Column: Goodbye, Barry Alvarez

By Darren Bailey

This Saturday marks the final appearance in Memorial Stadium for Barry Alvarez as coach of the Wisconsin Badgers. Alvarez has had an illustrious career in Madison taking over a program which was severely stuck in a rut and turning them into perhaps, not a perennial Big Ten-title contender, but at least an upper-level conference team, which makes a bowl game year in and year out.

Alvarez instituted a power running game, which has produced some of the most productive running backs in Big Ten history. Among those are big daddy Ron Dayne (at one time the nation’s career rushing leader), current Minnesota Viking Michael Bennett and recent mighty-mite Anthony Davis.

And as Alvarez heads to Champaign for the last time, he’s doing it again. This year’s team boasts the conference’s top scoring team, averaging nearly 40 points per game. Leading the way for the Badger offense is, you guessed it, a running back – Brian Calhoun. The junior transfer from Colorado is currently leading the Big Ten in carries and is second in both yards and yards per game.

Calhoun burst on the scene in Wisconsin’s first game of the season – a game that saw the back rush an astonishing 43 times for 263 yards and five touchdowns. Wow. Sure, it was against Bowling Green. Still… wow.

Oh yeah, he’s also tied with Brandon Williams as the Badger’s leading receivers.

See, I think that there really should be a nice sendoff for Mr. Alvarez when he gets to campus. How about a big phatty loss to derail a potential conference title run? As much as I respect what he’s done at Wisconsin, just seeing his slimy smirk on the sidelines of games makes my stomach turn.

Unfortunately, for Illinois to grant my wish they’ll have to stop Mr. Calhoun. If the previous seven games are a good indication of what’s to come, I might leave disappointed. Illinois sits in the cellar of the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing 226.7 yards per game – that’s over 45 more yards than Wisconsin usually gains each outing.

So, I guess I’m issuing a direct challenge to the Illini defense. Here is a chance to come out and get rid of the bad taste in the mouths of players, coaches and fans alike. Wisconsin shall be your Listerine!

I don’t know how they’re going to do it. Play faster than they are? Play bigger than they are? I’m not sure. I think the first step would be to come out with a fire and intensity and desire to make a stand.

Has the season been disappointing? You bet. Is it over? Far from it.

In fact, Illinois could still technically make a bowl game. Just have to win out.

Okay, okay… baby steps. We’re working on stopping Calhoun and Williams. Oh, and I guess I’ll mention the quarterback John Stocco, though he strikes little fear in my heart.

So back to the challenge…

I don’t know how the Illini defense will stop Brian Calhoun. I know I’d throw eight in the box, see what these corners are made of, but after the Penn State game, maybe that’s not the best idea either. I guess just slowing Calhoun down would suffice, wouldn’t it? Just give the game a chance, right?

Heck, I’ll be satisfied with an inspired effort to come out and wake some people up. Wake the team up. Wake the coaches up. Wake the University up. Wake up recruits, too. Illinois is still the place to be.

Well shoot, now I’m in challenge mode.

The Illini offense. You’re up next. You don’t have to score 40 points a game. (Though, if you’d like to, please go for it.) All you really need to do is take care of the ball, put together some sustained drives and put a few points on the board. Doing this will also help the defense in their quest, as well. Do that, and I’ll be happy.

But fans, remember Monday’s column. You’re not off the hook, either. Come out, be loud, and stay through the whole game. Create an Assembly Hall-like atmosphere and let’s see if the level of play starts to resemble that other Illini squad. That’s your challenge.

C’mon down, Barry Alvarez. The Illini are waitin’ for you!

Two Punts and a Kick

Punt: Oops, looks like Texas Tech might really have been the most overrated top-10 team in college football history.

Punt: What happened to Drew Stanton? After that promising start, Michigan State is now an unranked 4-3, following its blowout loss to Northwestern.

Kick: Despite Saturday’s thrashing, Illinois was still able to nab another commitment, this one from 6-7, 280-pound Ohio lineman Ryan Palmer. Wow. He was highly coveted by the Illini coaching staff.

Darren Bailey is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]