The speculation is over, so let the journey begin! The Fighting Illini football team found out on Sunday evening that they will be heading to California for the holidays to play in the Rose Bowl Game, presented by Citi. Thought to be a glimmer of hope as late as two weeks ago, things just started to magically fall in place, and the Illini were being mentioned for BCS inclusion. Then, on Saturday, the unthinkable happened. For the Illini to be considered for Pasadena, three outcomes needed to occur. First, Boston College needed to lose to Virginia Tech, which happened. Next, West Virginia needed to be defeated by Pitt, which also took place. Finally, the Illini needed Oklahoma to defeat Missouri in the Big 12 Championship game, which would more than likely put Ohio State in the national title game on January 7th. The Sooners were able to get the job done, and all that was really left was the official announcement, which was handed down on Sunday evening. It has been 24 years since the Illini have played in the Rose Bowl, and the last visit wasn't very memorable. The Illini were defeated by UCLA 45-9, and it wasn't much of a contest from what I remember. This time around, the Illini will be facing Southern Cal, who is one of the better teams in the country and is playing that way. In a telephone interview on Sunday evening, Ron Zook was asked about the Trojans and he simply stated that "you want to have a chance to go against one of the nation's best, and we will get that chance, because USC is one of the best teams in the country". Aside from the fact that the Trojans play just minutes from the Rose Bowl gives them an edge right from the start. However, Zook thinks that there will be plenty of Illini orange in the stands, given the strong alumni representation in Southern California.
This is a remarkable story, mainly because it has taken Zook just 3 years to turn this program around and now has them in a BCS bowl for the first time since 2001. The seniors on the football team deserve this, and I am very happy for them. Now the fun begins, with alumni and season ticket holders trying to scrounge to get tickets for the game. The university will get an allotment of 25,000 tickets, which probably will get snapped up rather quickly. Then, add to the fact that airfare and hotel accomodations will not be cheap, puts the average fan to watching it on television. However, the diehards will find a way to get there, even if it breaks the bank for them. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most, and having been at the last BCS appearance for the Illini in New Orleans on New Year's Day 2002, I know the feeling. Sadly, I'll be sitting this one out, for reasons that I have already talked about in previous blog entries. I will, however, be covering as much as I can in the weeks that lead up to the game itself. As always, I welcome you comments and questions, football, or anything Illini.