Here's the summary from this week's participating blogs...
Question One: The BCS Championship Game dream is dead, but Penn State can still go to the Rose Bowl (at least in theory). What’s your best guess about our final record and bowl destination?
Nittany White Out and Zombie Nation rejected the premise that Penn State's "BCS Championship dreams is dead." Apparently they haven't cleaned their Blue-White glasses recently.
When you combine the Big Ten's recent bowl and BCS Championship Game history with Penn State's incredibly weak non-con schedule, we needed to run the table to have a shot.
Most of the answers collected around 10-2 or 9-3 and a Cap One or Outback Bowl bid. (Zombie Nation played it safe by predicting the final number of wins as "anywhere from three to 12." Three? Yikes, that means a home loss to I-AA Eastern Illinois next week!)
Finally, a special shout-out to Nittany Lounge for putting a Penn State spin on the classic opening speech from Patton.
Question Two: Illinois beat I-AA Illinois state, but sandwiched it with losses to Mizzou (37-9 in St. Louis) and at Ohio State (30-0). They have, by far, the worst pass offense in the Big Ten and their pass defense is awful as well. They put little pressure on the quarterback (1.3 sacks per game) and they do a lousy job in protecting the passer (3.33 sacks per game). In short, the Illini stink. Who rights the ship on Saturday, PSU or Illinois? Discuss.
Zombie Nation caught our attention with "Illinois hasn't been the same on defense since
We were HUGE fans of J Leman. We have attended many worship services at The Vineyard Church in Champaign, where J's parents, Happy and Dianne, are the senior pastors. (No, we're not making that up, J's father's name is Happy Leman.)
Some good tidbits from our bloggers, none of them favorable for Illinois...
- Happy Hour Valley: A strong rushing attack led by Rashard Mendenhall was critical to the 2007 team’s unprecedented Rose Bowl berth, it took pressure off of Juice Williams having to make things happen with his feet and kept defenses honest. Since Mendenhall’s graduation though, the Illini have struggled to find a viable replacement for him which means teams can focus more on shutting down Arrelious Benn and stifling Juice in the passing game (which so far, as proven to be an effective strategy for opposing defenses).
- Nittany Lounge: Since 1966 (why did I pick that date?), Illinois has managed to win 10 games in a season three times. They had winning seasons 31% of the time over the same period. Illinois not only stinks, they consistently stink.
- Nittany White Out: Illinois has shown no passion to win this season (really though, has PSU?).
- Zombie Nation: The only decent Illini defender, Martez Wilson, went down before the season got going.
This question generated quite a bit of discussion. 2theLion nailed it with "scheduling has much to do with this."
Here are Penn State's Big Ten opener and road opener, along with our opponent's final record...
- 2000: Lost at Ohio State (8-4)
- 2001: Lost to Wisconsin (5-7); lost at Iowa (7-5)
- 2002: Lost to Iowa (11-2); won at Wisconsin (8-6)
- 2003: Lost to Minnesota (10-3); lost at Purdue (9-4)
- 2004: Lost at Wisconsin (9-3)
- 2005: Won at Nothwestern (7-5)
- 2006: Lost at Ohio State (12-1)
- 2007: Lost at Michigan (9-4)
- 2008: Beat Illinois (5-7); won at Purdue (4-8)
- 2009: Lost to Iowa (4-0); ??? at Illinois
- Big Ten openers against winning team: 1-7
- Big Ten openers against losing teams: 1-1
- Big Ten road openers against winning teams: 2-6
- Big Ten road openers against losing teams: 1-0
- Cumulative record of Big Ten opener opponents: 80-36
- Cumulative record of Big Ten road opener opponents: 73-40
However, we must take exception to Zombie Nation's claim that "Penn State has had some terrible teams this decade, particularly those latter two." [Emphasis added.]
We're with you on 2003. We finished 3-9, with victories over Temple (1-11), Kent State (5-7), and Indiana (2-10). We were brutalized by Michigan State in the season finale to the tune of 41-10.
However, in 2004 the Nittany Lions were NOT terrible. Yes, the final record of 4-7 sucked and the 6-4 loss to Iowa marked the low point of the Paterno era. However, three of the losses were close (7 points or fewer) and the defense was terrific, finishing 5th in the country in scoring defense.
The defense didn't allow more than 21 points in any game, which is all the more remarkable when you consider how impotent our offense was. (16 points per game isn't getting it done.) In short, "terrible" teams don't feature national championship-caliber defenses.
Question Four: Last week's blocked punt for an Iowa touchdown was the turning point in the game. Twice this decade a kickoff return touchdown has been critical in an Illinois victory over Penn State and the way things are going it could happen again Saturday. What's the problem with Penn State's "special" teams? Poor coaching? Lack of a dedicated special teams coach? Not getting our best athletes on the field?
William World News spoke for several of our bloggers when he said, "I disagree that the punt block was the turning point of the game. I think the safety that put Iowa on the board was the critical play--it gave the Hawkeyes confidence and may have rattled the offense."
Fair enough, but consider this: Penn State led 10-5 at the time of the blocked punt. We'd held Iowa scoreless for entire third quarter and would have pinned Iowa deep with 12 minutes to play. The way the defense was playing, we could have easily traded punts for a 10-5 victory.
Nittany Lounge did some research on the Interwebs and found that "Few teams have a dedicated special teams coach," presumably because the NCAA limits the number of coaches a team can have.
- The line is Penn State -7. Cover or no? Six covers, two not, with the most emphatic being The Nittany Line with, "They haven't covered yet so that's a big fat NO." The correct answer is that we'll cover with Penn State scoring 21 or 24 and the Illini scoring 7 or 10.
- Are you going to the game? The only affirmative is from...Penn State Clips! (We'll be going despite tonight's sad news, as the funeral is not until Sunday.) We'll be tailgating with our neighbor, Staff Sargent Katie Maglia, and her family. (Her sister is a student trainer for Illini athletics and her parents are both U of I grads.) Katie has done two tours in Iraq and was selected to be the Grand Marshall of next Friday's Illinois Homecoming Parade.
- True or false: Chief Illiniwek was retired as the Illinois mascot after protests by members for the Illiniwek tribe. Most people correctly guessed false, but some for the wrong reasons. Yes, there was a Illiniwek tribe, but they were wiped out generations ago by other Indians. So none of the people who protested the Chief out of existence were legitimate Illiniwek. What we'd like to know is when the p.c. pansies of the NCAA will be leaving Indianapolis (City of the Land of Indians), Indiana (Land of Indians).
- Will Chicago be awarded the 2016 Olympics on Friday? Four up and three down, with this from Nittany Lounge: "I really do not care. As long as Olympic athletes are able to compete somewhere I am happy. Just don’t send a single dime of my taxes to bailout that hellhole in Illinois." Sorry, but Chicago is a world-class city, not a hellhole. This was something of a loaded question, as we have already been assured by one of our inside contacts that the fix is in and the Games will indeed be coming to our fair city in 2016. [Update: The world somehow rejected President & Mrs. Obama and The Oprah and Chicago was stunningly knocked out in the first round.]