The Illini head north to Chicago this weekend to face the Wildcats, but the venue will not be Ryan Field in Evanston (2:30 pm central time, ESPNU). Instead, the Illini and Northwestern are playing at historic Wrigley Field, who has not hosted a football game in over 70 years, and has not seen football of any kind since the Bears played there in the 70's. The unique atmosphere has its share of concerns though, as one of the endzones borders the outfield wall, a sure sign of disaster if someone runs a long route pattern and forgets where they are. Deemed the Wrigleyville Classic, the Friendly Confines has been transformed into Wildcat purple, including the historic marquee outside the stadium, which also took on a fresh coat of purple paint, one that would make Barney proud. ESPN Gameday will also be there broadcasting throughout the day, but the funny thing about that is the game is not on one of the major channels of the network, instead being slotted to "the U", only available to about half the regular subscribers. I wonder what will happen if Lee Corso picks Illinois to win the game, because he normally chooses a headpiece of the team that gets his vote. Doing a chief headdress would certainly fuel some debate, but we'll just have to wait and see. The Wildcats are 7-3 on the season and come into the game ranked #25 in the country, but lost their starting quarterback Dan Persa on the last play of scrimmage last weekend when they upset the Iowa Hawkeyes in Evanston. Evan Watkins gets the start this week, and he has only attempted 7 passes in his collegiate career. But, with the Illini secondary performing like they have over the past couple of games, does it really matter who the Wildcats throw under center? This would not be a good scenario to rely on the game in Fresno, California in 2 weeks as the last chance to gain b*** eligibility. Stay tuned on this one.
Now for some better news. Bruce Weber takes his #13 ranked Fighting Illini east to Madison Square Garden in New York City this weekend for the culmination of the 2K Sports Classic benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer. The Illini will take on the Texas Longhorns Thursday night (approx. 8:30 pm central time, ESPN2), then, pending the outcome of that game, will take on either Pittsburgh or Maryland on Friday night. This will be a good early season test for the Illini, and should give a good indication of how talented this team is. The Illini need a good showing in the Big Apple to keep those lofty expectations in tact. Games against North Carolina and Gonzaga loom further down on the schedule before the rigorous Big Ten season begins just prior to the new year. The Illini are 3-0 on the young season, and are coming off an 85-63 win over Weber's former school, the Salukis of Southern Illinois. Weber brought the Saluki program to prominence before moving north to Champaign, and below I-64 he is still considered a figure of authority. The Longhorns are 2-0 on the young season, and are ranked #22 in this week's poll.
Wrigley in November? Should be mighty cold on those rooftops! Should be interesting. That's all for this week. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.