Welcome to the Twilight (End) Zone

By Dave Fultz

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a world in which the landscape of professional and college football fandom as you know it has been irrevocably altered. The only limits of this newfound realm are the same ones which hold your wildest dreams and disbeliefs.

This is the dimension of imagination; you’ve crossed over into The Twilight (End) Zone!

In this wonderful and terrifying world that we now live in, the Monsters of the Midway look more like the Monsters on Maple Street and the beauty of the Illini’s play on the football field is being seen further than the Eye of the Beholder.

Okay, that’s coming on a little strong. But all Rod Serling jokes aside, what is going on in my football world?

The Bears are floundering at the bottom of a division they were all but anointed the champions of less than a month ago, and the Illini football team is putting the “fighting” back in their nickname with impressive victories over Big Ten competition.

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    On Oct. 1 of last year, the Illini were off to their usual slow start and the Bears were steam rolling through the NFL and hadn’t even lost a game.

    So what earth-shattering events led to this bizarro football season that we find ourselves wrapped up in this year?

    The Bears’ troubles are easy for us fans to pick apart because those of us who have Comcast or Insight still don’t get to watch their games when we aren’t at the stadium – thanks again, Big Ten Network.

    While the play at the quarterback position has already been bad enough to prompt Lovie Smith to switch to Brian Griese, Rex Grossman can’t take all of the blame for the Bears 1-3 record.

    The oldest offensive line in the league has been sluggish in pass protection and has failed to punch holes in the defensive front for the run game.

    And with Thomas Jones off to tote the ball for the Jets, Cedric Benson has underperformed in his first season as the team’s starting running back.

    While the offense does have its problems – to make an even bigger point of this, Devin Hester ran for more return yardage than Griese had through the air on Sunday – the Bears vaunted defense hasn’t even done its part so far this season.

    Sunday’s 37-27 loss to the Lions in Detroit included an embarrassing fourth quarter in which the Bears allowed 34 points down the stretch to lose the game.

    Now, I know it’s tough to evaluate a unit that lost two key starters for the season in Week 1, but a team has to deal with setbacks and adapt, and that is something this one has failed to do.

    Since the loss of captain Mike Brown and starting defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, the rest of the defense has started dropping like flies. Tommie Harris, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Nate Vasher and others have already had injuries sneak up on them this season.

    In order for the Bears to get back in this they’ll have to have a big turnaround.

    It can happen: the Bears finished 11-5 and reached the playoffs after starting 1-3 in 2005, but much improvement and a lot of health-related luck will be needed for the Bears to catch the undefeated Packers in the NFC North.

    For all the surprising problems the Bears have had to start out the season, the Illini football team has equaled them in surprising successes.

    The fans have been excited with cautious optimism since head coach Ron Zook announced that he and the coaching staff managed to sign one of the best freshman recruiting classes in the country.

    The team is improved in almost every phase of the game and has the Illini faithful dreaming big for the first time since Kurt Kittner and Brandon Lloyd left campus years ago.

    Serling’s classic Twilight Zone episodes usually ended with a twist.

    Let’s hope for the Bears’ sake that the twist is a dramatic one, and that for the Illini that theirs doesn’t interrupt what looks to be a promising season.

    Does my imagination dare dream of a trip to the BCS Bowl Zone?

    Dave Fultz is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].