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Illinois and Ron Zook Understand Each Other, How to Lose

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Kristofer Green

CHAMPAIGN--Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was three years old when Illinois coach Ron Zook began his coaching career at Murray State, five years old when Zook left Murray State for Cincinnati, and 8 years old when Zook took over as defensive coordinator at Kansas.


Before Fitzgerald went on to be a two-time All-American linebacker for the Wildcats, Zook had also worked for Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, and Florida.


In 1997, when Fitzgerald was a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys and Zook was the special teams coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the two teams met at Three Rivers Stadium for the season opener.


Fitzgerald's team won that day too.

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Handing Out Hardware at College Football's Halfway Point

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Kevin Paul

Prepare those speeches and clear some space on the mantle, because it's time to hand out some midseason hardware for the 2009 college football season:
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Illini Back At Square One With Two Quarterbacks

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Tim Cary

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.-- Illinois football coach Ron Zook isn't ready to say who will start at quarterback for his team when they travel to Bloomington Saturday night to face the Indiana Hoosiers.

Sure, that makes sense. 

Zook benched the school's career leader in total offense, looking for a spark for his disappointing football team, and the backup, junior Eddie McGee, responded by completing a grand total of two passes in 11 attempts against Michigan State.  The only touchdown McGee threw was to the wrong team, as the Spartans' Danny Fortener broke perfectly on a ball well behind the intended receiver and waltzed into the end zone untouched.

I realize Juice Williams hasn't had a great year, but how is that an improvement?

Michigan State v Illinois
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Carrying On About Big Ten Football: October 10

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Tim Cary

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.-- As many of our readers know, I wrote a column less than two months ago predicting the result of every game in the Big Ten.  I mulled over possible outcomes, considered matchups, carefully weighed home-field advantages, searched for breakout players, tried to predict momentum swings, and came up with a finished product I was very proud of.

This self-proclaimed masterpiece predicted a 6-0 start and (ultimately) a league co-championship for Ron Zook's Fighting Illini.  In my way of thinking, the Illini would rebound from a disappointing 2008 season and return to Rose Bowl-type form, led by Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn, and an explosive offense.

Well...

I'm an idiot.

That thought rang through my head as I stood on the Memorial Stadium turf Saturday afternoon and watched Illinois struggle through a 24-14 loss to the visiting Michigan State Spartans that wasn't nearly as close as the respectable final score indicates. 
Michigan State v Illinois

I wasn't watching a Rose Bowl team.

Or a bowl team.

Or an explosive offense.

(So is it too late to edit that predictions article a bit?)

Oh well.  Pride goes before a fall, right?


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Eddie McGee Experiment Ends Early In Champaign

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Tim Cary

Illinois replaced Eddie McGee at quarterback with former starter Juice Williams early in the third quarter after two horrible drives, one of which ended with a Danny Fortener interception and touchdown return.  When Williams entered the game, the Illini trailed 24-0.  The senior has sparked the Illinois offense to some extent, as the home team finally got on the board with a touchdown late in the third quarter.

With 15 minutes to play at Memorial Stadium, the Michigan State Spartans still lead 24-7.

Halftime In Champaign: Michigan State On Top 17-0

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Tim Cary

The much-discussed Illinois quarterback change hasn't accomplished anything yet for Coach Ron Zook, as his Illini trail 17-0 at halftime of today's Homecoming contest.  The margin could be even more lopsided, but Michigan State running back Glenn Winston fumbled at the Illinois 1-yard line and the home team recovered.

The Spartans have rolled up 281 yards of offense in the first half, compared to only 58 for the Illini.  Michigan State's usual starting quarterback, Kirk Cousins, hasn't played a snap yet, and only time will tell if Illinois star Juice Williams will get a shot in the second half or if Zook sticks with Eddie McGee, who's gone the distance so far.

One injury note: Winston is out for at least the second half after sustaining an injury on the Spartans' last drive.  Look for Larry Caper to pick up a few more snaps, with Caulton Ray working in to the mix more as well. 

Michigan State Spoiling Illinois Homecoming So Far

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Tim Cary

The visiting Michigan State Spartans are out to a quick 14-0 lead after fifteen minutes of play in Champaign.  With starter Kirk Cousins still battling an ankle injury, Keith Nichol has led MSU on back-to-back scoring drives to quiet the Homecoming crowd at Memorial Stadium.

As the first quarter ended, Illinois had finally mounted a solid drive, and Ron Zook's crew faces an important third-down play to start the second quarter.  Can Eddie McGee make something positive happen for the Illini?

Kickoff Only Minutes Away In Illinois

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Tim Cary

The marching band is performing their pregame show, the stands are filling with orange-clad Illini fans, the F-16s have performed their flyover, and kickoff of the Michigan State/Illinois game is only a few minutes away here in Champaign.

After all the talk about nasty weather in Big Ten country, it's an incredibly beautiful day at Memorial Stadium.  The sun is shining brightly, and neither team will have any weather issues to complain about other than, perhaps, "I lost the ball in the sun!"

Obvious storylines here: Eddie McGee is making his first start for the home team, while Michigan State is trying to build on the momentum of last week's overtime win against the Wolverines.

Stay tuned to FirstandBigTen.com for the latest updates from Champaign!


Top Ten Storylines for the Upcoming Weekend in Big Ten Football

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Kevin Paul

It may not be the sexiest list of games slated for the Big Ten this weekend, but it's a week that nevertheless features enough potentially important storylines.  Take the following, which this writer feels could be the most intriguing as the weekend approaches:
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Breaking News: Juice Williams Out, Eddie McGee In As Illinois Starting Quarterback

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Tim Cary

After struggling to a disappointing 1-3 start and averaging less than 18 points per game in the season's first four outings, Illinois coach Ron Zook has decided to make a change.

And it's at quarterback.

According to the program's official Twitter account, Zook will start junior Eddie McGee under center, replacing Juice Williams.

Williams has completed 57.3% of his passes in 2009, averaging 129 yards through the air.  He's thrown one touchdown and four interceptions, and was injured on the first play of the Illini's lone win (a 45-17 victory over Illinois State).

CFB: Illinois vs Ohio State NOV 15
McGee will get his shot this Saturday against Michigan State.  He'll enter the contest with the Spartans hitting on 63.3% of his passes. 

Obviously Williams isn't the sole reason the much-hyped Illini offense has struggled out of the gate, but with so many weapons on that side of the ball, McGee deserves a chance to try and get them in gear.

FBT's Tim Cary will be in Champaign this weekend to report on McGee's debut against Michigan State; check back to FirstandBigTen.com during the week for further coverage.

Breaking News: Martez Wilson Out For Remainder Of Season

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Tim Cary

Illinois coach Ron Zook announced today that junior linebacker Martez Wilson will miss the rest of the 2009 season.  According to the university, Wilson will "undergo season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck".  Wilson was a Butkus Award candidate and the news that his season has ended prematurely will leave a big hole in the Illinois defense.
 
CFB: Iowa vs Illinois NOV 1

Ten by Ten: Can You Top Our Trio?

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Kevin Paul

College football is here and if you haven't heard already, the boys at First and Big Ten are celebrating by having a little contest on Big Ten football.

It's not too late to play - deadline for the first week is Saturday at 7am.  But since the season starts tonight with Indiana taking the field against Eastern Kentucky, we are going to post our picks now.

Here's a recap of the 10 questions for Week 1, plus our predictions:

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Urban Meyer Won't Be Joining The Zooker Fan Club Anytime Soon

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Tim Cary

In the "sure to make waves" department, Florida head coach Urban Meyer was quoted today as criticizing the atmosphere around the Gators' football program under the previous coach, namely current Illini head man Ron Zook.  Meyer told David Jones of Florida Today about inheriting an "unbelievable" situation where "you don't win many games, but you beat up freshmen", and went into a great amount of detail about the way underclassmen were treated in the locker room.
FedEx BCS National Championship Game - Oklahoma v Florida
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Breaking News: Miami Thomas To Miss Illini Season

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Tim Cary

From the "News That Just Doesn't Seem Fair" department...

ESPN's Joe Schad is reporting today that Illinois sophomore cornerback Miami Thomas will miss the 2009 season due to an ACL injury.
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A Big Ten Football Tribute to John Hughes and his Movies

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Kevin Paul

John Hughes was a genius, a one of a kind talent who blessed the world with comedic gems such as Ferris Bueller's Day Off, National Lampoon's Vacation, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Mr. Mom, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Home Alone, Uncle Buck and more.

Sadly, Hughes left the world prematurely after dying of a heart attack at age 59 just a few short days ago.  The writer/producer/director had ties with the city of Chicago, and the people who lived there loved him like they love deep dish pizza, the Wrigley Field ivy, Ozzie Guillen's potty mouth and Big Ten football.

That's where this piece comes in - to provide a Big Ten football tribute to the passing of John Hughes, by providing a list of famous quotes from many of his movies, and providing the Big Ten football personality that fits the quote the most...
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Big Ten Needs to Walk the Talk

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Kevin Paul

It's a broken record... the movie Groundhog Day in football form.  

The SEC owns the Big Ten.

The SEC owns college football.

Big Ten fans respond by grabbing a dull spoon and making a twirling motion towards their chests.

If you're a die-hard Big Ten football fan, then you likely dabbled in watching the Media Day coverage a number of days back.  Yours truly did.  And if you noticed, there was an intruder in the back room, with a southern accent, occasionally peppering questions that were borderline toying with that naughty three-letter word...

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Illinois: The Big Ten's Darkhorse for 2009

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Kevin Paul

Prognosticators across the country are all taking a similar stance in this year's Big Ten race, with Ohio State or Penn State hoisting up another championship banner and a BCS bowl berth.  

Don't get me wrong, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions both are loaded with talent, but if I may borrow a Lee Corso gem for a moment...

"Not so fast, my friends."

Slowly step away from the Buckeye kool-aid... hands off the Nittany Lion nectar.  Rummage through the Big Ten fridge... Sunny D, purple stuff... nothing beats a nice big glass of "Juice".
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