A Defense of Big Ten Football

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When I wrote this post on the “Conference Pride Paradox” a little over two years ago, Big Ten football was at its zenith with 2 BCS bowl victories during the prior season and its premier rivalry (which, in my opinion, is also the best rivalry in all of sports) of Ohio State vs. Michigan was being hyped for weeks as the Game of the Millennium with a #1 vs. #2 matchup for the first time.  After the Ohio State won that classic game, the national debate was centered around how Michigan deserved another shot at the Buckeyes in the National Championship Game.  Thinking back about those days that really weren’t very long ago at all, it’s amazing how far the national reputation of Big Ten football has fallen.  With Ohio State’s loss last night to Texas (albeit one that could have been prevented had the Buckeyes just kept a safety or two back in the secondary to make a tackle), the Big Ten has now lost 6 straight BCS bowl games (2 in each of the last 3 seasons).

There’s no doubt that the nation has a right to be skeptical about the prospects of the next Big Ten invitee to a National Championship Game (and frankly, no one should be surprised if Ohio State is right back in that mix next year with the players that they have coming back).  However, with Big Ten bashing becoming so fashionable among college football fans, I believe that the performances of the conference over the past 3 seasons need to be into context.  Please note that the following comments aren’t excuses – if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best at anytime anywhere, and the Big Ten teams that have gone to BCS bowls have failed miserably on that front.  It’s just that when one looks at who and where the Big Ten has played in its recent BCS matchups, it becomes apparent that the only ones that have the right to say anything are USC and the top tier of the SEC (as much as I loathe them).  Everyone else that is piling on the Big Ten (i.e. Big East, ACC, and Big 12 fans, Pac-10 schools that aren’t USC, Mountain West Conference bandwagoners riding a hot Utah team, etc.), though, need to STFU since they all likely would be in the exact same position of the power Midwestern conference if they had to play the same games.

Here are the Big Ten’s BCS opponents over the past 3 seasons:

  • USC in the last 3 Rose Bowls in Pasadena
  • Florida in the 2006 National Championship Game in Arizona
  • LSU in the 2007 National Championship Game in New Orleans
  • Texas in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl in Arizona

Look at that list of teams – it’s complete murder’s row of marquee national programs without a single breather.  The Big Ten didn’t get to play the likes of Wake Forest, Louisville, Cincinnati, or Hawaii, who were BCS participants in other bowls during this period.  Unlike the conferences that are participating in Thursday night’s National Championship Game, the Big Ten didn’t lose to non-BCS conference teams in the manner of the Big 12 (the Boise State-Oklahoma gem in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl) or the SEC (last week’s stunning Utah beat-down of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl – there was nothing fluky about the Utes in that game).  Yet, those conferences haven’t been indicted in their entirety even though their marquee teams failed to beat smaller schools whose stadiums have fewer amenities than the average SEC weight room.

The one true horrible loss for the Big Ten was Florida’s thrashing of Ohio State in the 2006 National Championship Game, where the Buckeyes had been ranked #1 nearly the entire season and were strongly favored to win the game.  After that, though, note that two 2nd place Big Ten teams (Michigan in 2006 and my alma mater Illinois in 2007) along with this year’s Penn State team got to play USC in de facto Trojan home games right outside of Los Angeles.  How many champions from any conference, much less 2nd place teams like the Big Ten has sent, are going to beat USC head-to-head in Los Angeles?  Anyone that has even a smidgen of knowledge about college football knows that this is a monster task in a sport where home field advantage is a huge deal and nowhere near the same as playing Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl or Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.  The Big Ten doesn’t have a Rose Bowl problem or a Pac-10 problem – it has a USC problem.  Of course, every other conference would also be “exposed” as having a USC problem if its champion or 2nd place team had to play the Trojans in LA every year.  (Please note that I wouldn’t trade the Big Ten’s relationship with the Rose Bowl for anything in world since it’s the one BCS bowl outside of the National Championship Game that people actually care about.  My trip to Pasadena following the Illini last year was one of the greatest sports experiences of my life, with the exception of that game thingy.)  If USC didn’t crush its Pac-10 competition every season (outside of the annual obligatory game where they don’t show up against a ridiculously inferior team, which ruins their national championship chances) where some other team from that conference would get to the Rose Bowl, then there likely wouldn’t be a Big Ten drought in that game.

Similar to the USC situation, LSU arguably received an even greater home field advantage with last year’s National Championship Game being played in New Orleans.  Once again, would any team from any other conference have won essentially a road game at LSU in that situation?  SEC fans have earned the right to crow here, but any other conference that throws stones at the Big Ten has to realize that if they had sent a representative to that game, they also would have been crushed.  West Virginia would have received the honors to get thrashed if they had taken care of business against a pathetic Dave Wannstedt-led Pitt team while Missouri would have been the victims if they had beaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game on the last weekend of the regular season.  None of that happened, so Ohio State, whose resume by the end of that weekend consisted of doing to the least wrong of any of the BCS conference champions that season, backed that ass up into the right to play in the title game on the road where they were guaranteed to be huge underdogs.

Finally, Texas was heavily favored to crush Ohio State in last night’s Fiesta Bowl but the Longhorns only salvaged a win because of a Buckeye defensive meltdown in the last 2 minutes of the game.  (By the way, it was fascinating to witness Jim Tressel use the reverse-Tebow technique of using Todd Boeckman to spot Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, where the intent was actually to bring in a traditional pocket passer for one or two plays at a time in order to change the pace from having a running quarterback.  The increasing reliance on spread or spread-esque offenses isn’t necessarily the greatest trend for college football overall, particularly for young QBs that want to reach the NFL, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Once again, I’m not saying that the Big Ten’s performances in BCS bowls have been anywhere near satisfactory.  The Big Ten receives a ton of perks for having teams that draw huge television ratings (the only BCS bowls that have had over a 10.0 rating outside of the National Championship Games since the ACC-spurned conference realignment in 2003 are all of the games that have featured a Big Ten team) and the most national and wealthiest fan base of the BCS, which includes placement in the Rose Bowl (the highest profile bowl) and the other BCS bowls salivating over taking one of the conference’s other teams for an at-large bid.  With that elevated position, the Big Ten is justifiably going to receive more scrutiny when compared to USC or teams from the SEC and the conference’s teams will need to start performing.  I have faith that the Big Ten will bounce back soon enough since conference performance is cyclical, which is often hard to remember in a “What have you done for me lately?” world.  Earlier this decade, the SEC and Big 12 were the conferences being criticized as being weak and without depth.  The Big East was hailed as being back as a power conference two years ago but now is facing calls of not deserving an automatic BCS bid.  The old cliche of “what goes around comes around” is very true in college sports, so the haters out there won’t have the Big Ten to kick around much longer.

(Image from Arizona Republic)

Random Observations on the World of Sports and Frank the Tank’s Football Parlay – New Year’s 2009 Edition

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A few random observations before we get to an expanded edition of this week’s football picks:

  1. The Bears Are Horrible… and the NFC is Even Worse – There was no logical reason for the Bears to have beaten the Packers this past Monday night.  They played as if though they were ready to pack it in for the season as opposed to fighting to keep alive in the playoff race.  Only the Bears have the ability to make me feel like I just drank some paint even while winning football games.  The only saving grace is that the NFC is so horrific (trading the Big 12 South straight up for the NFC West would have made for a much more competitive year) that this mediocre team could still actually host a playoff game if the right things fall into place.
  2. The Illini Basketball Team Actually Has Some Life… and So Does the Rest of the Big Ten – Hope is a dangerous drug.  As I’ve stated in some prior posts, I was more than willing to scrap this current Illinois basketball season as a complete rebuilding project with an aim toward giving Alex Legion ample playing time.  After absolutely crushing Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights Game on Tuesday night, though, the Illini seem to be looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament a year ahead of schedule.  One of these years, Illinois will beat Mizzou in football and then Mizzou will beat Illinois in basketball, upon which I will cardon myself in the basement with a plethora of perishable goods to prepare for the impending destruction of the world.
  3. Bulls Are the Ultimate .500 Team – Has there been a team in recent memory that have hung around the .500 mark with such consistency as this year’s Bulls?  I’m pretty sure they’ve attempted to get to .500 every single time that I’ve watched one of their games this season.  They’re like a baksetball version of an Escher painting.
  4. For the Love of God, Stop Fellating the Celtics – On the complete opposite side of mediocrity, I know that the ESPN criticism in the blogosophere can often be over the top at times, but how many fucking years in a row do they need to put up a fucking daily game-by-game comparison of a hot NBA team’s record versus the 1996 Bulls (and said hot NBA team flames out by the middle of January at the very latest)?  Well, the tizzy around the Celtics’ recent 19-game winning streak has been almost as ridiculous as the inclusion of the 2005 USC Trojans in the infamous “greatest college football team ever” bracket prior to that season’s national championship game (who subsequently lost to Texas).  When an NBA team only has 5 losses at the All-Star Break, then we can start talking about whether a team might beat the Bulls’ single-season record.  If it’s only a month-and-a-half into the season, though, just simmer down and shut the fuck up.  I cannot tell you how much I hate these premature crownings of teams.  Let me move on before I throw my laptop across the room…

On that happy holiday note, let’s get to a super-sized edition of the football picks (home teams in CAPS where applicable):

NFL FOOTBALL PARLAY

  • PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-1) over Dallas Cowboys – In relatively quiet fashion, the Iggles have been as consistent as anyone in the NFC since Donovan McNabb learned about ties in the NFL.
  • Miami Dolphins (+3) over NEW YORK JETS – I’ll admit that all I want to see if Chad Pennington to come in and stuff the team that turned on him so that they could whore themselves for Brett Favre.
  • Chicago Bears (+3) over HOUSTON TEXANS – The bookmakers know that the Bears are horrible, which is how a listless Texans team could be favorites over a club that is still fighting for a legit shot at the playoffs.  Yet, I still think that the Bears will pull this out for a restless Chicago fan base.  Let’s hope that the Giants play their starters long enough (if at all) to do some damage to the Vikings at the same time.

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

Bears Games for the Season: 3-91
Overall Season: 19-20-3

NEW YEAR’S DAY NON-BCS BOWL PARLAY

  • Outback Bowl:  South Carolina Gamecocks (+3.5) over Iowa Hawkeyes – Can I really trust an Iowa team that lost to the Illini to actually cover against a Steve Spurrier-led team in Tampa? NFW.
  • Gator Bowl:  Nebraska Cornhuskers (+3) over Clemson Tigers – The only team that I trust less than Iowa is Clemson.
  • Capital One Bowl:  Michigan State Spartans (+7.5) over Georgia Bulldogs – I truly don’t understand this Georgia team, which was bandied around as one of a handful of national championship contenders at the beginning of the year.  On paper, UGA should be crushing State, but the Big Ten has a pretty good track record against supposedly superior SEC teams in Orlando.  I’ll take the points for Sparty here.

BCS BOWL PICKS

  • Rose Bowl:  Penn State Nittany Lions (+9) over USC Trojans – Chicago has alternately seen temperatures close to zero degrees, traffic debiliating snowfall once the temperature rises into the teens, and then zero-visibility fog as the temperature creeps above freezing over the past THREE days.  This type of setting has made the dark hole of no Pasadena trip to look forward to for the Illini (and me) even more depressing.  I always have an extremely hard time watching a major sports event the year after my favorite team has played in it (i.e. 2006 NCAA Final Four, 2006 World Series, last year’s Super Bowl) and this Rose Bowl will be no exception, particularly with the Illini failing to make any type of bowl at all.  The only thing that warms my heart here is that the Big Ten has its best shot to knock off those USC bastards yet.  Unlike Ohio State earlier this year, the Illini last season, and Michigan two years ago, JoePa’s current squad is anything but a stereotypical plodding Big Ten team – Penn State has as much speed as anyone in the country.  The spread is way too large here with the Nitanny Lions at full strength.
  • Orange Bowl:  Virginia Tech (+2.5) over Cincinnati Bearcats – I’d stay the hell away from this game in the sportsbook in real life.  In theory, Cincy should be much more motivated to be here, particularly since Virginia Tech was just in the Orange Bowl last season.  I’ll go with the established power here, though, only because the Hokies still have an abundance of talent to the point that I’m fairly surprised that they are more than a 1-point underdog.
  • Sugar Bowl:  Alabama Crimson Tide (-10) over Utah Utes – As much as I’d love to see Utah draw blood against the team that was #1 for most of the season, ‘Bama is way beyond the draws that the ’04 Utes and ’06 Boise State respectively received with Pitt and Oklahoma in their Fiesta Bowl non-BCS conference upsets.
  • Fiesta Bowl:  Ohio State Buckeyes (+8.5) over Texas Longhorns – Much like the Rose Bowl spread, there are way too many points to pass up taking here.  Plus, am I the only one in America that didn’t find a single thing wrong with how the Big 12 determined its tie-breaker at the division level?  Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech were all tied for first place in the Big 12 South division with 1 win and 1 loss in head-to-head competition against each other.  It seems to me that having the BCS standings is the next logical tie-breaker (with “logical” being an extremely convulated term in the world of college football) since any conference would want to elevate a team that would have the best chance of getting to the national championship game.  While Texas beat Oklahoma head-to-head, the Longhorns didn’t have any more claim to get a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game than Texas Tech, who beat Texas head-to-head.  I have no clue why there was such a national uproar over a tie-breaking procedure that seemed to actually make a lot of sense considering how the national championship match-up is determined today.  Anyway, the point is that Texas seems to be acting like the ’06 Michigan Wolverines that complained mightily that they didn’t get a re-match with their fiercest rival in Ohio State in the national championship game and then got crushed by a very talented USC team in the Rose Bowl.  I have a strong feeling that Texas is going to put up a massive dud here, too, since Ohio State is anything but a pushover when Beanie Wells is on the field.
  • BCS National Championship Game:  Florida Gators (-3) over Oklahoma Sooners – No one should forget that Florida is going to be playing a virtual home game in Miami in the same manner that LSU had the home field advantage in last year’s national championship game in New Orleans.  At the same time, for all of the national bashing of Ohio State for its high profile stumbles over the past two seasons, they have made it to BCS bowls 6 out of the last 7 seasons (including this year) with 3 victories that includes a national championship (the only two losses coming in the last 2 national championship games).  There isn’t another program other than USC that would trade places with the Buckeyes with that type of record.  Meanwhile, in the last four BCS bowls for Oklahoma, the Sooners were crushed by West Virginia (who was reeling after having just lost its head coach to Michigan) by 20 points in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, was on the wrong end of the classic upset by Boise State in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, got blown out by USC by 36 points in the 2004 Orange Bowl for the national championship (one of the most horrific performances that I’ve ever seen considering the stakes), and was beaten by LSU in the 2003 Sugar Bowl for the national championship.  Jim Tressel looks like Mozart to Bob Stoops’ Salieri when it comes to BCS bowl performances.

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

Illini Games for the Season: 5-6
Overall Season: 19-22-1

Enjoy the games and Happy New Year!

(Image from Washington Post)

It’s Funny Because It’s True: The ESPN College Basketball Fan Casting Call

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I’m normally not one for hyperbole, but the following find from Awful Announcing might very well be the most awesome sports-related story that I’ve come across since starting this blog: the ESPN casting call for college basketball fans representing different schools.  Due to the fact that it’s so over-the-top in its stereotypes and littered with spelling and grammatical errors, you might think that this is an Internet hoax.  However, ESPN contacted Awful Announcing to make it clear that the casting call was being canceled, which meant that the most powerful cable network in the nation really was going to use these parameters to find people to represent various universities (before they got caught, of course).

Let’s see if I would have met the requirements to be Mr. Illini:

[ ILLINOIS ]
MALE. African-American. Young Obama. Think Toofer-the straight-laced, Harvard grad write r from 30 Rock (Keith Powell)

Well, as a half-Chinese/half-Polish guy, it doesn’t look like ESPN believes that I could represent my Illini.  Believe me when I say that Illinois was treated very positively compared to some other schools.  In comparison, let’s take a look at the alma mater of my man crush Derrick Rose:

[ MEMPHIS ]
MALE. What can we say about Memphis? He’s a southern BLACK kid, really culinary and polite. He’s artistic, and draws comic books really well.

As Awful Announcing noted, an “African-American” gets to be a Harvard graduate, while a “BLACK” can draw comic books really well.  I see that ESPN’s casting director really took to heart America’s historic election of a new President last week.  Anyway, I was able to find a surprising starring role that I could fit into:

[ NOTRE DAME ]
MALE He’s an ASIAN kid who is in to all things Notre Dame, ridiculously so. Oh, and he’s always fighting. Every time we encounter him he always has some words or another, be it the faint traces of a black eye, or a scab or whatever. He epitomizes the fightin’ Irish.

As someone that grew up during the Lou Holtz era on the South Side of Chicago (alright, it was the south suburbs, but all North Siders seem to believe that the Chicago area ends at around 57th Street) where every other person was Irish Catholic, I obviously believe that an Asian kid with a black eye “epitomizes the fightin’ (sic) Irish.”  It’s interesting that Notre Dame was the one program that ESPN’s proxies seemed to go out of their way to avoid so many of the school’s stereotypes (well, other than the black eye and scab part), but there was another Midwestern Catholic university where they sincerely nailed it:

[ MARQUETTE ]
FEMALE. Marquette, on a scale of 1-10, she’s a six. A B-, C in every category you can define a person by. Her defining characteristic is you don’t really remember her. You’re not breaking your arm to get to her, but you’re not chewing it off to get away. She does have a winning personality though. Midwest, sweet girl.

Never have truer words have been spoken about Marquette.  (Yes, I’m a DePaul Law alum.)

That was just a mere sampling – 24 schools in all were up for casting and there are many more gems (although ESPN’s lack of a college basketball contract with the Pac-10 has deprived us of roles for USC and Berkeley).  I’m simultaneously mortified that this is not a joke and gleeful that this will live on the interweb forever.

UPDATE: USA Today appears to be the first in the mainstream media to have picked up this story.

(Image from Scream Punch)

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)

A Rosy Trip Despite a Thorny Game

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It’s time to rehash my trip to Pasadena over New Year’s, which was pretty awesome with the exception of the playing of the actual Rose Bowl. The Illini simply still has a talent gap compared to a program at the caliber of USC and it showed. I really didn’t think Illinois necessarily played badly for the majority of plays, but the gravity of our mistakes was too much for any team to overcome. Two fumbles within the red zone on potential touchdown drives certainly will do that to a team. Plus, when USC can mess up a lateral that bounces on the ground and still turn it into a 65-yard gain, you know that the football gods aren’t with you.

As disappointing as it was to get seriously thumped (the hangover from this game was every bit as bad as the Bears loss in the Super Bowl last year), this season was obviously a whole lot more than any rational Illini fan could have ever hoped for. I was hoping for the Motor City Bowl berth back in August, but we ended up at the Grandaddy of Them All in an amazing turnaround story. The Rose Bowl venue itself is spectacular – stepping out of the front gate and seeing the field with the mountains in the background for a college football fan is akin to a baseball fan getting to step into Wrigley Field for the first time. Equally amazing was the Rose Parade. I’ve watched the event on television for years, but it’s difficult to understand the amount of work and detail that goes into each of the floats unless you see it in person. Finally, in the days leading up to the game, nothing was as heartwarming as seeing fellow Illini in orange all around Los Angeles, whether it was on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills (my Hollywood celebrity moment of the trip was my wife and I sitting next to Jon Voight fresh off of his reconciliation with Angelina Jolie at Spago), up in the mountains at the Getty Center, or taking in the rides at Universal Studios. If anyone ever questions why the Rose Bowl insists on inviting Big Ten teams, one only needs to take a look at how its members’ fans simply blanket L.A. every New Year’s. Say what you will about whether we have an answer to the urban legend of “Southern Speed”, but we definitely travel en masse.

Back to the field of play, what’s especially important is that, unlike the Illinois run to the Sugar Bowl in 2001 which was mostly led by players in the their senior seasons, this team will be bringing back much of its core (save for the broad shoulders of J Leman and Rashard Mendenhall) next year. Judging by the demise of the Bears, the lackluster play of the Bulls, the offensive offense of the Illini basketball team and the fact that the White Sox just traded away its entire farm system for, um, Nick Swisher(?), the start of the 2008 Illinois football season is pretty much the next thing that I’ve got to look forward to on the sports front. Looking ahead on the calendar and assuming Chase Daniel is still at the helm at Mizzou, the Illinois-Missouri opener in St. Louis on Labor Day weekend could very well be the most significant non-conference game that the Illini have played since the days of Dick Butkus.

In the end, I got the chance to see my favorite team play in the Rose Bowl, which was very close to one of my most foremost sports dreams coming true. We’ll just need to win the game the next time around to fulfill it.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)