The Decade In College Sports

The 2010s have drawn to a close and its time to take a look back at the previous decade.  Today, we are wrapping things up with college athletics, specifically football and basketball.  On the gridiron, this was not a particularly successful ten years for the boys in gold and black, with only 4 bowl games, none of which were particularly prestigious.  Things were considerably brighter on the hardwood, with 8 appearances in the NCAA tournament, including 2 losses in the Sweet Sixteen and 1 Elite Eight appearance.  Not to mention 2 Big Ten regular season titles.

I only managed to take in 3 football game over the past 10 years, all at Ross-Ade Stadium.  The home team managed to win only the first of those, and were frankly somewhat embarrassed in the other two.

Team Records
Team Won Loss Winning Percentage
Northern Illinois Huskies 1 0 1.000
Illinois Fighting Illini 1 1 0.500
Purdue Boilermakers 1 2 0.333

Things were a little better on the basketball side.  I made it to 9 different contests over the course of the decade, at 5 different arenas.  Of those 9, 4 were tournament games.  Purdue was involved in 8 of the 9 games, mostly against the Illini.

Team Records
Team Won Loss Winning Percentage
Virginia Commonwealth Rams 1 0 1.000
Northwestern Wildcats 1 0 1.000
Butler Bulldogs 1 0 1.000
Purdue Boilermakers 5 3 0.625
Illinois Fighting Illini 1 3 0.250
Vermont Catamounts 0 1 0.000
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 0 1 0.000
Iowa State Cyclones 0 1 0.000

Big Changes In Lake Forest

The Jay Cutler era officially came to an end today as the Bears announced that Cutler had asked for and was given his release after 8 disappointing seasons.  Cutler appeared in only 5 games last season, due to shoulder and thumb injuries, and speculation was high that his time with the team was numbered.

Expected to be the team’s first “franchise” quarterback, Cutler instead managed just one playoff appearance in those 8 seasons.  To be fair, he was not always set up for success.  He went through 6 offensive coordinators in those 8 seasons, leaving very little room for consistency.

Also gone is one of Cutler’s favorite targets, Alshon Jeffery, who signed a one year deal with the Eagles.

To replace Cutler, the Bears are expected to sign former Buccaneer backup Mike Glennon to a 3 year deal.  Glennon has thrown 11 total passes over the course of the last 2 seasons.

2016 College Football Kickoff

rossadeMy alma mater, the Purdue Boilermakers, kick off their 2016 gridiron campaign tomorrow, looking for their first winning season since 2011.  Time to take a look at the results of the 21 college football games I have attended since the 1993 season, covering 4 different stadiums in a whopping 2 states.

All-Time Team Records
Team Name Won Loss Winning Pctg
Penn State Nittany Lions 1 0 1.000
Ohio State Buckeyes 1 0 1.000
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4 1 0.800
Purdue Boilermakers 12 7 0.632
Northern Illinois Huskies 1 1 0.500
Illinois Fighting Illini 2 5 0.286
Western Michigan Broncos 0 1 0.000
Northwestern Wildcats 0 2 0.000
North Carolina State Wolfpack 0 1 0.000
Michigan Wolverines 0 1 0.000
Indiana Hoosiers 0 2 0.000

RIP Buddy

BuddyRyanBearsFormer Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who developed the ’46’ defense that helped the team win their only Super Bowl title, died yesterday at the age of 85.  Ryan was hired by the Bears in 1978 and was kept on board when Mike Ditka became head coach in 1982 after defensive players wrote to owner George Halas showing support.  The relationship between Ryan and Ditka eventually broke down, culminating in a halftime skirmish during the team’s only loss of the 1985 season against the Dolphins.

The night before the Super Bowl, Ryan informed his defense that he would be leaving to coach the Eagles, leading to him being carried off the field after the Super Bowl victory along with Ditka.  After leaving for the Eagles, Ryan had little interaction with Chicago or the Bears.  He appeared in a 30 for 30 special on the Super Bowl winning team last year, visibly weakened after a long battle with cancer.

College Football Kickoff

rossadeMy alma mater, the Purdue Boilermakers, kick off their 2015 gridiron campaign today, so I thought it was about time we took a look at the results of the 20 college football games I have attended since the 1993 season, covering 4 different stadiums in a whopping 2 states.

All-Time Team Records
School Won Loss Winning Pctg
Penn State Nittany Lions 1 0 1.000
Ohio State Buckeyes 1 0 1.000
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4 1 0.800
Purdue Boilermakers 12 6 0.667
Northern Illinois Huskies 1 1 0.500
Illinois Fighting Illini 1 5 0.167
Western Michigan Broncos 0 1 0.000
Northwestern Wildcats 0 2 0.000
North Carolina State Wolfpack 0 1 0.000
Michigan Wolverines 0 1 0.000
Indiana Hoosiers 0 2 0.000

Another One Bites The Dust

lance-briggsFor the third straight off-season, the Bears have told a long tenured fan favorite that his time with the team has come to an end.  Lance Briggs, who was drafted by the Bears in the 3rd round of the 2003 draft, became a starter his rookie season and was been one of the anchors of the vaunted defense under former coach Lovie Smith.  Over the past seasons, under new (and now former) coach Marc Trestman, Briggs has appeared in just over half of the Bears’ games due to injury.

Briggs announced last November that his time in Chicago was likely winding down and sources close to the Bears reported this week that Briggs was officially informed that he will not be offered a contract for the upcoming 2015 season.  With a new coaching staff and new defensive scheme coming in, Briggs was thought to be a poor fit.

The 7-time Pro Bowler finishes his Bears career with the fifth-most games played and the second-most tackles in franchise history.  He may find himself in the same situation Brian Urlacher did 2 years ago: looking for work and forced to retire before he was really ready.

Devin Hester, You Were Ridiculous

devin-hester.22For the second time in as many off-seasons, the Bears have decided to cut ties with one of their all-time greats, announcing that they will not attempt to resign Devin Hester for the upcoming season.  Drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft, Hester quickly made an impact, returning a punt for a touchdown in his first game and recording six touchdowns over his first thirteen weeks.  As the Bears made their first Super Bowl appearance since their victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

The following season, in an attempt to exploit his explosiveness, the Bears moved Hester from cornerback to wide receiver.  After returning both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in week 12 against the Broncos, Hester, in less than 2 seasons, became the leading kick returner in Bears history.

In 2011, Hester became the NFL’s all time leading punt returner after breaking Eric Metcalf’s record with a TD return against the Panthers.  Two years later, Hester returned a punt 81 yards for his 19th career return touchdown, tieing Deion Sanders for the NFL record.

Yesterday, Hester announced that, despite his desire to retire as a Bear, he would not be returning for a 9th season.  The Bears confirmed the news today, and they will once again head in to a season without one of their franchise stars.  Last season, their first without Brian Urlacher, the defense fell apart, causing them to once again miss the playoffs.  Hopefully they can do a better job in replacing Hester and his production.

The Jay Cutler Probelm

12-13 cruze bears packers 21As the Bears brass watched them lose to the Rams and drop yet another opportunity to take control of the NFC North, they find themselves with an uncomfortable decision to make: what to do with starting quarterback Jay Cutler.  No, this is not a call to install Josh McNown as the starter once Cutler is healthy, as many have done since McCown has impressively stepped in for the injured QB.  Instead, this is a look to the future, as Cutler’s contract expires at the end of the season.  Strangely, the problem the Bears may face is that Cutler is too good.

Too good to find a replacement, that is.  Quarterbacks with the skill and talent of Jay Cutler do not normally find themselves looking for employment.  When the Bears acquired Cutler, it took 2 first round picks and a third round pick.  With the current state of the defense, they can ill afford to give away draft picks to get another quarterback should they choose to let Cutler walk.  Nor is there likely to be anyone available via free agency that would match Cutler’s abilities, let alone represent an upgrade.

So, the obvious answer would be to sign Cutler to an extension, right?  This is where the Bears find themselves in a bit of a pickle.  Cutler may be too good to replace, but is he good enough for the Bears to win with him?  The last 5 seasons would not necessarily lead one to believe that they can.  2010 was the only season of Cutler’s NFL career that his team made the playoffs, and, while the Bears did make it to the NFC Championship game, it was more due to the defense than Jay Cutler and the offense.  With today’s loss, the Bears remain tied for first place in the NFC North, but they have already lost the tie-breaker to the Lions and are not likely to earn a wild card berth.  Is one playoff appearance in 5 seasons the pedigree of a franchise quarterback?

A Legend Retires

011209bears_urlacherAfter 13 years in the middle of the Bears defense, and less than 3 months after a messy divorce left him as a free agent looking for a new home, Brian Urlacher announced his retirement yesterday.  Urlacher played 182 regular-season games over those 13 seasons and led the team to their second Super Bowl appearance following the 2006 season.  Urlacher missed significant time due to injury in the 2009, 2011, and 2012 seasons, and, days before his 35th birthday, he said in his announcement that he was “sore” and “tired of working out.”

While the Bears had already moved on without Urlacher, it will be nice to not have him play out his career in some strange uniform, as many others have done before him.  Only six Bears have had a longer Bears career without having played anywhere else: Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Bulldog Turner, Doug Buffone, Jim Osborne, Keith Van Horne, and the long snapper supreme Pat Mannelly.

Fire Lovie?

A month ago, things were looking bright at Halas Hall.  The Bears had started 7-1 and looked to be running away with the NFC North.  4 weeks later, they are now 8-4 and are 10 minutes and 14 points away from 8-5.  The late season fade has been a recurring theme in the later seasons of the Lovie Smith era, and the Bears are still looking for their first December win since 2010.  Is it time for the Lovie era to come to an end?

Smith has been coach of the Bears since 2004 and is the fourth-longest tenured coach in the NFL.  His early success, including a Super Bowl trip following the 2006 season, has given way to more recent mediocrity, as they have made the playoffs only once since losing that Super Bowl.

There are plenty of excuses as to why the Bears have lost (or about to have lost) 4 out of their last 5 games.  The offensive line, a patchwork of bad retreads on its best day, has been decimated by injuries.  The defense, which was outscoring many offenses in the early part of the season, has started to show its age and is now without Brian Urlacher for perhaps the remainder of the season.  Other teams, however, lose key personnel and are able to recover.  For the Bears, the trend has been to fall apart at the first sign of adversity.

If the Bears fail to win a playoff game for the 5th time in the last 6 seasons, I don’t see how you don’t make a change.  Smith already has more coaching wins with the Bears than anybody not named Halas or Ditka, so it will not be an easy call to make.  Smith is also beloved by the McCaskey family, which will make it even harder.  But the window to win with the aging defense is closing fast and it may take some new blood on the sidelines to make it happen.