Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Wisconsin Badgers: Brutally Honest Preview

The Illinois Fighting Illini and Wisconsin Badgers have a lot in common in 2012 and it’s not a good thing. Most notably is the unexpected and disappointing starts  for both teams. Neither team looked half-decent against non-conference foes and both lost their Big Ten openers.

The Illini’s new head coach Tim Beckman could already be on the hot-seat and the Wisconsin Badgers are without any kind of identity on the offensive side of the ball.

Let the battle of the Big Ten’s Legends Division begin.

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#16 Illini Destroy Hoosiers, 6-0 Despite Not Playing a Complete Game

Illinois (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is off to its best start since the 1951 National Title team went 7-0.

The Hoosiers (1-5, 0-2) lost their third in a row, have not beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team this season and lost 13 consecutive against the Top 25 since a 31-28 victory over then #13 Iowa Hawkeyes on Oct. 14, 2006.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Illinois essentially spotted Indiana 10 points today, and seemed to be down double digits right after getting off the bus. They also had far inferior special teams to IU today, and that 41-20 final score wasn’t very indicative of how solidly Illinois beat them, or at least how solidly Illinois should have defeated them.

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Strong Illini OL Led By NFL Prospect, Tackle Jeff Allen

Since Ron Zook took over in 2005, the Illinois Fighting Illini are first in the Big Ten in rushing, not the Wisconsin Badgers (who are second). It’s a surprising stat, but a truthful one.

Senior weakside tackle Jeff Allen is yet another in a great line of OLs to come from Champaign to the NFL (Tony Pashos, David Diehl, Jon Asamoah, Brad Hopkins, Brandon Moore, J.P. Machado, and Allen’s case we’ll see if he makes the leap this April). The Illini switch guards and tackles given the play call. So there is no true right/left guards and tackles. This versatility will serves Illini OL well for the next level.

They all have experience playing multiple positions.

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Illinois 38, Northwestern 35: Rapid Reaction

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It was a game that could have changed the Northwestern season. The Wildcats had Dan Persa back, had an 18-point lead on the road, and had momentum. Then, it all fell apart.

Northwestern did everything in its power to lose on the road at Illinois. So did the Fighting Illini. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, fate appeared to be favoring orange over purple in the Big Ten season opener. Northwestern fell to Illinois 38-35, allowing the Illini to keep possession of the Land of Lincoln trophy. [Read more…]

A.J. Jenkins Develops into Illini Go-to Receiver, Big Ten Star

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In the 2009 preseason, college football experts were proclaiming the Illinois Fighting Illini receiving corps to be the best in the Big Ten, and among the best in the nation.

Well, the Illini finished 10th in passing in the conference out of 11 teams and stumbled to a 3-9 record. So it’s safe to say that the WRs fell short of expectations.

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More Illinois Fighting Illini Named to College Football Award Watch Lists

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We already told you about QB Nathan Scheelhaase being named a candidate for the Maxwell Award, the most outstanding player in college football. But there’s more:

Illinois senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins has been named a preseason candidate for the 2011 Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding wide receiver by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation.

Jenkins led the Illini in receiving in 2010 with 56 catches for 746 yards and seven touchdowns. His seven touchdowns rank eighth on the UI single-season TD receptions list. Jenkins had two 100-yard games during his junior season, including a career-best 137-yard effort against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Nov. 13.

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Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase Candidate for Maxwell Award (Nation’s Best Player)

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University of Illinois Fighting Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase has been named to the 65-man watch list for the Maxwell Award, given annually to the nation’s best college football player.

Scheelhaase is one of only 11 underclassmen on the 65-man list and is one of 10 Big Ten players recognized. The sophomore quarterback threw for 1,825 yards and rushed for an Illini freshman record and UI quarterback record 868 yards in 2010 as a redshirt freshman.

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What we Learned from Fighting Illini Football Spring Game

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A small select group of things are certain in life- death, taxes, and Fighting Illini football seasons ending up much different than what you expected in the preseason. Last year’s team wasn’t expected to really do much- Yet the finished 7-6 (despite a very difficult schedule) and with a quite decisive bowl victory.

Conversely, in ’08 and ’09, expectations were sky-high heading into September, yet both of those teams flopped (and that’s putting it nicely). So what about this year? Expectations are kind of mixed, “up in the air” you might say as this year’s squad competes to become the first team to reach back-to-back bowl games since 1992.

And that’s fitting, because the 20th anniversary of the 1988-92 teams that made five consecutive bowl games will both be celebrated during the weekend festivities. If Red Grange and Robert Zuppke presided over the “Golden Years,” of Illini college football, then surely the Jeff George/Jason Verduzco/John Mackovic teams were the “silver era” of the program’s history.

That said, let’s begin the journey this fall to finding out whether or not this team will match the ’92 squad’s accomplishment.

By Paul M. Banks

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Fighting Illini Spring Football Game Preview

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Now that Mikel Leshoure left the Illini early for the NFL Draft, (and who can blame him really? He will be one of the first three running backs taken next week) Illinois college football is now headlined by sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase. It’s his team. And if he continue to makes strides like he did from the season finale to the Texas Bowl, things will be fine.

The 15 extra practices between the Fresno State loss and the 38-14 domination over Baylor did wonders for Scheelhaase as he completed his first 13 passes, played his best game of the season, and easily could have been co-MVP with Leshoure in that game. Even though Leshoure’s game was really quite special.

Something to really keep an eye on Saturday is Scheelhaase continuing to develop chemistry with wide receivers Ryan Lankford and Darius Millines.

But you won’t get to see the heir apparent to Leshoure at the tailback position. Jason Ford will not go Saturday.

By Paul M. Banks

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2010 Illinois Football Season: the Official Exit Interview

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Back in June I gave an interview to collegefootballzealots.com previewing the upcoming University of Illinois college football season. I was pretty negative and pessimistic.

And it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. So I guess that makes me roughly the size of Jon Asamoah then because I was wrong about a few things. But fresh off a return from the Texas Bowl victory, here’s my exit interview for the same site; recapping the season.

By Paul M. Banks

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Mikel Leshoure to Rashard Mendenhall Comparisons Running Wild Now

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Given that they are/were both Illinois Fighting Illini, wore the same jersey number, played the same position, and didn’t break out until their junior year (and when they broke out, they really did it in style) it’s inevitable to compare current Illini tailback Mikel Leshoure to current Pittsbrugh Steelers star running back Rashard Mendenhall.

Heck, I wrote a column about it in October.

And after Leshoure’s huge, record-setting game in the Texas Bowl, more people are making the analogy. Leshoure was even asked the question Wednesday night, in the post-game press conference. Both are local products. Leshoure is from Champaign (Centenniel h.s.) and Mendenhall is from suburban Skokie (Niles West h.s.).

By Paul M. Banks

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Texas Bowl Sees Illinois and Baylor Break Numerous Records

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Last night’s college football match-up won38-14 by the Illinois Fighting Illini over Baylor broke a bunch of Texas Bowl, bowl history in the city of Houston, as well as Illinois and Baylor records. Seriously, there were a ton, but here are some of the most notable.

-The Illini tied the Texas Bowl record for most points scored 38 and most net yards gained at 533.

-Leshoure tied a Texas Bowl (and Houston Bowl game) record for most touchdowns with 3, rushed for a Texas Bowl record 187 yards.

-Scheelhaase set a Texas Bowl record for most consecutive passes completed at 13, completion percentage of 78.0. highest average gain per pass attempt (min. 20 attempts) at 13.4 yards. Both also highest in Houston bowl game history.

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