Illini offense shows improvement in loss

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Illini offense shows improvement in loss

CHAMPAIGN Its easy to play the what if game after aloss like Illinois 31-17 defeat at the hands of Indiana on Saturday.

What if Illinois had not committed two personal fouls?

What if the Illini had recovered those two turnovers,instead of the Hoosiers?

Things like that make you look snake bit, Illinoisoffensive coordinator Chris Beatty said. You cant have turnovers andpenalties keep drives going. Those things are the difference between good teamsand teams trying to get to that level.

Certainly, the game would have been much different if thingshad broken Illinois way more frequently. But the news from Memorial Stadium onSaturday was not all bad.

After one half of play Illinois had 14 first downs doubletheir output in the entire Michigan game. Illinois finished the game with 196yards rushing a new season-high. Sophomore running back Donovonn Young had125 yards on 21 rushes besting his previous career best by 25 yards. DariusMillines had five catches for 80 yards a season best by 26 yards.

Of course, these accomplishments were hard to focus on inthe face of a homecoming loss (and Indianas first road Big Ten win in fouryears). But, mired in a disheartening stretch of five consecutive losses, thepositive offensive output is proof these Illini have the ability to compete inthe Big Ten conference.

We have a lot of young guys on the team and those guys aregetting better every week, Beatty said. At some point those freshmen arejuniors and will be older, as opposed to always being the young team. Thoseguys are getting better and we have to keep developing them.

Prior to the Indiana game, the Illinois coaching staff sawweaknesses in the Hoosiers run defense they felt they could exploit. TheIllini went hard after their opponent early in the game and found success:after the first quarter Illinois had already racked up 74 yards on the ground.

Young made a statement after Illinois loss to Wisconsinthat he wanted to see the running backs getting more touches. On Saturday hegot his wish and made the most of it. He felt good about the teams runningplay as a whole after the game, and believes it can lead to better things downthe road.

We got the ball in the right peoples hands and we movedthe ball. The offensive production looked a lot better than in past weeks, thesophomore running back said. I feel like this is a great stepping stone forus. We see that we can move the ball, so definitely we will come back and workhard.

Illinois early rushing success allowed the team to lookdownfield, as well, with the primary beneficiary being Millines. The juniorcredited his running backs for allowing him to get space to make catches.

The run game was great, and I was doing my best to findareas where I could see Nate Scheelhaase, quarterback and I knew he could seeme, Millines said.

Scheelhaase ended up throwing for 176 yards and onetouchdown, complementing the teams impressive run game. Illinois outgainedIndiana in both rushing and passing.

Still, being unable to match Indiana on the scoreboard stungthe Illini deeply especially on homecoming.

This is very frustrating, Millines said. But werestaying together. Wins are going to come if we just keep fighting. We need tostay together and keep fighting.

If Illinois can continue to produce offensive like they didagainst Indiana, it stand to reason wins will come for the team. But, successis not an overnight phenomenon according to head coach Tim Beckman.

You want success to happen fast, just like everybodyelse. You want to be successful as fast as you possibly can, but right now,were not, Beckman said. Weve got to evaluate things againand create thingsthat can help our players be successful and this program be successful.

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

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USA TODAY

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

There were six teams deserving of reaching the College Football Playoff this season. But there were only four spots.

But what if there were more spots?

An expansion of the Playoff field to eight teams has seemed inevitable from the day the four-team system was announced. Four more Playoff games means oodles more TV viewers, which means oodles more dollars.

And then we wouldn't be having all these arguments, either — but that's nonsense because of course we would, trying to figure out who got snubbed from the expanded bracket.

But this season's emphasis on the conference-champion debate might kick the efforts to expand the Playoff into high gear. Just take it from NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Now, technically speaking, there are 10 FBS conferences, each of which crowns a champion at the end of every football season. Emmert is obviously referring to the Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. He might want to pick his words a bit more carefully, considering he represents the other five conferences — the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt — too, but his point remains understood.

This season has sparked a ton of controversy as the Playoff selection committee opted for the first time to include a team that did not win its conference, Ohio State, and it picked the Buckeyes over the Big Ten champs, Penn State. Plus, Big 12 champion Oklahoma was passed over in favor of non-champion Ohio State, too, actually falling behind another non-champion from the Big Ten, Michigan, in the final Playoff rankings.

With that decision brought the reasonable question of how much a conference championship should matter in getting a team into the final four and competing for a national championship.

The Playoff committee's mission is to pick the country's four best teams, and there aren't many people out there that will argue that Ohio State isn't one of the country's four best teams. But there's something to be said for winning a conference championship because if the Buckeyes can waltz into the Playoff without even playing in the Big Ten title game, why even have a conference championship game — besides, obviously, earning one more night of big-time TV money.

And so the call for an expanded Playoff bracket has reached perhaps its greatest volume in the short time the Playoff has existed. The obvious solution to Power Five conference champions continually being boxed out is to lock in five spots on the bracket for the five conference champions. Then, guarantee a spot for the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, and you're left with two "at-large" spots that this season would've gone to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the highest-profile programs in the country sure to drive TV viewership in battles against conference-champion Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma teams. And P.J. Fleck's undefeated Western Michigan squad takes the final slot.

That's quite the field. But if you think it would've solved all this year's problems, you're wrong. Still there would've been outcry that red-hot USC didn't make the field. The Trojans are playing so well that they could very well win the whole thing, despite their three early season losses. That debate over snubs will exist forever, no matter the size of the field, something we see play out each and every season in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Also, what a damper an expanded bracket would put on the final few weeks of the regular season. Ohio State's game against Michigan, the highest-rated game of the college football season with more than 16 million people watching, would've been effectively meaningless. No matter who won or lost, both teams would've made that eight-team field, right?

Additionally, another round of Playoff football would expand the season to 16 games for some teams. That means more physical demands on student-athletes and a season cutting deep into January, which would impact their educational and time demands.

But again, an expansion of the Playoff bracket has always seemed inevitable. There's too much money to be made, and at the same time fans seem to be all about that idea. People love the postseason for good reason, and the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs make those games the most-watched sporting events of the year.

Now the NCAA president is chiming in with hopes of an expanded field. So really isn't it just a matter of time?

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

CSN's Chris Boden and Tracey Myers have the latest on the Blackhawks in the Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

From an injury standpoint, it's been a tough few weeks for the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are down two key players in captain Jonathan Toews and goaltender Corey Crawford, and now may be without defenseman Brent Seabrook who sustained an upper-body injury in Tuesday's victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

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While the Blackhawks haven't had much luck on the injury front, their upcoming two opponents are in the same boat.

"You look at the New York Rangers, a very talented team, but this is what every team goes through every season. Your depth gets tested," Myers said.

Check out what else Boden and Myers had to say about the team's upcoming matchups in this week's Honda Road Ahead