Illini Look for Bowl-Clinching Win

As the favorites in Saturday's matchup with the Gophers, the Illini are hoping to clinch a bowl berth with the win in the Metrodome.

According to the oddsmakers as well as anyone who can read the Big Ten standings, Illinois figures to earn its long-awaited, bowl-clinching seventh victory at Minnesota Nov. 3.

The Illini are generally regarded as 11-point favorites against the last-place Gophers, but who knows if that takes into account a few key factors:

1. New Minnesota coach Tim Brewster is a proud Illinois alumnus (he caught 64 passes as a tight end for the 1983 Big Ten champs) and sought the head-coaching job that Zook earned in December 2004.

2. Brewster's son, Clint, committed to play quarterback at Illinois last summer and maintained that commitment until the final days, when he switched over to his dad's new school.

3. That left Illinois without a quarterback recruit in the Class of 2007, so the unhappy Illini took the quarterback from Minnesota's class (Phil Haig) who de-committed once young Brewster came aboard.

4. All of these issues have built an immediate rivalry between the Illinois and Minnesota coaching staffs, which surely will carry over to the players.

Zook only spoke of the first item on this list when discussing the Gophers, but his conclusion isn't any different than if he took all of these factors into account.

"I'm sure that they've had this game circled since that staff got there, with Coach Brewster being an alumnus of here," Zook said. "This is an opportunity for them. We've got a little momentum going here, and it's an opportunity for them to derail us."

NOTES

  • Junior RB Rashard Mendenhall looks more and more like an NFL early-entry candidate each week. With his 189 yards and two scores against Ball State last week, Mendenhall pushed his season totals to 1,113 yards and 12 touchdowns. Plus, he's the team's No. 2 receiver with 25 catches for 226 yards and two more scores. Barring injury, Mendenhall will set the school's single-season records for rushing yards and touchdowns within the next three weeks.

  • For the first time in more than a calendar year, fifth-year senior MLB J. Leman isn't alone atop the Big Ten's tackles list. Despite posting a team-high 11 stops last week against Ball State, Leman's average dropped to 11.1 tackles per game and Iowa linebacker Mike Humpal caught up to him. Why have Leman's numbers dropped? For starters, Illinois' defensive line makes more plays than it did a year ago.


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