Now, the task at hand is the start of the Big Ten season, and first up is Northwestern on Saturday (11:00 am CT, ESPN2), who the Illini defeated last season at Wrigley Field to officially become bowl eligible. The Wildcats have been on a bye this past week, and are coming off a tough loss to Army the week before. Northwestern will have their starting quarterback of last season under center once again, as Dan Persa returns from a broken leg. Persa missed the latter part of the 2010 season, including the game in Chicago with that injury, and will have revenge on his mind. The Wildcats are 2-1 on the season, with the loss to the Cadets being the only blemish thus far.
So, this is what #1 feels like? For the first time in the program's history, the Illini volleyball team is tops in the AVCA poll, and still undefeated at 11-0 on the season. This is the best start for an Illini volleyball team since the 1985 squad started off the year 30-0. Coach Kevin Hambly has sustained this program very nicely, but some credit must go to former coaches Mike Hebert (now at Minnesota) and Don Hardin for building the program from the roots up. Sure, it is Hambly that has been bringing in the players, so a lot of the accolades must be given to him as well. Hambly downplays the success of the team, stating that "the ranking is nice, but we'd rather be #1 at the end of the season. There is a huge target on your back when you are the top team, and the girls are just taking it one match at a time". The Illini get back into action this weekend when Indiana and Purdue visit Huff Hall. The Hoosiers come in Friday night with an 8-6 overall record and 0-2 in the Big Ten, while Purdue, still unbeaten as well, comes in at 14-0 overall and 4-0 in conference play. The Boilermakers are ranked #12 in the nation, and defeated Northwestern 3-1 on Wednesday night in Evanston. The match on Friday night will be televised on the BTN as part of the Student U. package.
The Illini women's soccer team is not enjoying the success that the football and volleyball teams are having this season, as they are just 6-4-1 entering play this weekend. Janet Rayfield's squad lost successive road games last weekend at Ohio State (2-1) and Penn State (1-0). The Ilini return home to the soccer complex this weekend when they host Indiana on Friday evening and Purdue on Sunday afternoon.