Illini Football: 2008 Season - Roster Information - History - Future Schedules
Illini Basketball: 2008/09 Season - Scholarship Chart - Depth Chart
NCAA Football: Preseason Rankings - Bowl Tie-Ins
Other UI Sports: Volleyball - Soccer

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Countdown to 2008 - 6 Weeks to go: The changing landscape of college football:

7 Weeks till Kickoff: Recapping 2007
6 Weeks till Kickoff: Changing landscape of college football
5 Weeks till Kickoff: What needs to change about college football
4 Weeks till Kickoff: What to Worry about in '08
3 Weeks till Kickoff: Expectations
2 Weeks till Kickoff: Goals
1 Weeks till Kickoff: Rating our opponents
GAME WEEK: Predictions

Its a common rant,

"What the heck is XXXXX school doing in the Bowl Subdivision".
"Why is XXXXX school moving up to Division I?!"
"XXXXX school needs to move down!"

...and so on.

Answer the following:

Florida is:
  • A state in the southern US.
  • unable to NOT screw up an election.
  • God's waiting room.
  • A state with a an above average demand for electricity.
  • Home of 4 of the 17 largest four-year universities in Division I football.
The correct answer:

All of the above.

Florida is home to some very large schools, and some very large football programs.

Lets try another:

This school is the 6th largest school in NCAA Division I football. They play in a brand new stadium, average 44,000 fans per game, lost to Texas by only 3 points at home last year, and have been to a bowl game 2 of the last 3 seasons.

The school? The University of Central Florida.

Not bad for a school that is ready to begin its 13th season of Bowl Subdivision football.

The landscape of college football is changing. At one point last season, South Florida possiby was a contender for the National Title. USF's first football game EVER was a 80-3 win over Kentucky Wesleyan, in 1997. The 49,292 people that showed up for the inaugural game in Houlihan Stadium was the largest crowd to witness a USF game until last fall.

To say the landscape of college football is changing might be a bit disingenuous, it has always been changing. When Memorial Stadium was built Illinois was striving to match the facilities of east coast powers like Yale and Penn. Army and Navy were forces in the world of college football until the post-WWII years when recruiting and more demanding competition made it impossible for the service academies to be National Championship contenders.

The power base of football in the United States has undoubtedly shifted though, and changes to the composition of Division I football is starting to reflect that.

For the most part, colleges in Division I football can be sorted into the following categories:
  1. Land-grant colleges or large public institutions founded before the 1880's. (most of the Big Ten, Florida, Virginia, California, etc..) These schools are typically BCS-conference schools.
  2. Private institutions in BCS leagues that have been rivals with larger schools for many years (Notre Dame, Duke, Vandy, Northwestern, USC)
  3. Smaller regional schools founded in the late 1800's or early 1900's. (North Texas, Louisiana-Lafayette, Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, etc). These schools are either in mid-major leagues like the Sun Belt, MAC, WAC, or are FCS.
  4. Land-Grant schools formed in southern states post-civil war for African-Americans during Segregation (Florida A&M, Grambling, etc...) these schools are all in the MEAC or SWAC conferences in FCS football.
  5. Small Private schools in FCS, alot of whom are in non-scholarship football (like the Pioneer League)
  6. Baby-Boomer schools. Schools either founded during the post-war years or smaller schools that were significantly expanded to meet the demands of the GI Bill, and the baby boomer generation.
What we saw in the last couple years, and will continue to see, is the rise of schools from obscurity into the established ranks of Bowl Subdivision college football. What was noted above, and is important to distinguish, is the difference between smaller schools who have always been mid-major schools, and rapidly growing universities that are bursting onto the national stage.

Schools like Louisiana-Monroe, which is located in upstate Louisiana with 7,200 students, or Wyoming, which is in the least populated state in the Union, aren't going to be competing for BCS games anytime soon. They just aren't. But schools like San Diego State (founded 1897, rapidly growing, tied with Illinois and Wisconsin for #38 in the Nation in last year's US News College Rankings) very well could.

The Sun Belt Conference, which is right now the weakest conference in the nation, could very well see a surge in the next few years. FIU and FAU are both building new stadiums, and schools like North Texas, Troy, and South Alabama are rapidly growing. The national population shift to Sun Belt states is starting to seep into the composition of division I football. Sun Belt schools have the benefit of being close to the talent.

These schools (USF was founded in 1955, UCF in 1963, FAU in 1964, and FIU in 1965) are all young colleges, but collectively have 155,751 students. Many of these post-war schools are evolving slowely from being essentially glorified community colleges to large public universities. Sure, they are communter schools, but they have less stringent entrance requirements, are located in large urban areas (great potential for exposure), and are investing quite a bit into their growing football programs.

What does this mean for the Big Ten? Directly, probably not a whole lot. Illinois, with a good coach, will still be an attractive destination, and will be able to recruit fairly well regionally and nationally. There is still plenty of talent in the upper midwest and northeast. As schools like USF and UCF become "acceptable" destinations for talented players to attend, it could put a squeeze on northern programs trying to import southern talent. The schools that could really be affected by talent and population shifts would be smaller schools who are, and have been, stuck in the lower tier of Bowl football.

Some General Predictions:
  1. Central Florida could very well see itself in the Big East in a couple years. the BEast needs football schools, UCF in the league means a natural rival for USF, and if scheduled properly, a guaranteed trip to florida each year for the other 7 Big East Schools.
  2. The Sun Belt and Conference USA might trade teams in the next few years. With a couple sun belt schools growing fast and putting alot of resources into football, and a couple CUSA programs barely keeping their head above water, we might see some changes.
  3. The MAC isn't going to like what happens when more and more kids start staying home to play for Sun Belt schools.
  4. Schools like Buffalo, Temple, Louisiana-Lafayette, and others are going to really have to question whether or not its worth it to continue playing football, or continue playing football in the FBS subdivision.
No changes in Bowl Football this year.

In the Championship Subdivision:
- North Dakota State and South Dakota State Universities join the newly named "Missouri Valley Football Conference" (nee: Gateway Conference).

- North Dakota and South Dakota (note the absence of the word "state") join the Great West Football Conference this fall to replace NDSU and SDSU... they are in the process of moving up from Division II.

New programs:
Remember when Title IX was supposed to be the end of small college football? Well, Title IX has certainly taken its toll on college wrestling and other sports, but college football is making a comeback.

Most ironic of them all is Western Kentucky, which actually cites moving from the former I-AA to Bowl Subdivision football as a way to GAIN Title IX compliance.

some recent and up coming additions to the world of college football:

- Western Kentucky is in the final transitional year of its move from Championship to Bowl Subdivision Football. The Hilltoppers will be the ninth football member of the Sun Belt conference in 2009.

- Also in the Sun Belt, the University of South Alabama will be starting a football program next fall in the Football Championship Subdivision. They hope be a FBS team in the Sun Belt in the fall of 2013.

- Campbell University (home of the Fighting Camel's) will reinstate football this fall as a non-scholarship Pioneer League program.

- Georgia State University, which has 27,000 students, will begin playing football in 2010. They will play in the Colonial Athletic Association with home games in the Georgia Dome.

- Old Dominion University will start up a football program next year, playing Colonial Athletic Association.

- Lamar University in Texas is expected to bring back its football program it dropped in 1989. The team will begin play in 2010 or 2011.

- The University of Texas at San Antonio has seriously considered adding football. The team would play its games at the Alamo Bowl. They hope to start in the FCS in the fall of 2010 or 2011.

More postseason bids...
The NCAA recently voted to expand the Division I Football Championships from 16 to 20 teams, giving the Big South and the Northeast Conference automatic bids into the NCAA tournament, and giving 2 more at-large schools entrance into the tournament.

At the same time, two new bowl games will be played in 2008/09, with the Congressional Bowl and the St. Petersburg Bowl being added. The Congressional Bowl, which will be played at Nationals Stadium, will have Navy (if eligible), Army, or a MAC team face off against an ACC opponent The St. Petersburg Bowl will have a Conference USA vs. Big East match up.

While the Big Ten dropped the ball by failing to get an additonal bowl game, either of these games could very well have open slots this winter, which may help the Big Ten indirectly should 10 schools become eligible again this fall.

2007 Recap, continued:

Week 3:
Illinois (1-1) @ Syracuse (0-3, would finish 2-10, 1-6)
Win 41-20 (Carrier Dome - Syracuse, NY - 34,188) - Video - Box Score

The 1-1 Illini headed to New York state for a showdown with hapless Syracuse. This was the final game of a two game series between Illinois and the "Orange". In 2006, the Illini lost 31-21 in Memorial Stadium, giving up 17 points in the 3rd quarter before Isiah Williams cemented his role as the starting QB for the Illini by throwin 2 long touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.

It was pretty clear heading into the game that Syracuse, was, well... aweful. Their first game of the year was a 42-12 throttling at the hands of Washington, and they followed it up with a 35-0 loss at Iowa. If Illinois was going to ever move out of the basement of college football, this was the day to do it.

Illinois started fast. The first drive was a beautifully executed 6 play 70 yard dash where Juice went 4-4 for 41 yards, including a 22 yard lob to Jeff Cumberland to give the Illini an early 7-0 lead just 2:04 into the game. Illinois would force Syracuse to go 3 and out twice before a 9 play 45 yard drive gave the Illini a 14-0 lead. The Illini defense kept Syracuse from getting anything accomplished for the rest of the first half, and the Illini marched into the lockerroom with a 17-0 lead.

After a rather unmemorable botched onside kick attempt, Syraucse managed a 44 yard field goal to make the game 17-3. Illinois then explodesd scoring a field goal and then 3 touchedowns on their next 4 possession to put the game away for good. 10 points by Syracuse in the final 4:28 made a 41-10 game a slightly less embarassing 41-20, but the Illini accomplished something they had not done in a long time, thouroughly beat the crap out of on opposing team. Furthermore, they did it on the road, and in a dome no less.

At the end of the game Illinois had accumulated 508 yards of offense, with 378 of them coming on the ground. Juice only passed for 97 yards, but he was a very effective 13-18 with no INT's and no sacks. Illinois so thouroughly dominated Syracuse in the trenches that we really didn't need to pass the ball at all. On defense the Illini gave up only 63 yards on the ground to Syracuse. The Orange managed to pass for 223 on 19-29 passing plays.

Week 4:
Illinois (2-1) @ Indiana
Win 27-14 (Memorial Stadium - Bloomington, IN - 34,707) - Video - Box Score

Another big game for the Illini. Illinois, fresh of its second road win in 4+ years needed to shake another demon: opening weekend of the Big Ten season. Not since 1993 had Illinois started the Big Ten season with a win.

(on a personal note, the last time I had been in attendance to witness Illinois defeat a FBS opponent was September 10, 2005, when we beat San Jose State 40-19, *shudder*)

After trading turnovers to start the game, Illinois moved the ball well, but couldn't finish a drive, as the Illini had to settle for 45 and 38 yard kicks from Jason Reda to lead 6-0 at the end of the First Quarter.

Once again, Illinois ran the ball very effectively (288 yards on the ground, 214 from Rashard Mendenhall). Once again, the passing game left something to be desired. Unlike the week before when Illinois didn't need to pass, against Indiana the passing game was just not very good. Juice finished 13-28 with 2 INT's and 2 TD's. To be fair, the Illinois receivers didnt' help much, most notably when Joe Morgan (correct me if I'm wrong) failed to catch a sure-fire touchdown pass late in the 3rd quarter that would have iced the game.

Ultimately, the game was won in the trenches. Rashard Mendenhall was awarded Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for his 214 yard, 2 touchdown (1 rushing, 1 receiving) performance, while Will Davis was awarded Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors for sacking Kellen Lewis 4 times. Illinois threw Lewis into the turf 7 times, holding the star QB to just 35 yards net rushing (including 58 yards lost). On plays where IU gained ground the Hoosiers racked up 198 yards rushing, but finished the game with a net of 134 yards on the ground, and 263 yards passing. The Hoosiers ultimately outgained Illinois 397-386, but a Vontae Davis interception, 3 lost fumbles, and a blocked punt killed any chance Indiana had in this game.

Also during the game, Freshman Troy Pollard tore his ACL, ending his season. Pollard, who ran for 32 yards, and had 97 yards against Syracuse the week before, was able to receive a Medical Redshirt and will be a RS Freshman this fall for the Illini.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Hey FI07, Squirrel here. Great stuff on UCF and the geography of college football. I have linked up to your blog at my site, .

One thing I've found fascinating in some of my own research on Bradley is the geographic, demographic, and economic changes in college athletics.