SOUTH BEND – During his first two seasons with Notre Dame, he’d done enough to earn the faith of his team and the fans.
Ian Book won the full-time quarterback job early in 2018 and helped the Irish to their first appearance in the College Football Playoff. In 2019, he’d kept that faith through most of the season, helping the Irish to 5-1 record as they went to Michigan in late October.
Then things got a little rough.
An 8-for-25 performance with just 73 yards with just 13 yards on the ground in a 45-14 loss that took Notre Dame out of any scenario for the playoff in 2019. As a few wondered if the Irish should make a change at the position, Book then came out and threw two interceptions for the first time against Virginia Tech last Saturday.
Yet the quarterback remained unfazed, and with the Irish down by six, he led the offense on an 18-play, 87 yard drive that gave his team the victory. In fitting fashion, Book ran in the winning touchdown with 29 seconds left to give Notre Dame a 21-20 win.
It was a strong completion to a rough week for the quarterback, who is now firmly entrenched as the starter as the Irish face Duke on Saturday night in Durham. Yet Book never was wavered by the rough Michigan game or some calls for a change at his position.
“I’m just an extremely confident person, but I also just truly believe in everyone on the offense, on my whole entire team. I knew we could do it. Last week was last week. We forgot about that. We moved on,” said Book. “I’m just confident in all the guys. We work so hard every day and we’re playing for each other and that’s when you can make some pretty awesome things happen.”
ILLINOIS: A Postseason Chance
CHAMPAIGN – Sometimes getting to the postseason can be done in a coach’s first season. Others aren’t so lucky, including Lovie Smith.
When he arrived at Illinois in 2016, it was assumed that it would take a few years for the program to get back to a bowl game. Some had hope for success in year three, but no time to recruit before his first season, many pointed to 2019 as a breakthrough season.
It took Illinois a while to get there this season, but a three-game winning streak has Smith’s team a victory away from a bowl game. A win over Michigan State this Saturday, Iowa in two weeks, or Northwestern in the season finale will put the Illini in the postseason for the first time since 2014.
While rewarding for the coach, who had a very rough first three seasons and first six games of the 2019 campaign, he most happy that the first group of players in the program get their chance to see their work pay off.
“Guys that have been here for four years and have contributed so much to the growth of our program, that’s how you reward good play. A job well done, we feel like let’s get to a bowl game. And to have that opportunity, that’s what we’re talking about now,” said Smith. “We have an opportunity to do something in November that we haven’t had in a long period of time and that’s all the seniors have been asking.
“And to have a chance to finish it up the right way, I’m betting on it.”
NORTHWESTERN: Similar Situations
EVANSTON – A year ago, both programs entered the month with a chance to make it to the Big Ten Championship game. Northwestern would end up getting there for the first time in school history while Purdue made a second-straight bowl game after finishing 6-6.
When the teams meet this Saturday, only one is still alive to reach just a bowl game while another has already been eliminated.
Still unable to get anything going on offense (9.7 points per game), the Wildcats were eliminated from bowl contention with a 34-3 loss to Indiana in Bloomington. At 1-7, they’ll host an equally disappointing Purdue team that is 3-6 on the season and stayed alive for a postseason spot with a win over Nebraska last Saturday at Ross Ade Stadium.
The Boilers have been decimated by injuries this season, with quarterbacks Elijah Sindelar and Jack Plummer each getting injured along with wide receiver Rondale Moore. Those losses along with others have contributed to a letdown in Jeff Brohm’s third season.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: It’s Weeknight Time!
DEKALB – One of the unique aspects of playing in the Mid-American Conference is getting the shot to play during the week.
It’s a way in which the league is able to get more attention to their games since they’re usually the only college football games on the schedule. At the same time, it also provides a challenge for the teams to prepare during non-traditional game weeks.
Northern Illinois has that during their final three weeks of the 2019 season, with all of their remaining games coming during the week.
They’ll face Toledo on the road on Wednesday, November 13th before coming back to DeKalb to face Eastern Michigan on Tuesday, November 19th. Seven days later, they’ll host Western Michigan, November 26th.
Thomas Hammock’s team will need all of them to be successful if they hope to play one more game this season since they sit at 3-6 after nine games.