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Illinois' Turner might be out after third losing season in row

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  • Illinois' Turner might be out after third losing season in row

    Nov. 21, 2004
    SportsLine.com wire reports

    EVANSTON, Ill. -- Illinois coach Ron Turner said repeatedly he hopes to stay. His players all want him to come back.

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    Now it's Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther's turn to have his say.

    After weeks of silence, Guenther could announce as early as Monday whether Turner will come back for a ninth season or be fired with two years left on his contract.

    "Of course I'm concerned," Turner said after the Illini's 28-21 overtime loss to Northwestern left them 3-8, their third straight losing season.

    "Ron and I will get together the next couple of days and talk. We really haven't talked much about it," Turner said. "We talked about the Northwestern game, we talked about preparing to win, going out there to try to win. We will get together next time, whenever, the next day or two."

    Turner took the Illini to the Sugar Bowl and a final No. 12 ranking just three seasons ago. But since then, Illinois is 9-26 and has won only one of its last 15 Big Ten games.

    The Illini are 35-37 in Turner's eight years and have had just two winning seasons. They've finished last in the Big Ten the past two seasons.

    "We definitely made progress, no doubt about it," Turner said. "Not enough to get the record where we want to get it, but we definitely made progress. We are a better team now. We are a lot better team defensively.

    "We have made progress and we have a lot of very good young players," he added. "They are going to be outstanding in the future."

    Guenther never said how many games Turner had to win to keep his job, only that he wanted to see progress from the Illini. Granted, Illinois won two more games than it did last year, but one was against Florida A&M, a Division I-AA team.

    The Illini were certainly more competitive. They were in the game against then-No. 15 Purdue until late in the fourth quarter and led then-No. 14 Michigan at halftime. But they were blown out by Minnesota, then lost to Iowa.

    They dominated Northwestern for all but two minutes of Saturday's game, but all their momentum evaporated when Jeff Backes returned a punt 73 yards for a score that tied the game at 21. The Illini missed a last-second field goal attempt, and then played in overtime like a team that was already beaten.

    "It's disappointing," Turner said. "We had a chance to finish it, we had chances to get a win. And we as a football team -- all of us, players and coaches -- didn't get it done."

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    But the players insist Turner isn't to blame for the Illini's struggles. He's been upbeat and worked as hard as ever, linebacker Matt Sinclair said. In fact, when Sinclair went to get treatment at 6 a.m. last week, he found Turner had beaten him there.

    "If he didn't think he was coming back, I don't know if he would be there at 6 o'clock in the morning two days before his last game," Sinclair said.

    Part of Illinois' problem is youth. Against Northwestern, the Illini started a freshman and two sophomores on the offensive line, and two freshmen on the defensive line. Running backs Pierre Thomas and E.B. Halsey are sophomores, while leading receiver Kendrick Jones is a junior. Free safety Justin Harrison and cornerback Charles Bailey Jr. are freshmen.

    But the Illini have changed quarterbacks more than players change jerseys. Illinois used three QBs this year -- even all in the same game once -- and it's hard to get any rhythm when the guy calling the plays is always changing.

    Interest in the program is also lagging. Attendance at Illinois' seven home games this season averaged 48,626 in 69,249-seat Memorial Stadium.

    "We have the utmost respect for Coach Turner," punter Steve Weatherford said. "If he doesn't come back, that will be a big blow to the program, I think."

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  • DJRamFan
    Missouri's promising season turns miserable after four defeats
    by DJRamFan
    Nov. 17, 2004
    SportsLine.com wire reports

    COLUMBIA, Mo. -- One miserable month has wiped away all the promise Missouri started with this season.

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    The Tigers (4-5) have lost four straight and the star running back and the father of the star quarterback have questioned the play calling.

    Coach Gary Pinkel's mid-major background, his perceived stubbornness and his apparent decision to transform Brad Smith into a dropback passer have all come into question.

    With two games left, it's hard to believe this team began the season with the grand expectations of a Heisman Trophy contender and a No. 17 preseason ranking.

    "It's been a tough month," Pinkel said.

    Pinkel appeared to have accomplished the big turnaround last season, leading the Tigers to a 7-5 record and an appearance in the Independence Bowl -- their first postseason appearance in five years and only the third in 20 years. Near the end of last season he signed a contract extension through 2008.

    Even earlier this year, it looked like Missouri, as the school advertising slogan goes, was "on the move."

    Missouri began the year 4-1, the only blemish a 10-point loss at lightly regarded Troy in Week 2. That was the first in a series of collapses threatening the season.

    The Tigers scored two quick touchdowns at Troy, then nothing. They ran out to a 17-0 lead against Oklahoma State before losing by three at home, and in their last game two weeks ago they were poised to end an 11-game losing streak against Kansas State with a 21-0 second-quarter lead that also evaporated in a 35-24 loss.

    "If we were playing two halves, I don't think we'd be having a problem," offensive tackle Scott Paffrath said. "That's what's so disappointing about the way we've played. It's not like we've gotten beat, we've let these games go."

    Behind the scenes, things were going just as poorly. Running back Damien Nash was suspended for a loss at Nebraska after remarks about play-calling were overheard by a reporter. Smith's dad, Phillip Smith, telephoned a Kansas City radio show to complain some more about philosophy and memorably said that Pinkel had the personality of a "dill pickle."

    Potentially more harmful, Pinkel snapped recently at members of a booster club, people who might be able to influence his future. He's consistently been curt with the media.

    This week he's seemed more accepting of the firestorm surrounding his program, although he went on the offensive in some aspects. He attempted some spin when he said Saturday's game against border rival Kansas was perhaps more important than a bowl trip and improbably, a possible Big 12 title game appearance, that still hang in the balance despite a 2-4 conference record....
    -11-18-2004, 12:46 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Northwestern needs to win out to go bowling
    by DJRamFan
    Nov. 15, 2004
    SportsLine.com wire reports

    EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern goes into its annual game against in-state rival Illinois after a disheartening loss to Michigan and needing a victory just to qualify for a bowl game.

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    Sound familiar? It should.

    "Ironically, we find ourselves in the same place we were in a year ago," coach Randy Walker said Monday. "I don't want to dwell on things that are in the future. But we do find ourselves, ironically, in the same place we were a year ago. Almost exactly. So OK, we've been here before. We know how to handle this."

    Northwestern beat Illinois last year to even its record at 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game. This year, the Wildcats need seven wins to be bowl-eligible because they play a 12-game schedule. So at 5-5 (4-3 Big Ten), the Wildcats have to beat Illinois and Hawaii or they'll be staying home for the holidays.

    Though Walker has preached the "one-game-at-a-time" mantra all season, he broke his own rule at the team meeting Sunday night. Some of his coaches had said he shouldn't even bring up a bowl game, but Walker decided to spell out the different scenarios just so his team knew exactly what was at stake.

    Northwestern could win out and qualify for a bowl. It could win its last two games, finish a bowl-eligible 7-5 and not be invited anywhere.

    Or the Wildcats could lose one or both of the last two games and have to watch bowl games from their couches.

    "I ended with a question. I asked them: `What are we playing for?"' Walker said. "I really went into the Michigan game believing we could win the Big Ten championship. ... But we didn't. We've got to let that go. There are still a lot of things left to play for."

    And the Wildcats are well aware of what they are, even without Walker's speech.

    Northwestern got off to a rocky start this year, losing three of its first four games, including a 48-45 heartbreaker in double overtime at TCU. But the Wildcats turned their season around with a milestone upset of then-No. 7 Ohio State. Since then they've won three of their last five, including another upset of then-No. 17 Purdue and their first victory at Penn State.

    Thanks to a quirky season, the Wildcats still had a remote chance at a share of the Big Ten title going into last weekend's game at Michigan. But Michigan pulled away in the third quarter, turning what had been a close game into a 42-20 rout.

    The loss eliminated Northwestern from Big Ten contention, and made the last two games must-wins for a bowl trip.

    "It was one of those things where we almost had the momentum," Noah Herron said. "It was coming to us and we really just didn't grasp it. It was unfortunate. But at the same time,...
    -11-16-2004, 07:49 AM
  • DJRamFan
    Purdue's dream season becomes a nightmare
    by DJRamFan
    Oct. 31, 2004
    SportsLine.com wire reports

    EVANSTON, Ill. -- Three short weeks ago, Purdue and Kyle Orton were on the verge of one of those magical seasons.

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    The Boilermakers had climbed to No. 5 in the country, their best start in almost 60 years, and fans were thinking Orange Bowl, not the Rose Bowl. Orton was on the fast track to the Heisman Trophy, piling up touchdowns and yardage with dizzying ease.

    Now Orton's starting job is in jeopardy and the Boilermakers are in shambles, on the wrong end of a three-game losing streak and wondering how things became so bad, so fast.

    "We're disappointed. We're trying to get a win, we're trying to play well," Orton said after being benched in Purdue's latest loss, a 13-10 upset at Northwestern on Saturday afternoon that dropped the Boilermakers out of the Top 25.

    "We just have to get a win and try to get back on track."

    But what derailed the Boilermakers (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) in the first place?

    Purdue looked almost invincible as it raced out to a 5-0 start. Orton threw 18 touchdown passes in those first five games, and the high-octane offense churned out more than 500 yards and 45 points a game. The young defense looked as nasty as its predecessor, which sent seven players to the NFL.

    But something happened in that fifth game. The Nittany Lions clamped down tight on Purdue's receivers, clutching and grabbing and getting as close to pass interference as they could without drawing a flag. Purdue still won 20-13, but other teams now had a blueprint for how to attack the Boilermakers.

    Wisconsin did it to perfection two weeks ago, smothering the receivers and harassing Orton all afternoon. When he fumbled late in the fourth quarter, the Badgers scooped it up and returned it for the game-winning touchdown. Michigan was equally tough, allowing top receiver Taylor Stubblefield only one catch and limiting Orton to 213 yards passing.

    Northwestern wasn't supposed to be nearly so difficult. Not only had Purdue won its last seven against Northwestern, but the Wildcats were giving up more yardage in the air than a frequent-flier program.

    "We were thinking coming in we were going to throw the ball down the field," Orton said.

    Instead, the Wildcats (4-4, 3-2) made Orton look ordinary. Hobbled by an aching left hip flexor -- not to be confused with the right hip pointer he suffered against Michigan -- Orton had his worst day of the season and was yanked for Brandon Kirsch late in the third quarter.

    Orton was just 15-of-33 for 143 yards. He also threw an interception and had a fumble in the first quarter that set up Northwestern's first score.

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    "I couldn't...
    -11-01-2004, 09:44 AM
  • DJRamFan
    I-AA No. 1 Southern Illinois Tries to Stop Upset Bug
    by DJRamFan
    Salukis bring balanced offense on the road.

    Sept. 23, 2004

    By Scott Mees
    www.SIUSalukis.com

    CARBONDALE, Ill.- The Southern Illinois University football team returns to Delaware on Saturday.

    No, not to face the team that dominated it in the first round of last season's Division I-AA playoffs -- that rematch could happen later this year.

    This time, the top-ranked Salukis will take on the Delaware State Hornets at Alumni Stadium in Dover, Del., at noon (central time).

    "We're going on the East Coast to a place we haven't played," said SIU head coach Jerry Kill.

    SIU (2-1) is coming off a lopsided 59-9 victory over William Penn, in which most of its starters were on the bench by halftime.

    The Hornets (0-3), on the other hand, have a record of 1-13 since the beginning of the 2003 season. Delaware State was picked to finish last in both Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference 2004 preseason polls.

    Nevertheless, Kill is not underestimating his team's opponent, or the environment it may face.

    "You never know what's going to happen," Kill said. "You've just got to be prepared."

    Kill referred to (then No. 15) Western Illinois' loss at Hampton last weekend as a prime example.

    "It could rain," Kill said. "There are too many things you can't control in football."

    Running back Terry Jackson's playing status was still questionable as of Tuesday evening.

    "Terry practiced today," Kill said. "I don't know if he'll play or not, but he seems to be better."

    The Saluki head coach is pleased with all aspects of how his offense is performing.

    "We are about as balanced as we've ever been, since I've been here," Kill said.

    Kill added that he is happy with the efficiency of the passing game.

    "We're throwing the ball equally, as well as running it," Kill said. "We're throwing the ball very well."

    Through three games, SIU quarterback Joel Sambursky is 37-for-55 passing the ball. The junior has thrown four touchdowns and just one interception. Brent Little leads the team in receptions with 10 for 181 yards. Quorey Payne has five catches, but averages a whopping 29 yards per reception.

    The Saluki backfield continues to get more crowded as freshman Craig Turner is now in the mix. Turner -- in his debut -- led the Salukis with 93 yards rushing in the William Penn game. Arkee Whitlock added 89 yards, and Brandon Jacobs chipped in with 63.

    Freshman wide receiver Phil Goforth remains a couple of weeks away from playing, according to Kill.

    As far as a plan of attack goes, Kill said the Salukis would take what the defense gives them.

    "Hopefully,...
    -09-23-2004, 12:12 PM
  • DJRamFan
    D-II: The celebration continues
    by DJRamFan
    Author: Anthony Gagliano
    Publication Date: 2004-12-13



    By Anthony Gagliano

    [email protected]


    VALDOSTA –– Vincent Brown knew the exact moment when the Valdosta State Blazers morphed from title contenders to champions.

    “We were down 24 points to Albany State and at halftime we went into the locker room and the seniors talked,” the junior running back said. “And then, we came out to play. That was the turning point. That’s when we all came together.”

    VSU returned home Sunday afternoon for the first time as the Division II national champion a day after subduing Pittsburg State 36-31.

    Brown may have been anxious to be a champion, but he was caught off guard by the hundreds of fans waiting for the team when the buses returned to campus.

    “I didn’t know it would be this big,” Brown said.

    Players signed autographs and posed for pictures, while taking in plenty of congratulations. The jovial atmosphere reflected a group that prided itself all year on having fun and creating a family-like unity.

    “It’s such a great group of guys off field, and of course, you know what they can do on the football field,” Hatcher said. “It’s a very close group that had a lot of fun. They were a great team to coach just because of their enthusiasm.”

    The victory culminated a four-year pursuit for 19 seniors, but Hatcher has been trying to bring a title to Valdosta for much longer than that.

    In his previous nine seasons at VSU, including four as a player and one as an assistant, Hatcher had won 81 games, but never the last game of the season.

    “It still really hasn’t sunk in yet that the season’s over with,” Hatcher said.

    But, it’s never really finished. Hatcher will start watching recruiting tapes today as he tries to replace a starting quarterback and tailback, plus three linemen on each side of the ball.

    Half of next year’s secondary will be new starters and both kickers will have to be replaced.

    Yet, Hatcher couldn’t help but relish the thought of a repeat.

    “It was tough to get this far, but I want to shoot for it again,” he said. “We’re going to have the same goals.”

    On Sunday, next year could wait. For the players who completed their VSU careers on the field in Florence, Ala., on Saturday, it was the perfect ending.

    “Somebody told me early in the game, they said, ‘Could you imagine what it would be like if your last play of football was victory?’” senior center Leighton Cooley said. “To know you’ve won the national championship.”
    -12-13-2004, 09:52 AM
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