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Would anyone have believed the Fighting Illini would be undefeated in the Big 10 Conference and have a 5-1 overall record so far this season? I dont think even Head Coach Ron Zook would have answered that yes.
The Illini may be the biggest surprise in college football so far this season. That is if you dont count Michigan losing their opening game to Appalachian State (32-34) or Notre Dame losing their first five games.
The only blemish on the Illinois schedule is their opening game of the season against their long-time rival, the University of Missouri, 40-34. The Tigers are undefeated (5-0) and ranked 11th in the AP Top 25 poll.
The Illini are coming off a huge win against their Big 10 rivals to the north, the Wisconsin Badgers, 31-26. The Badgers came into the game ranked fifth in the nation. The Illini werent even in the Top 25. Following the victory, Illinois cracked the AP Top 25 poll at 18th, while Wisconsin dropped from fifth to 19th.
Illinois has five more conference games and one non-conference game against the Ball State Cardinals. Their conference schedule includes a game at Iowa this Saturday, Oct. 13. Iowa is 2-4 overall, and has yet to win a game in the conference.
The following Saturday night, Oct. 20, the Michigan Wolverines come to Champaign for a prime time (8 p.m.) game. Michigan lost their first two games of the year, but has managed to win their last four games in a row. Their opponents in those four games were Notre Dame (1-5), Penn State (4-2), Northwestern (3-3) and Eastern Michigan (2-4).
At the risk of looking too far ahead, the Illini have a great shot at winning at least another four or five games during the remainder of the season. They could possibly finish 9-3 or 10-2. Their real test will come Nov. 10 when they meet the third-ranked team in the country, the Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0) in Columbus, Ohio.
I think its safe to say Illini fans might want to start making plans for a bowl game.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
from the Oct. 10, 2007, issue