Generally, FBS schools from BCS conferences schedule a “cupcake” (if they can) for their homecoming football game. I still don’t quite get the concept of homecoming, because it’s not like athletic teams spend all but one game of the season on the road, but I just know that it’s a time in which students are supposed to show a disgusting amount of school spirit and the home team is supposed to kick ass.
The University of Illinois Fightin’ Illini (3-4, 0-3 Big 10) scheduled Michigan State Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big 10) for this year’s homecoming game, and one could argue that a team of Sparty’s caliber would find that insulting. Of course, that argument would be wrong because MSU isn’t Alabama or a team that has even been to a BCS bowl in the last 25 years, but you can be sure that MSU head coach Mark Dantonio wanted his guys to give the Illini fans absolutely nothing to cheer about on homecoming.
For about the first 15 minutes of yesterday’s ballgame, it seemed as if Illinois would be able to do just enough to hang around until the end of the matchup, and then use their underdog powers to steal a victory from MSU. An Illinois field goal with less than 10 minutes left in the first quarter put Illinois ahead 3-0, but that would be all the scoring from the home team we’d see yesterday.
Before Sparty actually got on the board, QB Connor Cook (15-16, 208 YDS, 3 TD) gave away a great chance of scoring when he fumbled into the end zone on a keeper play. Illinois took over at their 20 and seemed to gain a bit of “momentum.” The play was especially frustrating because it was RB Jeremy Langford (22 CAR, 104 YDS, 2 TD) who singlehandedly got the Spartans from their 44 to the Illinois 7 by running the ball powerfully and effectively. Suddenly, with a great chance to score inside the 10, the Spartans offense decided to get cute and Cook lost 7 points on the drive, potentially.
After a 1-yard TD run by Langford in the beginning of the second quarter, it was all Sparty on both sides of the ball. Illinois opened with a 12-play, 53-yard drive that ended with those 3 points, but ran 22 plays for 75 yards the rest of the game. With the Illini getting nothing from their run game (21 CAR, 25 YDS total), the onus fell on QB Nathan Scheelhaase (13-21, 103 YDS, INT) to move his team down the field and it’s safe to say that he failed. The Illini pass for nearly 288 yards per game and average 477 yards of total offense under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, but did next to nothing against a hungry Sparty D. On a key early fourth down attempt, the Spartan D stifled Illinois with only one yard to make the first down, and that was the end of that chapter for the Illini offense.
While it took a bit for the offense to get going, once it did, the unit put up arguably its best performance of the season. Cook set a school record for single-game completion percentage (minimum 10 attempts) before leaving early in the fourth quarter. In four Big 10 games, Cook has put up a line of 75-116, 827 YDS, 7 TD and 2 INT…all wins. Granted, the wins have come over Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois, but it’s good to see Cook seemingly get better as the season progresses. Langford was one of three running backs to rush for at least 70 yards against the Illini and 10 different Spartans caught a pass. Sparty picked up a whopping 29 first downs, was 14-16 on third down and possessed the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game, 39:06, compared to the Illini’s 20:54 time of possession. The offense tallied 477 yards of total offense, with 269 of them coming on the ground.
This was exactly the kind of performance and win that Sparty needed before it begins a rough four-game stretch at home against Michigan, followed by two road games against Nebraska and Northwestern and then wrapping it up at home against Minnesota. Just weeks ago, it was only supposed to be a tough three games before the regular season finale at home against Minnesota, but the Gophers have beaten Northwestern and Nebraska in consecutive weeks and have clearly forgotten that they’re not supposed to do those kinds of things.
Currently, MSU leads the Legends division by a game and a half over in-state rival, Michigan. I’m not yet sure of the math, but I do believe that a MSU win over Michigan along with Nebraska losing to Northwestern and Iowa losing to Wisconsin would essentially wrap up the division for the Spartans. Michigan’s offense is better than MSU’s and if Sparty can’t contain Wolverines QB Devin Gardner, it could be a long afternoon for the Sparty defensive unit. However, Michigan’s defense is clearly the weak link and Cook and Co. must find a way to take advantage. Michigan has had an off week after last Saturday’s offensive showdown with Indiana that ended with Michigan winning, 63-47. I’m pretty sure Sparty would love to hang 47 on Michigan, albeit coming in a victory. Hell, MSU may not even score 23 on Saturday, even in East Lansing, but I still expect them to grind out a victory in what could be one of the uglier MSU-Michigan games in recent memory. Go Green. Go White.
- Never trust Northwestern football. The good people of Chicago want a college football team to support so bad, that they’ve taken their hopes and dreams to Evanston, IL. Illinois, in Champaign, is further away, and let’s face it, they stink. The Northern Illinois Huskies may have the best collegiate football team in the state, but they play in the woeful MAC and put up a clunker in last year’s Sugar Bowl. Southern, Eastern and Western Illinois have football teams? Oh. Notre Dame doesn’t, and shouldn’t count, people. So, that basically leaves Northwestern, the elite academic institution that just so happens to have an athletics program. The football team had a great 95-96 two-year run, appearing in the Rose Bowl, then Citrus Bowl. Since, the program has been up and down. Lately, there’s been this notion, however, that NU is ready for the spotlight. They fooled people last year after starting 5-0, although those wins came against Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College, South Dakota and Indiana. This year was about the same, with NU once again fooling folks after beating Cal, Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine to begin the season. But then it came time for them to deal with Ohio St. at home and the spotlight wasn’t kind to them as they lost, 40-30. The following week, NU went to Camp Randall Stadium and got housed by Wisconsin, 35-6. A 20-17 home loss to Minnesota and 17-10 overtime road loss to Iowa later, and this Wildcats team has suddenly gone from trendy pick to reach the Rose Bowl to fighting for their bowl lives heading into Week 10. Maybe NU fans won’t allow a good start over bad teams to fool them next year. Maybe.
- Jameis Winston for Heisman. The Florida State redshirt freshman QB is the man on one of the nation’s top teams and the Seminoles are currently undefeated and a top-3 team in the AP, coaches and BCS poll. Winston has completed a hair over 71% of his passes, has thrown for 20 TDs against just 3 INT, averages 12 yards per attempt and leads the entire country in passing efficiency. Yesterday’s 49-17 win over Maryland marked the seventh consecutive time that FSU has scored at least 41 points and sets up a showdown between the Seminoles and seventh-ranked, undefeated, in-state rival Miami Hurricanes in what could be a preview of the ACC title game. Obviously, when it comes to Heisman candidates, there are a few. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel easily come to mind. But Mariota benefits from a very innovative offensive scheme while some just don’t want to see Manziel take home the hardware for the second year in a row. If FSU beats Miami, especially in convincing fashion, they have a schedule (save for the finale against Florida) that could enable Winston to win and put up video game numbers at the same time. A redshirt freshman (who is also an outfielder and pitcher for the baseball team, by the freakin’ way) tearing it up for a program that has returned to prominence? That’s a Heisman story.
- Notre Dame vs Air Force. Zzzzzzzz…