Friday, October 10, 2008

Remember When?

Remember when, even though the record looked bleak, there was a spark of hope in the football program? Remember when we watched a new coach limp through a season, and then uncover great performances after he'd been around for a year? Remember when we were waiting for the Illini to "turn the corner"?

I hope you do remember -- it hasn't been that long. The Illini were 2-10 in 2006, under 2nd-year coach Ron Zook. That second win, though -- that was at Michigan State on a beautiful September day. The Illini got off to a great start, and led going into the 4th quarter, but the Spartans battled back. But a field goal with just seconds left gave the Illini their first Big Ten win since 2004. The Illini made news because they tried to plant the team flag in the center of the field, creating an "altercation" between teams. And what a feeling that was...hope that the Illini football future looked bright... Especially when, just 15 month later, the Fighting Illini were in Pasadena...

Why do I bring that up now? Because the Golden Gophers, under 2nd-year coach Tim Brewster, are about at that spot today. They are coming off their first Big Ten win under their new coach, and after going 4-0 in non-conference play, there is a spark of hope (maybe even a small flame) for the future of Minnesota football. Granted, those 4 Ws came against teams like Bowling Green and Northern Illinois, but after losing to Bolwing Green in 2007, a win is a definite improvement. And the Big Ten win was against Indiana, another struggling Big Ten team. But it was still a win. The Gophers are hopeing for more -- a signature road win that, no matter what else happens in 2008 -- proves that better days are ahead.

And the Gophers will be looking for that in Memorial Stadium this weekend. While it's unlikely that they will find it, the Illini can't take this game for granted. While Brewster may not have the high-profile experience Zook brought to Illinois, he is working hard to build a program. Zook has his team where they need to be, 3-2 heading into a couple "softer" Big Ten games at home, Minnesota and Indiana. No question the Illini should dominate here, but they can't look past this game or next week's battle against Indiana to the Wisconsin game that follows.

Take care of business at home. Welcome the alumni back with a W. Work on improving the defense. Work on protecting the football. Work on winning, no matter who is on the field.

Go Illini!


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