Rewind a little bit with me for a minute to October 22, 2005, a night that Ron Zook would love to forget. The scene is Memorial Stadium at halftime of a game that Penn State is running away with 56-3. After the Marching Illini and Chief Illiniwek exits the field, there is a mass exodus out of the stadium, as the crowd has seen enough. Coach Zook told his team that night that it was the lowest point of his coaching career, and this would be the worst that it would ever get for the players on the field that night. Zook later said that Penn State "took everything but the equipment" that night, but something else happened that night, unbeknownst to everyone but perhaps the coaching staff. It was that evening that Juice Williams and Vontae Davis committed to the Illini, and Chris James was persuaded to jump on board as well. It seems hard to believe that just a little over two years later, Zook has his team preparing to play in the Rose Bowl, the "granddaddy of them all". Yes, there are people out there that believe that the Illini sneaked in the back door to the BCS, and those are the same people that are clamoring a playoff system like the one that the FCS, or the old Division 1-AA uses. Still, it is Illinois that will be matching up against the USC Trojans on New Year's Day, a true matchup of Big Ten vs. Pac-10, the way the Rose Bowl was set up to be. This year's team has been besieged with awards, and they continue well into the layoff leading up to the most anticipated football game that Illinois has played in many years. I believe this even foreshadows the Sugar Bowl back in 2001, mainly because it has been 24 years since the Illini have played in Pasadena. As the Illini continue to get ready for the Men of Troy, the recruiting continues to shine. The number of recruits totals 24 as of Tuesday, with A. J. Jenkins the latest to give a commitment. Jenkins is a receiver that will complement Arrelious Benn very nicely. What makes this one especially sweet is that we beat out Florida for A.J.'s services. With the high level of recruits coming in for next year, it seems a good bet that the Illini will be very much in the national title hunt. So what do you think? Did Illinois sneak their way into the BCS? I would be interested in hearing what everyone has to say on this.
What a difference a year makes for Bruce Weber and his Illini basketball team. If last Saturday's game against Arizona at the United Center is any indication of how this season will go, then it might be a long year for Weber and his crew. The Illini were defeated by the Wildcats 78-72 in overtime, and once again, it is a game that for all intensive purposes should have gone in the win column. The Illini started off really well, getting out to a quick 12-0 lead. However, free throw shooting has been a concern for the Illini over the past couple of seasons, and it pretty much cost them the game against the Wildcats. That and the erratic play of Chester Frazier, who seems like he is winging shots with reckless abandon, not knowing where they will end up. Shaun Pruitt, who was listed as questionable with an ankle injury, ended up playing and had the game of his career, scoring a personal high of 24 points on 10-11 from the field. The level of play needs to step up for the Illini, who fell to 5-3 with the loss. The 3 losses on the season are all to formidable opponents, but they need quality wins to boost their NCAA Tournament resume, right now void of a such victory. The Illini get to hit the books this week as final exams invade the campus. Then, next week it is a busy one, with games at home against Western Carolina and Miami of Ohio, then the annual Border War game against Missouri on December 22. Hopefully the rumblings about Weber and the Illini won't get too loud to ruin anybody's holiday. So, I pose this question to all of you readers out there. What do you think of the Illini basketball team this year? Do you think they are an NCAA tourney team at this point? Please let me know what you think.