Globe’s sports desk multiplatform editor.
When the latest Top 25 was released Sunday afternoon, under “also receiving votes,” Illinois got a single nod. From Vega.
“I didn’t realize I was going to become the toast of Champaign,” Vega said. “I was trying to get ahead of the curve, be a trend-setter.”
He put the Illini at No. 25. Twenty-four spots behind No. 1 LSU.
“I was so impressed with that win against Michigan State, with that comeback,” Vega said.
Illinois trailed by 25 in the first half before rallying for a 37-34 win, its fourth in a row.
“I said, ‘I’ve got to give the Illini some love in the poll this week,’” Vega said. “The comeback is what sealed it for me. That was as impressive to me as LSU going to Alabama and beating them there. When you’re down that much against a Big Ten opponent on the road in a hostile environment, that carries weight with me,”
Illinois first got Vega’s attention with its Oct. 19 win against No. 6 Wisconsin. That put Lovie Smith’s team on his Top 25 radar.
Vega’s ballot is loaded with Big Ten teams. He picked seven, led by No. 2 Ohio State.
Of course, Vega didn’t expect to be the lone vote this week for the Illini. Reporters are usually reluctant to make themselves part of the story.
“I get up the next day, I look at the poll and see I’m the only one,” Vega said. “I said, ‘C’mon now.’ They don’t recognize the value of a win like that? I think too many get hung up in the record and the fact that they only have six wins. To me, that was even more impressive that that win got them bowl eligibility,”
The Illinois players and coaches will tell you they should have eight wins. They let a lead in the second half slip away to Nebraska in a 42-38 loss on Sept. 21 and lost 34-31 on a last-second field goal against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 14. If the Illini played both teams again, at home, they would have a great chance to reverse the score.
Vega joins me as one of the 62 voters on the AP football panel.
We have both stayed up late on Saturday nights, watching West coast games involving ranked teams.
“Usually, Boise State is the one that kills me,” Vega said. “We’re all in the same boat.”
Vega has been a voter off-and-on for the past decade. He took time away from the poll while covering the Boston Red Sox.
“They asked me to take over a couple years ago,” Vega said.
Vega has received his share of criticism from college football fans. They are a passionate lot and don’t like it when you “mistreat” their school.
“My Twitter feed (@mbvega) blows up when people are questioning whether or not I watched college football,” Vega said. “We all get that. I responded to one guy, ‘What you don’t understand is I don’t vote in a voting bloc. My vote is my own. And everyone else has their own vote. I don’t vote according to what they vote. I vote according to what I see. It’s my own judgment. And it’s all subjective.’ ”
Perfectly said Mr. Vega. I wish I had written that when I got cursed a few years back for picking Michigan and Wisconsin as my preseason No. 1s. Oops.
We voters are all accountable. Fans can find the ballots at collegepolltracker.com.
So, feel free to ask Vega about including Illinois this week.
“I stand by my vote,” Vega said. “Anyone that wants to question me, fine. I voted to reward Illinois for a great win on the road against a tough opponent in conference.”
Illinois doesn’t play this week, resting up for a trip to Iowa on Nov. 23. What will Vega do with the Illini on this week’s ballot?
“They are penciled in at 25 right now,” he said.
Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at email@example.com.