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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

G.T.'s 10 for Tuesday       Send a link to a friend

By Greg Taylor

[September 25, 2007]  The baseball regular season has less than a week to go -- and at least one central Illinois team is alive in the playoff hunt. Illinois is making noise both on the field during the football season and in the office with an assistant coach hiring. Add in the NFL, the NBA and high school sports, and we've had a pretty busy week in the land of Lincoln. So -- let's get after it -- here is the Sept. 25 edition of "10 for Tuesday."

1. The Cubs are close to clinching the NL Central Division: The Cubs have won 10 of their last 12 games and are at least three games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers with six games to play. And the Cubs face the worst team in the National League this week in the Florida Marlins (a team that is drawing about 5,000 fans per game in Miami). Lou Pinella has his starting rotation in order to close the season, and finally the Cubs are healthy. Alfonso Soriano leads the majors in home runs for the month of September, and the Cubs check in at a season-high 10 games over the .500 mark at 83-73. Let's don't jinx the North-siders by counting our chickens before they are hatched, but it's beginning to look a lot like playoffs! Just keep the Billy Goats and the Bartman away from the Friendly confines.

2. The Cardinals are in position to help the Cubs clinch the NL Central Division: Three weeks ago, the Cards were one game out and looked ready for an exciting final month of baseball. Injuries and bad luck caught up with the 2006 world champs, however, and they promptly lost 14 out of 16 and found themselves eliminated from the playoff chase. Now, however, they invade the land of the Suds and have a chance to help their friends from Chicago by taking down the Brewers. And while the Cards will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2003, there is much drama playing out by the mighty Mississippi -- where fans and players alike wonder if Tony LaRussa is close to managing his final game with St. Louis.

3. Illinois football wins their Big Ten opener for the first time since Lou Tepper was coach: You need to go back to 1993 and Lou Tepper's second Illini team to find one that was victorious in their conference opener. That year, Illinois started 0-3 despite having one of the best defenses in all of college football, but beat Purdue in their Big Ten opener and finished the conference schedule with a 5-3 record -- falling just one game short of a bowl. This year, Illinois went to Indiana and took down the Hoosiers 27-14 -- although Illinois really dominated the game and probably should have won by four or five touchdowns. The defense was solid, the offense really looked good at times, and Illinois is ready to welcome Penn State to Chambana on Saturday in their quest for their fourth straight win.

4. Rashard Mendenhall was the Big Ten player of the week: How does 27 carries for 214 yards, along with a rushing and receiving touchdown, sound to you? Not bad -- eh? This effort earned Mendenhall conference offensive player of the week honors, and he is currently being considered for national player of the week as well. Teammate Will Davis won defensive player of the week honors in the conference as well, thanks to his four sacks. Mendenhall, the junior from Skokie, is really fun to watch and looks ready carry this year's Illini to the six win barrier -- and beyond!

5. Jerrance Howard is the newest assistant coach for Bruce Weber: "Snacks," as he is lovingly referred to, was one of Brian Cook's best friends and teammates at Illinois. Howard, though never a standout on the court, was considered a team leader and played a big part in keeping Dee Brown from transferring when Bill $elf bailed on the Illini for the Land of Oz. Some have chosen to criticize Weber for hiring someone so young and inexperienced -- only time will tell if the hire is a good one -- but I know no one this side of Jeff Mayfield who combines a passion for people with a love for the Illini quite like Jerrance Howard. Here's hoping one of the really good guys finds success on the slimy and challenging high school recruiting trail.

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6. The Indianapolis Colts are 3-0 and looking pretty good: The defending champs look good and ready to take on all challengers. Even a sloppy effort on Sunday at Houston turned out smelling like roses for the Colts. Peyton Manning is flat-out the best QB in football, and second year RB Joseph Addai looks like a young Marshall Faulk. The Colts are for real -- but hey, you knew that already!

7. The Chicago Bears are 1-2 and looking pretty bad: Wow -- what a difference a year makes! Last year at this time, the talk in Chicago revolved around whether or not the Bears of 2006 could equal the 15-1 mark of the 1985 Bears. Three games in last season and fans were making their Super Bowl plans. Fast forward to present day -- the Bears look really average at best, and Rex Grossman may well have played his last game as Chicago QB with an embarrassing effort on national TV Sunday night against Dallas. But even more troubling is the way Dallas and the always-dislikable Terrell Owens carved up the vaunted Chicago D. Bottom line? The Bears aren't very good!

8. The St. Louis Rams are 0-3 and thinking about 2008: Let me make this short and sweet and sad -- the Rams are a really bad football team and I can't believe I took Marc Bulger in my fantasy football draft in the third round. Can we have a do-over, please? The Rams are bad and might be in the running for No. 1 -- the No. 1 pick, that is, in next year's NFL Draft.

9. Mount Pulaski volleyball is awful enjoyable to watch: Coach Donna Dulle and crew are at it once again -- winning matches left and right and showing all of Logan County how the game is supposed to be played. My daughter and I were able to check out some action at the annual Fall Festival Tournament in Mount Pulaski on the 14th and 15th and watched as Pulaski really played well against some good competition. The Toppers are looking good, and they are just one of several outstanding volleyball teams in the county that merit our following. After all, I really believe Logan County is the volleyball capital of Illinois!

10. Lincoln football missed a great chance to close in on the playoffs: The Railers were in great shape heading to Southeast Friday night but lost a heartbreaking 34-20 game against the previously winless Spartans. It's now gut-check time for the Railers, as they need to win three of their final four games to make the playoffs. My gut tells me two things -- first, cut down on the ice cream and brownies; and second, the Railers have an outstanding chance to beat Jacksonville, Lanphier and Manual! Go, Railers -- finish the job!

Have a great week, everyone -- who knows, by this time next week, the Cubs might actually be in the postseason and the Illini might be 4-1 for the first time since 2001.

[Greg Taylor]

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