Illini Receiver A.J. Jenkins: Probably Best WR Weapon in Big Ten

Earlier this college football season, University of Illinois senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins made some comments that proclaimed himself the best wide receiver in the Big Ten.

He has since backed off from those remarks, and now maintains a more standard, PR-friendly, humble and some could say vanilla manner in his on-the-record comments to the media. But his play on the field (third in the nation, first in the Big Ten in receiving yards) is making a loud and powerful statement.

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Illini LB Kick to Northwestern OL Groin Earns him 1 game Suspension

The Big Ten Conference announced today that it has accepted the one-game suspension of University of Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown for violating the Big Ten Sportslike Conduct Agreement during the rivalry game versus Northwestern this past Saturday.

In case you missed it, Brown blatantly and very intentionally kneed Wildcats OL Patrick Ward in the, um, let’s say he hit him right in the Marvin McBucknuts. Watch the video here.

And the cheap shot/act of unwarranted aggression cost him the opportunity to play this week versus the Indiana Hoosiers.

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Groin Kicks. Juvenile Insults. Illinois-Northwestern Rivalry Gets Low Brow

The video that follows after the jump makes me anything but proud to be an Illinois alum.

Illini linebacker Jonathan Brown has had his issues within the program. He’s found himself benched when he’s failed to meet his commitments and expectations, but this is only going to further tarnish his reputation.

He kneed Northwestern offensive lineman Patrick Ward in the groin in the first half on Saturday.

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Illini Beat Northwestern 38-35: Chicago’s Big Ten Team?

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It was a week where one school’s marketing slogan became a motivational rallying cry for the other school in the state. Northwestern has been promoting themselves as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” for a season and half, and today Illinois made stated pretty loudly how they felt about it.

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase scored a 1-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left to lead #22 Illinois to a 38-35 comeback win over NU. He threw for a career-high 391 yards and three touchdowns (one interception) for the Illini (5-0 for the first time since 1951). All three TD passes went to A.J. Jenkins, who had 12 catches for a school-record 268 yards. The previous school receiving yards record was also set versus Northwestern in 1984. (David Williams 204).

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#22 Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Northwestern Wildcats: Brutally Honest Game Preview

Big Ten conference play begins with the annual in-state rivalry game between the Northwestern Wildcats and Illinois Fighting Illini. It does feel a little weird not having this game played on the last week of the season, when all the other intrastate, intra-region bloodfeud games are held.  But last year it was such a special event that it’s hard not to get excited for the 2011 edition.

Remember last year? The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs hosted the Wrigleyville Classic, with ESPN Gameday and Erin Andrews visiting Chicago. And of course, the goofy everyone going the same way on offense because of the short-sighted brain-dead planning in regards to the end zone barrier less than six inches from the wall. That didn’t make anyone here look good.

One guy who did look good was Mikel Leshoure who broke the Illini single game rushing record. Illinois relied on a powerful rushing attack—totaling 519 yards on the ground—to turn a 27-24 halftime deficit into a 48-27 win over NU. The Wildcats were playing for the first time without quarterback Dan Persa, who injured his Achilles tendon the week prior against Iowa.

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Steelers Troy Polamalu’s College Counterpart (Hair Wise): Illini RB Troy Pollard

The similarities between Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and Illinois Fighting Illini leading rusher Troy Pollard go further than just the amazing coincidence in names. There’s the hair thing too!

You’ve seen Polamalu’s shampoo commercials, right? “Troy Polamolecules dude.”

You can go here for more. But let’s learn more about the man nicknamed “bucket o’ hair.”

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Troy Pollard, Jay Prosch Add to Illini RB Depth

While Illinois’ rushing offense has remained dominant, the Illini are doing it by committee this year rather then relaying on one dominant runner like they did in 2007 (Rashard Mendenhall) and 2010 (Mikel Leshoure). Four different Illini have over 200 rushing yards on the season, and all four have scored at least one rushing TD.

Senior RB Troy Pollard (a runner in the Daniel Dufrene, Rocky Harvey mold) leads the Illini ground attack with a team-high 260 yards on only 25 carries (10.4 ypc). A fifth-year senior, Pollard (nicknamed “Bucket of hair” for obvious reasons) ran for a career-high 133 yards on 14 attempts (9.5 ypc) last week against Western Michigan, marking his second 100-yard effort in the last three games (101 vs. South Dakota State on 9/10).

He provides the “lightning” in the “thunder and lightning” type backfield approach. Freshman Donovonn Young is the thunder.

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#22/#18 Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Illinois Fighting Illini: Brutally Honest Game Preview

Illini Need Wide Receiver Ryan Lankford to Develop Into Third Option

Illinois Fighting Illini WR Ryan Lankford was the team’s most improved player this spring practice session. But he didn’t have a catch on Saturday in the big 33-15 win over Arkansas State. Someone preferably Lankford needs to become Illinois’ third option.

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for a career-best 267 yards. His 16 completions went to A.J. Jenkins, who had 11 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown, and Darius Millines, who caught five balls for 119 yards and a score.

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Illinois Fighting Ilini Season Preview: Offense

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Last year the Illinois Fighting Illini got a bowl win for the first time since 1999, a 38-14 drubbing of Baylor in Houston that kind of resembled their last bowl win, a 63-21 destruction of Virginia. The offense got very hot down the stretch last season, so hot that the unit set new records for points scored and total points.

This year QB Nathan Scheelhaase is up for the Maxwell Award, and the dual threat quarterback made huge strides towards the end of last year. He completed his first 12 passes (including all in the first half) of the Texas Bowl, and tossed just 1 interception in his final 7 games. He set a school record for rushing yards by a QB (858) and had a very solid 17-8 TD-INT ratio. The redshirt freshman no doubt benefited greatly form the extra practices that comes along with bowl prep.

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#38 Illinois Fighting Illini: College Football 77 in 77

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If there’s one thing I know in life, it’s that Illinois college football never ever conforms to your expectations. No one saw their two BcS appearances coming (2001, 2007); and since they followed both seasons up with sub .500 choking, both these bowl appearances are now looked upon as fluky. Whenever Illinois has been predicted to do well (2000, 2002, 2008, 2009) they fell flat on their faces. And their bowl wins (last year, 1999) come in seasons when everyone predicts them to finish near the Big Ten basement.

And I know a lot about this stuff.

My first ever sports memory was their destruction at the hands of UCLA in the 1984 Rose Bowl. I attended my first Illini game in 1991. In addition to covering the team for the school paper when I was in school there, two of my older siblings went to UI. In other words, it’s “my team,” and one of the three teams I cover regularly. So I know this stuff! And I’m excited to finally reach my team in the 77 in 77 (after all, Illini legend Red Grange, the greatest player the game has ever known) partially inspired this segment.

So where will the Illinois Fighting Illini finish this season?

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Illini Running Back Situation: Who takes over for Mikel Leshoure?

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When Rashard Mendenhall left the Illinois Fighting Illini with a year of eligibility left in 2007, for the NFL Draft, Illinois suffered the next year. Aside from that whole “planes cannot take down a building” tweets of idiocy and the sponsorship pullout that followed, things have gone pretty well for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mendenhall.

But for the two years that followed, the running game suffered in Champaign. They struggled to find both offensive balance and an heir to ‘Shard. Until last year when Mikel Leshoure, wearing the same jersey #5, and also in his junior season grabbed the position and broke almost all of those big time single season school rushing records that Mendenhall had just broke in 2007. Leshoure left school early just like ‘Shard and was also a high round NFL draft pick.

What does 2011 hold? Hopefully, history doesn’t repeat.

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