Good Things For You and I

Fear not, Chicago baseball fans.  We have two saviors to get us through Saturdays…

… and Sundays (at least when we’re playing Detroit).

Juice and the Neckbeard carpet bombed the Detroit Metro area for a combined total of 765 yards of offense this past weekend, leading the Illini and Bears to thrash Michigan and the Lions by a collective score of 79-27.  With Illinois tossing its Bo Schembechler voodoo doll for the first time since I was a senior in college and the Bears putting together its first complete game since the season opener (granted, the Lions will do that to you with or without Matt Millen), I can’t be too down on the White Sox elimination.  (Cubs fans deserve to be pissed, though.)  More thoughts are coming later this week.

(Images from Chicago Tribune)

Ragin’ Crap From the Illini and Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay – 9/18/2008

I attended the Illinois – Louisiana-Lafayette game this past weekend in person and let’s just say that I enjoyed the company and the new look of the west side of Memorial Stadium, but little about the actual contest on the field.  Juice Williams telegraphed several passes to the opposing defense as usual, the wide receivers ended up dropping passes even when Juice ended up throwing the ball well, Rejus Benn seemed to be on the field for 58 out of 60 minutes yet was a complete non-factor, the Illinois defense allowed significant plays to an inferior offense, and all phases of the Illini suffered from a lackadaisical attitude and idiotic penalties.  Deron Williams deserved a much better effort after his return to campus just off of winning a gold medal in Beijing.  (Speaking of Beijing, check out this Chicago Tribune article on the significant impact that the University of Illinois has had on the development of the Paralympic Games both here in the U.S. and around the world.)  The only positive comparison that I’ve seen is how the Illini played against Western Illinois last season, where the team similarly looked sluggish against a clearly inferior team yet went on to reach the Rose Bowl.  I hope that’s the case, but I’m concerned that Juice is still making some of the same mistakes as a junior that he was incurring as a freshman.  I’ll give him credit that he’s making some more accurate downfield throws this year and I’m long past the point of believing that he’ll ever be a great pocket passer, but his habit of looking straight at the receivers that he’s about to throw to is not going work when Big Ten conference play starts in two weeks at Penn State (let’s hope he looks a bit better on our first prime time ABC telecast of the season than Ohio State’s tandem of quarterbacks did last week).  Juice’s arm is going to be much more of a factor for the rest of this season with the Illini running attack clearly truncated without the presence of Rashard Mendenhall.  The fact that we open up the Big Ten portion of the schedule with back-to-back road games in Happy Valley and Ann Arbor means that we need to use this bye week to get things back into order very quickly if we want to make a January bowl game.  The bye week also gives me the chance to pick three games without having to worry about the Illini (home teams in CAPS):

(1) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (+8.5) over MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS – I’ve seen the horror story called “Michigan State hosting Notre Dame” way too many times.  I doubt that Michigan State is going to give up 97 turnovers in a game in the same manner as its in-state rival last week, but there will be a brain-freeze by the Spartans at some point which will at least allow the Irish to cover the spread (if not win the game outright).

(2) Iowa Hawkeyes (+1) over PITTSBURGH PANTHERS – Dave Wannstedt is still coaching Pitt… ’nuff said.

(3) FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL GOLDEN PANTHERS (+28) over South Florida Bulls – I’ll admit this is a complete gut feeling here since FIU has lost 2 games by a combined score of 82-10, including a 40-10 loss to a Kansas team that USF just beat last week.  Still, FIU is at home opening a brand new on-campus stadium against a USF team that I’m already on the record of being skeptical of the Bulls on the road.  Such a large spread with the road team as a favorite is a red flag in my eyes, so I’m taking the points here.

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Illini Games for the Season: 0-2
Overall Season: 5-4

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

Offensive Spread and Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay – 9/11/2008

In my opinion, one of the most underrated keys to gambling “effectively” is knowing when to not put money down (you’ve got to know when to fold ’em).  For instance, regular poker players usually feast on amateurs that make the mistake of needing the action and playing too many hands.  Likewise, there are certain times where you’re better off putting all of your savings on “black” at the roulette table than even entertaining the thought of betting on certain football games.  When looking at mgoblog’s account of how the line on the Notre Dame – Michigan game swung 5 points in one direction a week ago and then 9.5 points in the other direction this week, it’s apparent that the Vegas bookies have thrown up their hands with a collective “WTF?!” as to predicting either the Irish or the Wolverines.  I’d advise that those heading to Las Vegas this weekend stay far away from ND/UM considering that I trust the following sources with predictions in life in this order: (1) the Iowa Electronic Markets, (2) Vegas bookies, (3) Warren Buffet, (4) the Farmer’s Almanac, (5) Nostradamus, and (6,602,224,175) Woody Paige.  On to this week’s parlay (home teams in CAPS):

(1) Ohio State Buckeyes (+10.5) over USC TROJANS – The most highly anticipated inter-conference matchup of the season has some of the buzz removed as a result of tOSU’s troubles with tOU last week and the injury to Beanie Wells.  Couple this with the increasing aura around USC its dismantling of Virginia in week one and you now have the national conventional wisdom that the Trojans are going to slap the Buckeyes out of L.A. in the same manner as my Illini back in January.  Given my preternatural disposition to going against such a tidal wave of group think and the fact that Ohio State has a history of looking lackadaisical the week before a big game (i.e. Illinois seems to catch Ohio State off guard on a regular basis partly because they usually play the week before the OSU/Michigan game) but then following it up with a performance up to par with the team’s talent, I believe that this is going to turn into the instant classic that college football fans were banking on during the offseason.  And make no mistake, people, the Buckeyes, even without Wells, still have a loaded team.  At the end of the day, 10.5 points is way too large of a spread for two relatively well-matched teams in what should be an emotional game – take the points here.

(2) Wisconsin Badgers (-1.5) over FRESNO STATE BULLDOGS – tOSU isn’t the only Big Ten school heading to California this weekend.  Quite frankly, I’m shocked that Wisconsin, which has largely adopted the 1990’s Kansas State approach of scheduling entire non-conference slates of women’s prison league teams, is actually playing on the road against any school, much less a ranked non-BCS conference team.  In the same manner as the Ohio State – USC point spread, the spread in this game is partly a function of the lackluster performance by the Badgers last weekend against a clearly inferior opponent.  Still, I believe that Wisky is legit – as much as I correctly loved East Carolina and Central Florida in their respective home stadiums last week, I’m giving the points for the major conference school on the road this week.

(3) ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (-24.5) over Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns – Add non-conference body bag games with spreads of over three touchdowns to the list of contests that I would never actually put money on.  At the same time, judging by the fact that I’m perfect so far in my pro and college picks on games not involving my favorite teams while laying a goose egg on the Bears and Illinois, there’s a reaffirmation of the wise old adage of never betting on a team that you actually care about in real life.  Still, this is an Illini blog with a promise to include the Illini game in the weekly parlay, so I’ll give the points here relying on the assumptions that (a) Juice Williams will avoid telegraphing his passes to defenders in the first quarter, (b) the Ragin’ Cajuns come out with as little in the tank as it did in its 30-point loss to Southern Mississippi two weeks ago, and (c) Illinois couldn’t possibly fail to cover the spread when Frank the Tank is attending this game in person in Champaign.

The NFL parlay picks are coming tomorrow.

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 2-1

Illini Games for the Season: 0-1
Overall Season: 4-2

(Image from New York Times)

Arch Rivalry Rundown and Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay – 9/4/2008

With week one of the college football season in the books, there are a few conference-wide trends: the Big East looks bad, the ACC looks worse, and the jury is still out on how the Big Ten is going to look at the top.  Illinois lost to a simply better Missouri team, which wasn’t a surprise, but at least hung in well enough to justify the Illini staying in the top 25 in both polls, which was personally a pleasant surprise (and in the end, fair considering that Illinois was playing a team over 10 spots ahead of them in the polls going into the game).  The two main concerns coming out of the game for Illinois were the horrendous lack of tackling, which resulted in roughly 8,000 YAC for Mizzou (and Chase Daniel shred the defense overall) and the completely dead running game in the wake of the loss of Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL.  At least the running situation was mitigated by the fact that Juice Williams had a banner day stats-wise and nailed more accurate passes than ever before.  Mizzou practically stacked eight guys in the box the entire game to take away the Illini running “attack”, which allowed Juice to find some mind-boggling wide-open receivers downfield on a number of occasions.  Hopefully, the fact that Juice burned a pretty solid Missouri defense with his arm will make future opponents think twice in terms of stacking the line, which would open back up the Illini running game.  There really isn’t an excuse for the sloppy tackling, though.  The one bright spot on defense was the coverage ability of Vontae Davis – if he continues playing like he did this past week, he’s going to be taken very high in the first round by an NFL team in the near future.

There aren’t any odds available on the Illinois – Eastern Illinois since it involves a Division 1-AA team (I will continue to refuse to use the FBS/FCS monikers), so that game won’t be part of the parlay this week.  However, I’ll throw out a prediction that Illinois will win by at least 24 points.  On to this week’s college football picks from the worst slate of games of the year that features a dangerous number of spreads of 20 points or more (home teams in CAPS):

(1) Miami (+21 1/2) over FLORIDA – When the marquee game of the weekend features a 21 1/2 point spread, that means it’s a pretty bad football Saturday.  (It will all be made up next week, though, with Ohio State – USC.) I know that the Hurricanes were brutal last season, they have a bunch of freshmen playing, and Tim Tebow has a Zen-like hold on Erin Andrews.  However, have the mighty Canes fallen so far that they would be over three touchdown underdogs to the Gators in the revival of a once-heated rivalry?  I think not – I’m taking Miami with the points.

(2) CENTRAL FLORIDA (+14) over South Florida – Staying in the Sunshine State, I’m selling off USF stock after a couple of seasons of outsized returns.  This is one of those games that means a whole lot more to UCF (who believes they were just as worthy of a Big East invitation as USF) and it’s on their home field, so I’m taking the points again.

(3) EAST CAROLINA (+8) over West Virginia – Here’s a true home game for East Carolina against a top ten team one week after upsetting Virginia Tech in Charlotte.  At the same time, one of the few items that I have been consistently correct on through the years is knowing that West Virginia finds a way to stumble every season even though there is always a contingent of pundits that believes the Mountaineers will back into the national championship game since they always have a schedule where they could theoretically run the table on paper.  I’m not calling a straight-up upset here for ECU (and I’m sure WVU is on notice after VT stumbled last weekend), but it looks like I’m taking the points across the board on this week’s parlay.

The NFL parlay picks come tomorrow.

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 2-1

Illini Games for the Season: 0-1
Overall Season: 2-1

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

Frank the Tank’s Football Parlay – 8/29/2008

College football season began in earnest last night, which means that it’s time for me to start making foolish predictions again that you all will make fun of by Monday.  This year, we’re kicking the predictions up to another level with a weekly parlay, which is essentially an experiment to show how much money I would lose if I went to Vegas every weekend.  I’ll pick 3 college games (always including the Illinois game) and, once the pro season starts, 3 NFL games (always including the Bears game) each week against the Friday morning spread shown on Yahoo! Sports.  The level of analysis every week will solely depend upon how much time I have to write that particular post (and in the case of this week, with little to go on other than gut feelings with the first games of the season, this blog’s credo to be “entirely logical” will go out the window).  So, as we concurrently celebrate Chicago’s exorcism of Jay Mariotti, let the season of gratuitous pictures of Ron Zook begin (home teams in CAPS):

(1) CALIFORNIA (-5) over Michigan State – This pick is less about any confidence in Cal and more that I will never trust Michigan State any farther than I can throw Sparty’s costume.  Taking Utah with 3 points over Michigan was enticing, but despite last year’s Appalachian State debacle, you bet against the Wolverines in the Big House at your own peril.

(2) Alabama (+4 1/2) over Clemson (neutral site game at Atlanta) – The money has obviously been going toward ‘Bama since the line is rolling in the Tide’s direction (no pun intended) and I think it makes sense.  The Georgia Dome crowd is probably going to tilt to the Alabama side and Clemson can’t help but screwing itself over within the first couple weeks of the season (particularly when you consider the ridiculously high expectations this season for a program that has largely done jackshit).  Therefore, I like Alabama with the points.  The most powerful coach in sports has to earn his keep somehow.

(3) Illinois (+9) over Missouri (neutral site game at St. Louis) – Alright, so all of you think this is a homer pick, particularly when Mizzou is coming back with its team from last year largely intact and Chase Daniel is leading an offensive attack with a physique that rivals our favorite neckbearded quarterback.  But seriously – a 9-point spread for a matchup that a year ago resulted in Mizzou squeaking out a 40-34 win with Juice Williams getting knocked out of the game in the first quarter?  (I’ll just ignore the fact that I have no clue what our running game will look like without Rashard Mendenhall, but Juice himself can run like he’s avoiding the wrath of Amy Winehouse.  Right?  Right???)  I’m not arguing that Illinois is better than Missouri this year or that the Illini will win (even though I very much hope that will be the case), but this high of a point spread for two ranked teams at a neutral site is suspect to me.  So, take the points and GO ILLINI!

(On a side note, please pour out some Cris for the passing of the Metra bar car today.  The long commute that I once had when I lived in Libertyville felt a lot shorter in the bar car – I was hoping this concept would expand to the Burlington Northern line to Naperville as opposed to being entirely eradicated.  R.I.P. to the “train friends” that were easily made during rush hour.)

(Image from Deadspin)

Awful Football Weekend and Land-o-Links for 10/17/2007

adrian-peterson-vikings-bears.jpg 

After having a beautiful double revenge of the FIBs over the Badgers and Packers last week, it was followed up with one of the worst football weekends in the Frank the Tank household in awhile with the Illini and Bears both losing games that were more than winnable.

I noted last week that the road trip to Iowa City for Illinois was going to be a proverbial trap game since Kirk Ferentz just seems to have our number and that proved to be more than correct in an ugly 10-6 loss. The Hawkeyes kept our running game in check while we had virtually no passing attack until Eddie McGee came in to close out the game. Despite the fact that McGee threw a poor interception in the red zone on the final Illini drive that probably would have turned the outcome of the game the other way, his passing skills to even get Illinois into that position (as well as a gem of a throw to Joe Morgan – who has always thought that Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar could never hold a candle to him as second basemen – for an 82-yard touchdown that was called back on account of an illegal formation penalty) is forcing Ron Zook to start out all of his press conferences with a “Juice is our quarterback” speech.

Speaking of the Zooker, the recipient of a new contract extension from Ron Guenther made a few calls that must have had Florida Gators fans giggling by choosing to accept penalties on third down as opposed to declining them to force fourth downs not once, but twice. The first time backfired into the only touchdown by either team in the game, while the second time resulted in an Iowa first down conversion. This made me flashback to last year’s game against Indiana when Zook decided to go for a 2-point conversion on the first touchdown in the first quarter of the game for absolutely no reason at all, which we subsequently failed on (and we of course lost the game by 1 point). Now, I love that Ron Zook has brought Illinois back to football respectability way ahead of schedule, but these calls are just simply off-the-wall – it isn’t even about overall technical game strategy, but rather plain-old common sense. Anyway, the Illini are still in line to get to a pretty good bowl, but in order to make the Rose Bowl now, we’re going to have to win out for the rest of the season (which means beating Michigan in a monster prime time game next week and #1 Ohio State in Columbus). The fact that this is still a possibility shows how far Illini football has come over the course of the year, yet it’s still tough to stomach that we lost a very winnable game on Saturday.

The Bears, of course, couldn’t help but to pile onto that frustration on Sunday. Ever since the Vikings selected Adrian Peterson in the NFL Draft last spring, I’ve been telling everyone that would listen to me that Minnesota is the team that scares me the most in the NFC North since he’s such a special player. Well, he backed my thoughts up and then some by just shredding the Bears’ defensive and special teams units.  Honestly, I believe that Peterson is better situated to become an NFL superstar than even Reggie Bush since the former Sooner has the size and strength to pound the ball inside as an every down back as well as having breakaway speed to the outside and past the line of scrimmage.  I have no clue as to why Minnesota is still having him split carries with Chester Taylor.  While Devin Hester did everything he could to keep the Bears in the game with yet another touchdown return and finally getting an offensive pass play call for him that worked perfectly for another touchdown (I’m pretty sure that the Bears can just have Hester sprint down the field all day and he’ll burn anyone that’s on him), the rest of the team just couldn’t contain Peterson.  This season just has a bad feeling to it – the Bears  improbably stormed back with two touchdowns against the Vikings in four minutes to tie the game only to blow it within the final minute and a half.  Can the Bears go 8-2 the rest of the way to get to the 10-6 level that will probably be required to make the playoffs?  Unfortunately, I don’t have much faith in that (and even more unfortunately, I’ll continue to watch since I’m a glutton for punishment).

Let’s get off of the depressing news with some links:

(1) And Simpson Makes Four! (Mark Tupper Weblog) – After a year of continuously grim recruiting news for Bruce Weber and Illini basketball, this past weekend saw oral commitments to Champaign from four high-profile recruits.  Will this answer all of the concerns about Weber’s recruiting skills?  Let’s hope so.

(2) Indiana Punishes Sampson Over Recruiting Calls (ESPN.com) – Speaking of old oral commitments from recruits to Weber, have I ever told you how much I hate Satan’s Spawn?

(3) Local Recruits Infuse Illinois with ‘Swagger’ (Washington Post) – The Washington Post takes a look at how D.C. recruits have catapulted the Illini football program.

And finally…

(4) Can Anyone Explain Dane Cook to Me? (Freakonomics Blog – New York Times) – If University of Chicago economists can’t figure this out, there’s no hope for the rest of us.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

The Way Kathy Lee Needed Regis That’s the Way I Need Rejus

arrelious-benn-rejus-benn-illinois-penn-state.jpeg

Alright – I’m officially excited.  When I wrote my college football preview a few weeks ago and predicted a Motor City Bowl appearance for the Illini (which plenty of people at the time thought was a monster stretch), I didn’t think in my wildest dreams that they would do so well that the most important football game between teams from Illinois and Wisconsin this past weekend would end up taking place at Memorial Stadium in Champaign as opposed to Lambeau Field in Green Bay (the Bears are slowly redeeming themselves, but that’s a post for another day).  Now, I’m clearing out my holiday calendar with the real prospect of Illinois making a top tier bowl.  While we are a long long way from legitimately talking about a Rose Bowl with games against Michigan and Ohio State still coming up, let’s just say I’ll break the bank to make it to Pasadena if that ever happens.  Honestly, next to an Illini national championship in basketball, watching the Illini in the Rose Bowl is my top sports wish – as much as I love the Bears, White Sox, and Bulls, seeing Illinois finally finish at the top would mean the most to me personally.

What I love about how the Illini are playing right now is that these are anything but fluke wins.  I got to witness the victory against Penn State a couple of weeks ago in person, which meant that I also got to attend the coming out party for my favorite athlete in the world today outside of Devin Hester:  Arrelious “Rejus” Benn.  I’m not sure how Ron Zook is getting top recruits such as Benn and Vontae Davis to come from Washington, D.C. to Champaign, but it needs to continue.  Rejus is the type of guy we would always see across the line in a Wolverine or Buckeye uniform before – a huge wide receiver who will also burn the best cornerbacks (and also in the case against the Nitanny Lions, the best special teams units) out there.  Anyway, considering that Benn is only a month into his college career, he has a pretty good chance of becoming the best athlete that I have seen in an Illini uniform for either football or basketball (even more so than Deron Williams) if he keeps up this pace.  The only thing with having such a talent is that he may have a short stay in Champaign he could very well be a top ten NFL draft pick after playing the minimum of two years in college.

As starry-eyed as I am with Rejus, it’s Rashard Mendenhall and the Illinois running game that’s really the team’s catalyst in rolling over teams.  Sure, Wisconsin might have been the second most overrated number 5 team in country this season (after our good friends at the University of Michigan), but can you believe that we put up another 289 yards on the ground against them?  I was brought up on old-school smash mouth Chicago Bears and Big Ten football, so there’s nothing more beautiful to me than watching the Illini just ram the ball down people’s throats.  Quarterback Juice Williams might still be throwing the ball as if he spent the summer at the Rex Grossman Passing Clinic, but the boy (along with his backup Eddie McGee) can still run like he stole something.

So, it’s going to be the middle of October and Illini football is still relevant.  There’s the proverbial trap game next week atIowa – as bad as the Hawkeyes might be playing this year, Kirk Ferentz seems to have our number – and if we survive and advance there, it makes the prime time game against Michigan into the biggest game in Champaign since, well, the most horrific sporting event that I have ever attended in person.  When we’re six weeks into the season and we’ve already won more games in 2007 than the past two years combined, Illini fans are entitled to some irrational exuberance.  I know I’m there.