Turn a Corner; Flip a Page (Illinois)

Illinois Football

Turn a Corner; Flip a Page (Illinois)

The University of Illinois made great strides last season. They have proven under Ron Zook that they can win football games, and produce a lot of talent. As every team in the Big Ten, they want to win the conference title and play in the Rose Bowl.   Their talent has shown up in the first round of the NFL draft with the likes of Rashard Mendanhall (RB Steelers) and last year’s first round selection Cory Liguit (DE/DT Chargers) The Fighting Illini made some coaching chances prior to last year, after finishing 3-9, and they really seemed to pay off. After turning that page Illinois appears poised to turn a corner. Now Illinois is entering a season where they are expect to make a bowl game, and be a decent team in the talented and deep Big Ten.

Although Illinois will be by no means playing an easy schedule, as the Big Ten is never easy, they will be playing eight games at home this year. That is always nice, especially for a team who could be borderline bowl bound. The Illini will be guided by now second year starter Nathan Scheelhaase, who has a ton of potential. Head Coach Ron Zook believes this team is very close to winning 9 games. He was quoted as sayingA call here, a missed tackle here and we win” in an interview for the team’s website when asked about reaching the 9 win milestone. That is certainly a goal that the Illinois fans want to see accomplished, and one the team has in mind. This team needs to build on a great spring by having a great fall camp, and rolling into the season ready to go full gear. They cannot afford to be slow starters if they want to reach their 9 wins.

A few missed tackles may have cost Illinois some games last year, but there was more to it. Not only did Illinois fail to make plays when they needed to, but they shot themselves in the foot quite a bit. Penalties killed this team last year, and that needs to stop if they want to be more successful than they were last year.  However Illinois did end their 2010 campaign on a high note, ending in a decisive victory over Baylor in the Texas Bowl (38-14).

Looking forward to 2011, Illinois looks to build off of that momentum. Here is a surprising fact, Illinois actually lead the Big Ten in rushing last season. That is something they will look to continue. Their running game has been good for a long time. They always seem to have a balanced running back who can carry the load week in and week out. However, they balance it out with their quarterback, and that makes for a dangerous lighting /thunder combination. Ron Zook has had his high and lows at Illinois, receiving a Rose Bowl bid (but losing to USC) as a high, and hitting a low with a few 3 win or less seasons. However now that Coach Zook has flipped over a page on his coaching staff he is really to lead Illinois to the next level. Illinois is looking to turn the corner, and Coach Zook is out to prove that he can be a consistent winner, for a long time and having Illinois at least being mentioned in the Big Ten Title race every year. This is not really a make it or break it year for the Fighting Illini, but it is most definitely an important one for Coach Zook and the rest of the staff.

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