The bye week is now over, and it's time to get back to the matter at hand, which is the football season. The Fighting Illini football team enjoyed a much needed bye week this past week, and according to head coach Tim Beckman, "it couldn't have come at a better time". Since the Illini are playing so many young players this season, the bye week gave them a chance to rest their legs and prepare for the final non-conference tilt, when they welcome the Redhawks of Miami (Ohio) to Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Saturday morning (11:00 am CT, BTN). The last time out, the Illini were defeated for the first time this season 34-24 by the Washington Huskies at Chicago's historic Soldier Field. Even though the Illini lost the game, some positives can be taken from that game. Most notably is the fact that the Illini never quit when they got down early in the third quarter. The team rebounded, and made it a competitive contest, and even though the Illini dropped a couple of passes that could have resulted in touchdowns, the future of the program has the needle pointing upward. Now on to this week's game. The Redhawks have been struggling so far this season, only totaling 448 yards of offense in their first 3 games, all of which have been losses. The Miami quarterback, Austin Boucher, has accounted for 268 of those yards, but only has thrown one touchdown, Needless to say, the Redhawks are not firing on all cylinders, but this is the type of game that the Illini cannot overlook for any reason. The Illini have equaled their win total of last season, and a win on Saturday will surpass that total. I remember giving the Illini four wins at the beginning of the season, and I am not about to adjust that total. However, I am starting to see some positive signs in and around the program, and this year's team seems more cohesive than the one that self-destructed last season. But, bear in mind, the losing streak in the Big Ten is still 14 and counting, so there is still some work to be done before the Illini will be "officially back". But, things are looking up.
The future schedules have now been completed up through the 2017 season, and with the addition of a home and home series with North Carolina in 2015 and 2016, the quality of opponents are on the upswing. Earlier this season, the Big Ten conference came out and said that they would refrain from playing FCS opponents and scheduling them in the future, but as you will look at the list of schedules in the years to come (http://www.fightingillini.com/sports/m-footbl/sched/ill-m-footbl-sched.html), you will notice that Murray State appears on there in 2016. The Racers are an FCS opponent, but this was already scheduled before that mandate went into effect. There is even a game scheduled in 2018, which seems like a very long time away (actually it is).
Kevin Hambly's women's volleyball team ventured out to Tobacco Road this past weekend, and the trip down that road wasn't one to remember. The Illini lost to #15 North Carolina in straight sets on Friday night, then made the short trip to Durham on Saturday night when they were defeated by the Duke Blue Devils 3-1. The Illini, although 4-6 on the season, are still among the nation's top 25 teams, mainly due to their schedule, which has been one of the toughest in the nation. The Illini begin Big Ten play this weekend when they welcome Iowa to the State Farm Center on Friday night (7:00 pm CT, No TV), then get paid a visit by yet another top 25 team, Nebraska, on Saturday afternoon (4:00 pm, BTN). The match on Friday at the State Farm Center is the test run for the NCAA Regional that will be held in December.
Janet Rayfield's women's soccer team began conference play last weekend in Columbus, and played Ohio State to a 1-1, double overtime tie. The Illini will return to the Illini soccer complex this weekend to battle Iowa on Friday night (7:00 pm, CT), then will welcome Nebraska on Sunday afternoon for the annual Illini Soccerfest (4:00 pm, CT). The Illini are currently 5-2-2 overall and 0-0-1 in Big Ten play heading into this weekend's action.
Illini basketball practice officially begins this weekend, and if there wasn't a lot going on campus, both the men's and women's teams are holding "Illini Street Jam", in which the corner of Green and Wright Streets in the heart of campustown will be transformed into a basketball court. Always thinking outside the box, the Illinois DIA is hoping that this event will be well attended. The festivities begin at around 7:30 pm on Saturday evening, and should last for about an hour. Be there!