Illinois: Facts and Factors

The Kraft Stop Hunger Bowl matches a team with a losing record against another that has lost its last six games...

• The UCLA Bruins play their last game of the 2011 season when they face Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Saturday, December 31st, at 12:34 p.m.

• The game is being played at AT&T Park in San Francisco, and will be nationally televised on ESPN. The game will also be streamed live on Carter Blackburn, Brock Huard and Shelley Smith are calling the game for ESPN.

• UCLA is 6-7 and 5-4 on the season, and won the Pac-12 South by default since USC was ineligible for post-season play.

• Illinois is 6-6 overall and 2-5 in conference, which garnered it fifth place in the Big Ten Leaders division.

• Both teams, of course, fired their coach, with UCLA letting go Rick Neuheisel, and Illinois releasing Ron Zook. Zook was fired November 27th, and then Neuheisel a day later.

• For the bowl game, UCLA is being led by interim head coach Mike Johnson, who is the Bruins' offensive coordinator. Illinois's interim head coach is Vic Koenning, its defensive coordinator.

• Koennig is a well-respected defensive guy, having been the DC at Clemson and Kansas State, as well as the head coach at Wyoming (2000-2002).

• The Kraft Hunger Bowl is unique, being the only bowl game that features two programs that fired its head coaches and are employing interim head coaches for the game.

• Zook spent 7 years in Urbana-Champagne, compiling a 34-51 record overall. It appeared he had turned around the program in his third season in 2007 when the Illini went 9-4, played in the Rose Bowl and ended the season ranked 18th in the nation. Zook then had just one winning season over the next three years and went into the 2011 season on the hot seat. It appeared he had then taken himself off the seat when he guided the Illini to a 6-0 start. Illinois, in fact, rallied from a 28-10 deficit to beat Northwestern 38-35 to go 6-0. It was the first time since 1951 Illinois had started the season 6-0, and they climbed the national rankings to #15. They then lost three close games against Ohio State, Purdue and Penn State, and were then soundly beaten by Michigan. In the next week leading up to the next opponent, Wisconsin, Zook opened his press conference by warning reporters not to ask about his job status. When one reporter did inquire whether Zook had talked to his players about rumors pertaining to his status, Zook promptly walked out of the press conference. The Illini then lost to Wisconsin, and then finished the regular season with a loss to Minnesota. Zook was fired not long after that, on November 27th.

• The 2011 Illini became the fifth team in NCAA football history to start a season 6-0 and end it 6-6.

• Illinois' coaching search lasted a week, with some of the same names being thrown around in UCLA's coaching search also being mentioned with Illinois, including ex-Houston and new Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin (In fact, it was thought Sumlin might wait until the Kraft Stop Hunger Bowl and agree to coach the program who wins it). Illinois then hired Tim Beckman, the former head coach at Toledo. It's uncertain what number of choice Beckman was, but his name didn't crop up until just before he was hired.

• It will be the 12th meeting between UCLA and Illinois, with the Bruins holding a 6-5 advantage. UCLA has won the last four meetings dating back to 1983 and hasn't lost to Illinois since 1964.

• UCLA has faced Illinois in three bowl games: In 1991, in the Hancock Bowl, the Bruins won, 6-3; UCLA then beat the Illini in the 1983 Rose Bowl, 45-9, and lost in the 1946 Rose Bowl, 45-14.

• One of the strangest statistics: UCLA beat Illinois by the score of 6-3 in two consecutive games, in the 1991 Hancock Bowl and then in a non-conference game in 2003.

• Illinois is 7-9 all-time in bowl games, and 3-3 in bowl games in the state of California, with a record of 3-2 in the Rose Bowl.

• The game will be UCLA's 31st bowl appearance, with a record of 14-15-1.

• The Kraft Hunger Bowl will be played for the 10th time, previously having been named the San Francisco Bowl and Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl (2002-2003), and the Emerald Bowl (2004-2009).

• UCLA appeared in the 2006 Emerald Bowl, losing to Florida State, 44-27.

• The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is affiliated with the Pac-12 conference and Army, but Army was not bowl eliglble this season, leaving officials free to invite Illinois as an at-large participant.

• UCLA will be without four players for the bowl game. Senior safety Tony Dye, sophomore offensive lineman Albert Cid and sophomore linebacker Isaiah Bowens did not meet NCAA academic eligibility standards for the game, while quarterback Richard Brehaut has been suspended for the game due to a violation of team rules.

• Likewise, Illinois will be without senior running back Jason Ford and freshman receiver Jake Kumerow because of academic ineligibility. Ford is Illinois' leading rusher for 2011, with 600 yards on the season.

• UCLA is the first team in 10 years to earn a trip to a bowl game with a losing record (North Texas, 2001).

• Illinois won its last national championship in 1951, and UCLA in 1954.

• In going to a bowl in 2010 and then this season, it's the first time Illinois has gone to two consecutive bowls since 1991-1992.

• Illinois is favored by 2.5 points.

• It's supposed to be 60 degrees and cloudy in San Francisco on Saturday.

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