By Doug Halberstadt
At the beginning of this year’s college football season, I made a commitment to myself and to our readers to try to follow the four teams from our area I thought were the most popular — Illinois, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois University and Iowa. Now that the regular season has come to a close, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how the four fared this year and where they are headed during the postseason.
Let’s start with the Fighting Illini. They started off as hot as any team in the country by winning their first six games out of the gate. Then, they turned cold — ice cold. They went on another streak. This time, they lost their next six games straight and finished the season with a 6-6 record. They were a paltry 2-6 in Big Ten conference play.
Following their final loss of the year, they fired long-time Head Coach Ron Zook. Despite the recent adversity, the team is still headed for postseason play. Illinois will make back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since the 1991 and 1992 seasons. The Illini will take part in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at 2:30 p.m., Dec. 31, in San Francisco, where they will take on UCLA of the Pac-12. The Illini are 7-9 in bowl games all-time, including a victory over Baylor in the Texas Bowl last season.
The Wisconsin Badgers (11-2, 6-2 Big Ten) won the first-ever Big Ten Conference Championship Game last Saturday (Dec. 3) by defeating Michigan State 42-39. The win over MSU helped avenge a last-second loss to the Spartans back on Oct. 22.
The win also guaranteed the Badgers a second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin will face Pac-12 champion Oregon in the 98th edition of the game, to be held at 3:30 p.m., Jan. 2, 2012, on ESPN. Wisconsin is making its fourth appearance in the Rose Bowl game since the inception of the BCS in 1998 and eighth appearance overall. They are making their 23rd appearance in a bowl game, and this is their 10th consecutive year with a bowl berth. The Badgers hold a 3-4 record in games in Pasadena.
The Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) will make a return trip to the Insight Bowl this season. Kick-off is scheduled for 9 p.m., Dec. 30, on ESPN. The Hawkeyes take on Oklahoma of the Big 12 in Iowa’s 26th all-time bowl appearance. Boasting a 14-10-1 mark in bowl action, Iowa has achieved bowl eligibility in the last 11 campaigns, posting victories in each of its previous three berths in the postseason. The Hawkeyes capped last season by earning a 27-24 victory over No. 12 Missouri in their first appearance in the Insight Bowl.
The NIU Huskies won The Mid American Conference Championship game last Friday night (Dec. 2) in dramatic fashion. Despite being down 20-0 at halftime, the Huskies managed to put up 23 unanswered points and defeat the Ohio Bobcats 23-20. NIU (10-3) won its first MAC Championship in 28 years by tying its biggest comeback victory in modern history. The win was the eighth in a row for the Huskies. This is the first time in school history that the Huskies have had back-to-back 10-win seasons.
NIU will attempt to match last year’s 11-win total when they travel to Mobile, Ala., for the second annual GoDaddy.com Bowl Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. The Huskies (10-3, 7-1 MAC) and Arkansas State (10-2, 8-0) will face off in Mobile’s historic Ladd-Peebles Stadium at 8 p.m. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN. NIU will finish its season by playing in a bowl game for the fourth consecutive year and the sixth time in the last eight seasons.
That’s a pretty good year for the regional college football teams. All of them finished the regular season with at least .500 records, and all four are headed to bowl games.
All fans are encouraged to make their travel arrangements immediately if they plan on attending any of the games. More information about tickets and travel is available on each team’s website.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Dec. 7-13, 2011, issue