Well, fellow Orange & Blue sufferers, we end 2010 on a positive note. It’s a rarity, so savor it while you can. With that convincing 38-14 win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl, the Fighting Illini gridders enter next season with momentum and promise. The game’s result was something of a surprise, as many had tabbed the Bears playing in front of a home crowd with their potent offense as the favorite. More surprising was the manner of victory, with Zook’s boys dominating on defense and ripping off an impressive 13 passes in a row to set up Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford’s cannonballing runs.
A few hours later, in Iowa City, the hoops team earned a Big 10 road win against the Hawkeyes, 87-77. These Illini rediscovered their shooting touch, hitting at around 66% for the game (and by the way, if you can’t win when you shoot that well, you might as well stop playing), but many of the previously noted problems with this team were once again present. Still, Fran McCaffrey’s version of the Hawks, while still undermanned, played hard and smart. If they don’t lose their way completely they will upset some teams this year.
But back to the bowl win. Sure, this was one of the also-ran bowls. Sure this team only finished one game above .500, but for a program that’s struggling to move up in the conference pecking order, that hasn’t won a bowl game since 1999, that has been an irregular post-season participant since the early 90s, you just can’t discount the potential momentum. Last night we saw the payoff of 15 extra practices with the improved coordinators. We saw potential in underclassmen and returning players. Now the coaching staff has something else to talk about when they hit the recruiting trail. The DIA has additional fodder for season ticket sales. The Zooker doesn’t have to hear as much rumbling and grumbling from the alumni. As an example, look at what regular bowl participation has meant to teams like Iowa and Mizzou – teams whose success Illinois should be able to emulate. Those two squads have parlayed regular post-season success into improved recruiting and program atmosphere and a chance to compete for their conference championships on good years. And that’s just what we’re hoping for around here.
Five points in your double victory pentagram: