By Mike Hlas
Illinois head football coach Ron Zook, left, talks with linemen Jeff Alle (rear) and Jon Asamoah during Saturday’s 23-17 loss to Western Michigan at Ford Field in Detroit. (AP photo)
“We are at about 19,000 feet. The mountain is at 26,000 feet, and the air is changing a little bit. The air is a little rarer.” — Alabama Coach Nick Saban after his team improved to 10-0 with a 27-21 overtime win at LSU
1. The Wait is On: There is no Game of the Week this week. Which is all right, because next week’s is good enough for two weeks.
It’s 10-0 Texas Tech at 9-1 Oklahoma. Both are idle this week. Both got even more revved up Saturday. Tech routed No. 8 Oklahoma State, 56-20, and Oklahoma obliterated Texas A&M, 66-28.
“We can stop ourselves, and that’s what we try not to do,” said stellar Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree. “But I think probably that’s about the only people who can stop us.”
“We seem to surprise a lot of people other than our team,” added his coach, Mike Leach.
The Red Raiders have scored 479 points. Oklahoma tops even that, with 514. The Sooners held a 66-21 lead over A&M after three quarters in College Station, then released their feet from Aggie throats.
“There are still sportsmanship issues that you do your best to handle,” Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops said. “I just think that’s important. We played hard for three quarters.
“You just have to choose sportsmanship over BCS points. To me, in the end, it’s the right way to play it.”
OU running back Chris Brown didn’t have the same sentiment after his three-touchdown effort.
“You know how the BCS is going right now,” Brown said. “You just can’t win by a nail-biter, unless it’s a very great team you’re playing against. You can get up on a team 35-0 in the first half and fell like, well, the game’s over. Not with us. We want to keep pouring it on.”
2. Dancing in East Lansing: Did you see this coming? Did anyone? The first-place team in the Big Ten on Nov. 11 is Michigan State.
The Spartans are 6-1, a nose in front of 5-1 Ohio State and 5-1 Penn State. They have this week off, then play for at least a share of the Big Ten title Nov. 22 at Penn State. MSU is virtually assured its first January bowl in nine years
Michigan State beat Purdue, 21-7, to set up its showdown in State College.
“We’ve been through a lot together, but I think our greatest moments are ahead of us,” said Spartans senior quarterback Brian Hoyer. “We have an opportunity to do something here that hasn’t been done in a long time.”
MSU head coach Mark Dantonio: “I said last year that we have an opportunity to win every single football game that we come out to. Everything we do — the 80 hours a week you work as a coach — that’s to win, that’s not to stay close.”
3. Bucking Broncos: Can anyone in the Big Ten defeat Western Michigan?
The Broncos of the Mid-American Conference handled Illinois in Detroit, 23-17. WMU quarterback Tim Hiller completed 28 of 40 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
You may remember Hiller torching Iowa for 367 yards and three TDs in Western’s 28-19 win in Iowa City last November.
“He’s a great player, an NFL player, with unbelievable accuracy,” said Illinois Coach Ron Zook.
“My grandfather (Dan Sabino) played for Illinois in 1952 when they won the Rose Bowl,” Hiller said. “He had his jersey and ring in his office. I learned all about Illinois football. That’s why this was so special.”
4. Campbell Mmmm Mmmm Good: The Hlist normally holds pickpockets in the same regard it does Pick ‘Ems.
That’s The Gazette’s Saturday Pick ’ems, a weekly collection of bizarre predictions and even less stable commentary. The Hlist is one of the participants. The Hlist may be a self-Hloather.
But KCRG-TV’s John Campbell predicted this score: Iowa 24, Penn State 23. And that’s no fish tale.
1. Penned In: Penn State’s loss to the Hawkeyes wasn’t welcomed only in Iowa.
“Let’s face it, the majority of the country did not want to see Penn State in the BCS title game,” wrote Stewart Mandel of sportsillustrated.com.
It’s hard to get too down on Penn State. That’s still the best team in the Big Ten, and will be the league’s Rose Bowl representative. Plus, Joe Paterno was more than generous after Saturday’s game.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Iowa,” Paterno said. “The Iowa kids stayed tough, played hard. Their quarterback played a heck of a game for them. . . . And when they turned the ball over for us, we didn’t get the job done. Don’t take anything away from Iowa, OK?”
What becomes a legend most? Grace in a difficult moment, that’s what.
2. Orange Slush: Let’s say you’re the Motor City Bowl, and Illinois finds a way to win one of its last two games to finish 6-6. Do you want the Fighting Illini in your game?
Who is the Motor City Bowl to be picky? Who is the Motor City Bowl to turn up its nose at a team that was in the Rose Bowl last season?
Well, Illinois played in Detroit Saturday, losing to Western Michigan in front of a reported gathering of 12,785. The actual crowd was about half that at 65,000-seat Ford Field, the site of the Motor City Bowl. It is believed to be the smallest crowd to see an Illini game since they hosted Pittsburgh before 9,962 fans in 1945.
“We could have played them naked in a gymnasium (and still lost), said Illinois defensive coordinator Dan Disch.
“We want our seniors to go out with a bang,” said Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn, “but they’re not going out with the bang they expected.”
3. Gophers Burrow Downward: Minnesota was nationally ranked and 7-1. Then it lost successive home games to Northwestern and Michigan, which aren’t exactly Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
“You could tell they didn’t take us seriously,” said Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham after the Wolverines’ 29-7 win at Minnesota. “They weren’t expecting us to smack them in the mouth. They questioned our toughness. They must have thought that we just stopped caring about playing.”
The Gophers stop playing their home games in the Metrodome for good after their season-finale against Iowa. Michigan (3-7) closed its Metrodome history with 12 wins in 12 visits. That’s a dozen times it left the Dome with the Little Brown Jug traveling trophy.
“Michigan needs to get the Little Brown Jug, fill it with cognac, and forget this whole season ever happened.” said Chris Fowler on ESPN’s College Gameday.
“Okay, this time I really mean it: Since Notre Dame clearly can’t hold up its end of the football rivalry, BC really is going to have to drop them from our schedule the way we did Holy Cross.” — Mike Lupica, New York Daily News and Boston College grad.
BC beat Notre Dame, 17-0, for its sixth-straight win over the Irish.
(AP photo of Michigan State’s Javon Ringer)