So, now that the Illini have started out 3-0 on the season, the question is, when was the last time that they started the year 4-0? For this answer, you need to go way back to the 1951 season, when the Illini finished the season at 9-0-1 and the undisputed national champion with a win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl. There have been two other times since then that the Illini have reeled off 4 wins without a defeat (1963 8-1-1, and a win over Washington in the Rose Bowl), and 1953 (7-1-1), so this is uncharted territory that the Illini are venturing in. However, up next is the game that could be viewed as a trap game, when Western Michigan comes to Memorial Stadium this coming Saturday (2:30 pm CT, BTN). Back in 2oo8, the Illini traveled to Detroit to play the Broncos, and the result was disastrous, as they lost 23-17 to finish 5-7 that year and go from the Rose Bowl the previous year to no bowl. In fact, since John Mackovic left in 1991, the Illini have not had a coach that has produced a winning record in his tenure. Currently, Zook has a 31-45 record at Illinois, but has a ways to go in order to square that record and get over the .500 mark.
Another somewhat disturbing trend for the football team is the attendance factor. Sure, Memorial Stadium was nearly full last weekend against Arizona State, but that can be attributed to the fact that they were playing a quality opponent, and also that it was a night game, which almost always produces an ambient atmosphere. At the time that I am composing this weekly blog, there have only been about 42,000 tickets sold for this weekend's game, which, in my opinion, is downright sad. Yes, the team is 3-0 and I know that Illini football has not been the most consistent program over the past few decades, but this is a fun team to watch. I know the economy is bad and that could very well be a major factor in attendance, but the athletic department is making significant strides to boost attendance, and new athletic director Mike Thomas needs to further address this issue. With the recent changes to the stadium, including removing several hundred seats in the horseshoe due to safety concerns, the capacity of the stadium is just over 60,000 now. You figure in the other stadiums in the Big Ten (Michigan's "Big House" and Ohio State's "Horseshoe" come to mind), and Illinois football still seems somewhat irrelevant when it comes to filling the stands. What's it going to take in order for the stands to be packed for the Big Ten season that lurks in a little over a week? Continued winning will certainly help, and more night games would also benefit. Are you listening Mike Thomas?
Kevin Hambly's Illini volleyball team finished the non-conference portion of the schedule at a perfect 11-0, and are still ranked #3 in the latest AVCA poll this week. The Illini defeated Cincinnati in 3 straight games last Friday night in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge at Huff Hall, then had to once again rally from 2 sets down to defeat Louisville on Saturday night in the challenge. This is a trend that has become all too familiar this season, but the Illini have weathered every storm thus far, and still are undefeated as a result. Up next for the Illini, the start of the Big Ten season this coming weekend, when they travel to Minnesota on Friday evening, before playing at Wisconsin on Sunday.
Janet Rayfield's Illini women's soccer team opened up Big Ten play last Sunday, coming from behind 2-0 to tie Iowa 2-2 in double overtime in Iowa City. The #23rd ranked Illini are currently 6-2-1 on the season, and will continue Big Ten play this coming weekend when they travel to Ohio State on Friday night, then will take on Penn State Sunday in State College, Pennsylvania.