The Dangers Ahead: Illini Sked Gets No Easier

It is, without a doubt, the great mystery for a college football coach. They can preach, teach, rant, rave and lecture their troops until there are no more words left to say. Then they wonder and wonder -- did I get through to them? Did I convince them that they have to play every game like the world is going to end? Ron Zook talked about that as his team enters a crucial Iowa week.

"I think all of our guys are excited about where we are," Zook said. "But it is so important that they remember how we got here. And remember how it felt before now."

"It is also important that they realize we haven't accomplished anything yet. This is a humbling game. Come out one time not ready to play and you are reminded of that quickly."

Indeed, teams have seemed to have forgotten all year long. Louisville was a 36-point favorite and lost to Syracuse. Southern Cal was a 40-point favorite and lost to Stanford, the biggest upset in college football history.

Two weeks ago -- five of the top 10 teams in the Associated Press poll -- West Virginia, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas and Rutgers -- were upset. Last Saturday, three more in top 10 -- USC, Wisconsin and Kentucky -- went down.

Never before in the history of the AP poll have eight top 10 teams been upset in a two-week period.

So maybe the worst thing that can happen to a football team these days? Being favored. Zook joked about being a three-point favorite over Wisconsin last week. "I think that is a Wisconsin person trying to make them mad," he said.

This week, the Illini are a three-point favorite at Iowa. Against a dangerous team with its back against the wall hungry for a victory. On the road. Against a team that already has lost to one rival -- Iowa State.

"Believe me, we know that," Zook said. "The Illinois-Iowa game is a big rivalry. Always has been. Since way before I got here. And they have a good team, you don't have to watch very long to see that. And we are going to get the best they've got."

For that reason, Zook has said the routine has to be the same each week for his team. They have to practice like there is no tomorrow, grind and sweat and leave it all on the field.

Mostly, don't get caught up in all of the adulation that is coming their way. Play like you played when you had something to prove. Because, the truth is, you still do.

"Like I said, we haven't accomplished anything yet," Zook said. "The season is only half over."

In the meantime, Zook said his banged up players - quarterback Juice Williams (knee) and receiver Arrelious Benn (shoulder) should be ready to play.

"We have to take it easy with them this week," Zook said. "But they should be fine."

He knows they better be.

"We haven't beaten Iowa since we've been here," Zook said. "They have beaten us both times. Our players are excited about this game -- it is very, very important to us."

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