It’s Do or Die Time For Zook and Illini

On the final week of college football’s regular season, the Illinois Fighting Illini football team has their backs against the wall. The 2011 season began with promise. After winning the Texas Bowl to finish the 2010 season on a high note, the Illini kicked it into high gear in the offseason. When the 2011 spring football program took place this year, there was a lot of buzz and excitement for the upcoming season. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse was ready to lead this team, Senior Running Backs Jason Ford and Troy Pollard were ready to anchor the ground game, and a group of young receivers and offensive linemen were ready for the big time.

And the Illini proved to be big time at the start of the season by winning the first 6 games. The offense was prolific, the defense was decent but had it’s moments, special teams was competitive, and it seemed like Ron Zook had finally poised his team to take over the Big Ten and make a run for the BCS. But then offensive production slowed down which in turn affected the defense. Special teams wasn’t so special, and the team fell apart which resulted in a 5 game losing streak.

How the Illini fall apart so fast still remains a mystery. Did the team get tired after the first 6 games? Did the Illini hit a string of bad luck? Or was it the fact that the Illini had an easy schedule for the first 6 games and then reality sunk in when conference play started? Whatever the case is, the Illini are in a fight to save the season. They are also in a fight to try and save Ron Zook’s job. In my previous report:

I talked about Ron Zook’s coaching history and mentioned how he has always had solid teams but was unable to win conference championships and has a 1-4 record in bowl games. I also touched on his struggles with recruiting. While Illinois is bowl eligible this year, they could be left out of the postseason if they lose their final game this Saturday. Remember, not all 6 win teams get into bowl games. And the one’s that do have to make one heck of an impression on the bowl selection committee.

Perhaps arch-rival Northwestern will get a bowl over Illinois because the Wildcats have won 5 in a row compared to Illinois losing 5 in a row. There is also the Purdue Boilermakers who will be bowl eligible should they beat Indiana this weekend. They may get in a bowl game over Illinois because the Boliermakers own a victory over the Fighting Illini. Should Purdue win on Saturday, the Big Ten will have 10 bowl eligible teams.

And at the most only 6 or 7 will get a bowl game, especially if the Southeast Conference has anything to say about it. The best way for Illinois to improve their chances of going bowling is to win their final regular season game this weekend. And they have a perfect opportunity to do it when they head to Minnesota to play the Golden Gophers. Minnesota is the 2nd worst team in the Big Ten this season {Only Indiana is worse}.

Minnesota has only won 2 games all year, only 1 conference win, and last week they were the reason Northwestern became bowl eligible. I could only hope that the Illini have been busting their asses in practice this week and that the Illini team who started 6-0 will show up on Saturday. Not only are the Illini playing to save their season, they are also playing to help Ron Zook keep his job. But in all honesty, even a berth in the postseason may not be enough to keep Ron Zook employed at the University Of Illinois. But if this team truly cares about their coach and truly wants Ron Zook back next season, then the Fighting Illini must play like there is no tomorrow and beat Minnesota. The Illini Nation is currently holding their breath and praying for a miracle.

Also, the guys at High Motor Guy let me join in on their podcast this week. We discussed Jay Cutler’s injury:

By Blogga Gabe Salgado

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