A look at this week's college football scene.
The friendly confines of Wrigley Field are a little too tight for the Big Ten.
The league announced Friday that Illinois and Northwestern agreed to drastic and unusual changes for today's game at the historic home of the Chicago Cubs, including running all offensive plays toward the end zone that doesn't happen to come within a foot or so of a padded brick wall.
That change, prompted by safety concerns, was approved along with a few others by the NCAA. And if the move sounds like a last-minute surprise, well, the Cubs thought so, too.
"The field dimension layout was delivered to the Big Ten approximately eight months ago and was approved by the conference," Cubs president Crane Kenney said. "Last month, the field was built exactly to the dimensions previously approved by the Big Ten. Last week, a Big Ten official performed an onsite visit at Wrigley Field, participated in a field walk-through and raised no issue with the field dimensions, painted lines and boundaries previously approved by the Big Ten."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany released a statement that credited both schools with doing "significant" due diligence over the past 18 months. But he said the actual layout prompted the change to keep the players safe.
The problem is the east end zone nearly abuts the rightfield wall, which has been heavily padded. The field is laid out east-west for the first football game at Wrigley since the Bears left for Soldier Field in 1970; back then, Bears games were played north-south, but there wasn't much room then, either, and everyone decided the east-west layout was the way to go for today's showdown.
The Illini and Wildcats will run their offenses toward the dugout on the third-base side. All kickoffs will go the other way and after a change in possession, referees will reposition the ball to point offenses to the west. The only time a player would end up in the east end zone would be after a turnover.
"I know that the brick wall and whatever is right there," Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase said before the rules were changed. "You've definitely got to be aware of that. You don't want to have anybody smacking into a wall after they catch it."
"He just went back to where he made his bones, beat the heck out of a team that has won two national championships in the last five seasons, and it wasn't a field goal late — it was convincing. Bear Bryant will always be the standard in the SEC, but Spurrier is in that upper echelon."
Charles Davis, who covers the SEC and the NFL for Fox Sports and was openly skeptical about whether Steve Spurrier could win anything significant when he took over South Carolina in 2005
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Ex-Middleton star could baffle Gators
When Florida and Appalachian State meet this afternoon, the Gators will be facing a formidable foe in Middleton High alumnus DeAndre Presley, above.
Presley, who is having a stellar junior season as the starting quarterback, has passed for 2,066 yards and 17 touchdowns (just four interceptions) in leading Appalachian State to its sixth straight Southern Conference title. He has also rushed for 727 yards. As a team that has had trouble with multidimensional quarterbacks, the Gators expect to have their hands full.
"He's a challenge as a quarterback because he can do things on his own," UF defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "He can make a play out of nothing. Our challenge is to get the ball out of his hands as much as possible."
Presley is ranked No. 6 in Division I-AA in passing efficiency (150.65) and 11th in total offense (279.30). He's only the fifth player in school history to amass more than 2,500 total yards in a single season and the seventh to pass for more than 2,000 in a season.
"We've faced a lot of mobile quarterbacks this year," Gators S Will Hill said. "He's faster than most of the ones we've played this year, so it's a lot of pursuit drills (in practice) getting ready for this week."
Antonya English, Times staff writer
Notre Dame vs. Army at Yankee Stadium
Notre Dame and Army will play football today at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York, the first gridiron matchup in that new baseball cathedral since it opened in 2009. Although neither team has covered itself with glory in recent years, the game will awaken memories of greatness past. Some highlights from the 98-year-old series:
1913: The teams played for the first time just before the Great War started in Europe. At West Point, Notre Dame shocked both the Cadets and the football establishment by completing 14 of 17 forward passes, an unprecedented aerial attack in the days of plunge and punt. The Notre Dame passing festival didn't change college football immediately, however, it sparked a movement within the game that led football toward acceptance as a spectator sport.
1920: At West Point, Notre Dame HB George Gipp shredded Army for 124 yards rushing, 96 passing, 112 in kickoff returns and three extra points. Notre Dame won 27-17. Gipp died of strep throat six weeks later, and his deathbed wish, either witnessed or imagined by coach Knute Rockne, would figure in a later meeting.
1923-24: Seeking larger gates and ticket revenue, the market-savvy Rockne convinced Military Academy officials to move the game to New York City, initially to the Dodgers' Ebetts Field in 1923. Thirty-thousand attended, a crowd double that of the previous year at West Point. They played the next year at the Giants' Polo Grounds, and 55,000 watched Rockne's speedy backfield defeat Army 13-7. Sports writer Grantland Rice memorialized the game and the four backs with his lead: "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again."
1928: A 4-2 Notre Dame squad arrived at Yankee Stadium, which bulged with 86,000 fans, to take on unbeaten Army on Nov. 9. After a scoreless first half, Rockne reached into his bag of speeches and pulled out college football's (or perhaps Hollywood's) greatest pep talk: "Win one for the Gipper!" And that they did, 12-6. There was a little messiness at the end as Red Cagle led Army to the Notre Dame 1-yard line in the waning seconds. To the Cadets' astonishment, the referee abruptly ended the game. Did Gipp intervene from heaven? Or was there a quick whistle from Chicago Tribune sports writer Walter Eckersall, who Rockne had paid to officiate the game?
1946: In the "Game of the Century," No. 1-ranked Army played No. 2 Notre Dame on Nov. 9 at Yankee Stadium. Army had RBs Doc Blanchard, "Mr. Inside" (1945 Heisman Trophy), and Glenn Davis, "Mr. Outside" (1946 Heisman). QB Johnny Lujack (1947 Heisman) starred for the Irish. The game ended in a 0-0 tie.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service