Purdue down, 1 to go for bowl eligibility

Here’s what we’ve all been waiting for: the column right before Illinois football (yes, that Illinois football) becomes eligible for a bowl invitation.

Let me rephrase that: Unless you’re my mom, you’ve been waiting more for Illinois’ potential bowl eligibility than for this column. It’s OK, I need the tough love.

But here we are, eight games into the Illini’s 2010 campaign, and their record is 5-3. They sit at 3-2 in the Big Ten, good for fifth in the conference. It’s been said plenty of times already this season, but is anyone else surprised? Impressed? Gassy? Pop some Rolaids and strap yourself in — we’re about to embark on an exciting journey toward a magical place where few teams go (Actually, there are far too many bowl games … Cool it, NCAA).

More importantly, we’re about to embark on an exciting journey toward a place where Illini football teams haven’t gone in recent years (Yes, I’m well aware of the Rose Bowl — Illinois was hardly there).

It’s been written about ad nauseam, but that’s what the Rolaids are for. They’re also to quell the nervous stomach you’ll get after reading this — the same stomach Cubs fans have 99 percent of the time they say “It’s gonna happen.”

Here it is: Illinois is going to win out.

The Illini are going to start by dismantling Michigan for the third straight season — they’re going to win, and they’re going to do it easily.

Sure, Denard Robinson is a freak. He’s put up ridiculous numbers and leads the Big Ten in total offense, but he’s also prone to injury and going up against an Illini defense that hits like 11 Ray Lewises. He’ll get his numbers, but he can’t beat Illinois on his own. Or can he? Here’s what head coach Ron Zook had to say on the Michigan signalcaller:

“If we could use 12 or 13 guys, I’d probably feel a little bit better, but other than that … I’m watching the kicking game stuff yesterday and it’s in the third quarter and they’ve got 480 yards on Iowa, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow.’”

Wow, indeed. But here’s the thing: The Wolverines have a vulnerable secondary. The Michigan defense allows a conference-worst 290.5 yards per game through the air, opening the door for Nathan Scheelhaase and company to sling the ball all around the Big House.

Bowl fever is starting to go around Champaign. It’s undeniable. As much as Zook would like to deny that the team is talking about it, they’ve all got to be thinking about it.

Here’s the latest bit of coach-speak rambled off by the Zooker:

“We’re not eligible,” Zook said. “There’s no use talking about it until we’re eligible, and right now we’re not eligible. I think the most important thing is we can talk about this next game, and nothing else matters. Until you get to that proper number of games, there’s no use talking about it.”

Maybe they really aren’t talking about it. But they should be. How else can you accomplish your goals without talking about them first? Isn’t that what you’re taught in school? Set goals and keep tabs on your progress. Maybe my teachers were lying.

A New Year’s Day bowl game is not out of the question, although the Big Ten does have four bowls on Jan. 1, so maybe it would be more out of the ordinary for Illinois to have a game not on New Year’s Day.

All I know is that the Illini better cancel their plans for the holidays and start making new ones.

Alex Iniguez is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @alexiniguez.