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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

This past weekend, the University of Illinois Fighting Illini got some measure of redemption from their week one DISASTER in St. Louis. The Illini responded from their 37-9 thrashing at the hands of Missouri to rout FCS opponent Illinois St. 45-17 in Champaign. Granted it was against a lower tier team predicted to finish near the bottom of their vastly inferior conference, but the Illini did without the services of arguably their three if not best, most important, players: QB Juice Williams, WR Arrelious Benn, and LB Martez Wilson. Williams, a Chicago native who’s been tutored by another Chicago product and star quarterback, Donovan McNabb contributed just one series before getting hurt. His injury is not supposed to be extremely serious and his return is key, for the Illini to have a legitimate leader.

Williams spoke about what he learned from working with McNabb. “Keep your head…a majority of quarterbacks know that when things start going on around them, people start talking, things start to tank. It’s just the quarterback mentality to let everything go and just stay focused and go from there,” Williams stated.

His top-flight receiver in a highly heralded corps is Arrelious “Rejus” Benn, a projected top ten pick in the NFL Draft. But his stock is falling because Rejus has been a total non-factor so far. The Illini receivers have been extremely hyped, and if Benn isn’t 100% healthy then other players like Jeff Cumberland, Jarred Fayson, and Tight End Michael Hoohoomanawananuii (have fun with trying to pronounce that) will need to step up big time. illinois

Illini Head Coach Ron Zook also needs to realize who his starting tailback is. It should be Daniel Dufrene, with Jason Ford as a capable back-up, not the other way around. They’ve battled some injuries as well this young season, so they fit right in with the rest of the team.

On the other side of the ball, it comes down to another well-recruited Chicago product, Martez Wilson, who moves over to Middle Linebacker, and needs to be the “quarterback” of the defense.

“The last two, actually the last three years, our Mike linebacker has led the Big Ten in tackles,” Zook said. “I don’t want to put the pressure on him that he’s not doing a good job if he doesn’t lead the Big Ten in tackles, but he’s a guy that a lot of things revolve around him, with our calls and so forth, and it’s going to be important that he has the kind of year that we think he can.” Wilson was also hurt and missed the last game. But Illinois won in impressive fashion, despite all the key missing pieces, which is a good sign. It’s also a good thing they have this week off- to get ready and healthy for mighty Ohio St. on September 26th.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at The Sports Bank, Washington Times, Walter Football.com

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 Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team  If you follow college football, you know by now that Illinois was pretty much the biggest disappointment coming out of the gate in week one. Of course, that’s another story for another post, they’ll get their shot at redemption tonight when they host Illinois State.

More concerning for the Big Ten conference could be the unexpectedly impressive showing by “Directional Michigan,” who gave the conference numerous problems on Saturday. 15 point underdog Central Michigan upset Michigan State 29-27. (Usually, MSU screws up mid-to late season, and dominates in September. Guess they got started early this season)

Eastern Michigan, a 20 point dog to our hometown Northwestern Wildcats, took NU down to the final seconds before junior place-kicker Stefan Demos nailed a 49 yard field goal with 6 ticks left. And Western Michigan lost to Indiana by just four. Maybe it’s a good thing Northern Michigan is a D-II school in the GLIAC conference. And yes, I did have to look that up. And I’m not sure Southern Michigan University exists, but if they did, they’d likely be a thorn in the side of the Big Ten as well. Not that I’m advocating gambling or anything, but who actually ever picks a school that starts with a direction? Other local favorites in this city, Wisconsin and Ohio State, have looked shaky so far too.

There’s an old football saying claiming, “you improve the most as a team from week one to week two.” If true, it could be a long year for the Big Ten, and maybe a very productive year for the MAC (Mid-American Conference).

“To win a game they way that we did is worrisome across the board. We need to execute better in all aspects. It’s easy when you see the ball run the way it was today, to point the finger at the defensive line. But I’m not prepared to do that yet. I need to watch some video. It is disappointing. We should be better than that,” Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the game. To their credit however, they were missing their top DB (CB Sherrick McMannis) and best DT (Adam Hahn). And their best overall player (DE Corey Wootton) may not even be 100% yet.

 

Another positive to take away is the fact that Northwestern posted its seventh straight victory versus a Mid-American Conference foe, and they avoided their traditional early season slip-up at the hands of a vastly less talented team. Beating EMU by 3 in ’09 is a lot better than losing at home to D-1 laughingstock Duke in ’07 or to D-1AA opponent New Hampshire in ’06. So, the program has shown some growth, at least in the month of September.

And please join in the conversation by commenting in my live college football blog here

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

Football season commences in about three weeks, and Chicago is the capital of Big Ten Country, so it’s time to sort the league’s macho men from the weaklings. Of course these rankings are highly subject to change. In-depth previews of Chicago’s two teams (Illinois and Northwestern) coming soon!

1. Ohio State

Once again it’s re-loading, not re-building in Columbus. With Boom Herron filling it for Beanie Wells and a wholILLINIROSEBOWLe slew of new talent filling in at key defensive positions, the scarlet and grey will have a new look this fall. Although the Bucks have looked terrible in January bowls lately, they’re still the class of the league, and look for the “sweater vest” to maintain that.

2. Penn State

Like President Barack Obama said, “it’s not enough to change the players, you have to change the game” and the 82 year old Joe Paterno and his staff have innovated the “Spread HD” enough to make the Nittany Lions consistently win again. QB Darryl Clark, LB Sean Lee and DT Jared Odrick are all ballers, and if this team can find some good replacements at OL and CB, the BCS could come calling.

3. Michigan State

It all depends on how well they replace Javon Ringer. They’ll also be breaking in a new starter at Quarterback, but you can tell the new QB, “Dude, you’re getting a Dell,” WR Mark Dell, one of the best in the league. Throw in an outstanding defense led by Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones, and they’ll be solid.

4. Northwestern

Sure, they have to replace everybody at the offensive skill positions, but the new starter at QB, Mike Kafka, is an upgrade. With a QB rushing record already on his resume, he’s more of a dual threat (and less of an interception risk) than C.J. Bacher. Not to mention the heart and soul of this team (the defense) returns mostly in tact from last year- when they set a school record for stopping the run. And the easy schedule (Towson, Eastern Michigan, no Ohio State or Michigan) just screams ten win season.

5. Iowa

They have some big, dominating corn-fed boys on the O line who can go to-to-toe with just about any front seven. But losing some of their defensive playmakers (and trying to replace RB Shonn Greene with Jewel Hampton) will take its toll. If their Jewel is IGI Certified, not a Cubic Zirconia 8-4 or better looks reasonable.

6. Illinois

A program with no consistency. The orange and blue often falter under high expectations and only seem to thrive when people don’t take them seriously. This fall, projections are mixed, so 7-5 and a third-tier bowl sounds about right. With the combination of QB Isaiah “Juice” Williams and WR Arrelious “Rejus” Benn (go to 7-to-9.com), the offense will shine brighter than the diamond in Juice’s right ear. However, defense was lacking last season, and they lost their best playmakers, so mediocrity is imminent.

For the Full Conference Power Rankings click here

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank

When second place Illinois hosts first place Michigan State on Sunday, the battle for the Big Ten title will be yet another chapter in a decade-long familiar story.

For the past 10 years or so, the Illini and Spartans have met each other at the apex of the conference. In 1998 and 2001, they finished conference co-champions. In the latter season, they both earned #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. In 2005, both programs reached the Final Four. In ’99 and ’00, they met in the conference
tournament title game, in ’06 they squared off in the semifinals. Last season, both reached the Big Ten tourney semis. At 3 p.m. Sunday, the game between #20 Illini (23-6, 11-5) and the #9 Spartans (22-5, 12-3) will be nationally televised.

Click here to read the rest of this post on nbcchicago.com.

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Janelle Rominski, NBC5 Street Team (Video)

The Grammy-nominated rock band, Tonic, reconnected for the first time in five years.  On Saturday night, this Los Angeles-based band played a (very wet) show for the “Blarney Island All Access Pass Presented by Bud Light” concert in north suburban Antioch, hosted by my radio station, 102.3 XLC.

Even with the major rain storm happening all day, the rain stopped when Tonic took the stage.  Some of Tonic’s hit singles and songs performed that night included “If You Could Only See“, “You Wanted More” and “Open Up Your Eyes“.


Slideshow: Tonic Concert Slideshow


Opening for Tonic was local Chicago band, I.R.S. (Independent Rock Society).

Even though Tonic have not played together for a while, all band members have been busy with other projects.

Lead vocalist and guitarist, Emerson Hart released his solo album last year in July titled ‘Cigarettes & Gasoline’. Guitarist and background vocalist , Jeff Russo has been on tour with Matchbox Twenty playing guitars, keyboards and backgroud vocals. Russo has another band he plays in called Low Stars. Bassist, Dan Lavery has been out on tour with The Fray. Tonic’s special guest drummer was Pete Maloney who is the drummer for Dishwalla.

I’ve always been a fan of Tonic, but have never seen them live.  I began liking their music when I was in junior high when “Open Up Your Eyes” and “If You Could Only See” were released on the radio airwaves.  I also continued following their music when their hit single “You Wanted More” was released, when I was in high school (and so on and so forth).

Last Saturday was special because I had one of those “life is sweet” moments.  Little did I know that when I was singing to their tunes over a decade ago, I’d be hanging out with them and letting them know how their music has influenced my life.


Want more Rominski reads? Read more right HERE!

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank

These days, the Spread-Option system is the offense of choice in college football. The last three Champions (LSU, Florida and Texas) all run a version of it, as does a new front-runner for this year’s crystal football trophy, #5 Missouri. The trendy approach is utilized by programs all across the nation, but is also especially prevalent within the Big 10. Both local teams –Illinois and Northwestern– use it; NU even fittingly (and coincidentally) has the phrase “Spread far the fame” in their fight song. Senior skill position players Quarterback C.J. Bacher and Running Back Tyrell Sutton have worked the system productively enough to put themselves on pace to shatter most of the school career rushing and passing records and lead the Wildcats to a 3-0 start. I saw them work the spread on a day when all the elements: steady down pours complementing 96% humidity, did not favor prolific offensive production. The paid attendance was 19,000, but only the die-hards showed up to see NU give Southern Illinois “Purple Nurple,” beating the Salukis 33-7.

The weather was so bad that the dance team had just four “Lady Cats” and the student section numbered less than 100. Luckily, I was comfortably dry in the press box after a commute that required a Wisconsin Dells “Duck” vehicle instead of a car. Flooded roads all over the northern metropolitan area may have halted motorists, but Sutton (17-101, 3 TDs) and Bacher (21-29 passing, 0 INT) had no problem reaching their destinations. “We had the advantage of having some recent experience in conditions like this, and I don’t think it affected us much at all on offense,” Bacher said post-game. “For us to practice wet-ball drills this week was a great advantage for our team,” Sutton added.

Northwestern’s brand of the spread-option relies on a no-huddle and varying the speed that they get the ball off the line of scrimmage. “We know a lot of teams can’t keep up so we try to wear them out during the first series, first quarter, first half and try to play as fast as we can because we condition for it every day. We know a lot of teams aren’t conditioned to come out with the juices flowing, and we try to control the tempo and push the tempo as fast we can,” Sutton added.

For more Chicago sports analysis and discussion click here

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