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Introductory thoughts on the Illini.

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Illinois Fighting Illini
2007 record: 2-1 (0-0)
2007 Sagarin: 63 (IU is #51)
2006 record: 2-10 (1-7)
2006 Sagarin: 108
Series: Illinois leads, 41-20-2.
Last IU win: 2006 (34-32 in Champaign)
Last Illinois win: 2004 (26-22 in Champaign)
Last Illinois win in Bloomington: 2001 (35-14)

I had all sorts of material ready for this week. I was going to mention that Illinois, unlike most 20th and 21st century football teams, does not play a quarterback, opting to allow Isaiah Williams, a tailback, to take the snap from center and occasionally pass the ball, generally with less success than on the typical halfback option trick play. As I have mentioned before, I refuse to call Isaiah Williams by his chosen nickname. In small part, I think it's in poor taste to borrow a nickname from an ex-player who (allegedly, wink) slashed the throat of the mother of his children and a waiter. In large part, the amount of hype surrounding Isaiah Williams seems quite excessive, and I attribute most of it to the catchy nickname. As I have ranted before, take a look at the 2006 statistics of two freshman quarterbacks:
Kellen Lewis: 190/346 (54.9%); 2221 yards; 14TD/7INT; 124/441 rushing (3.6); 5 rushing TDs; 20 sacks.

Isaiah Williams: 103/261 (39.5%); 1489 yards; 9TD/9INT; 154/576 rushing (3.7); 2 rushing TDs; 25 sacks.
Even though Lewis was way more accurate, more productive, and won more games (including head-to-head with Isaiah) in 2006, Isaiah is the poster boy, while Lewis is mostly forgotten.
All that said...he hasn't been terrible this year. Largely on the strength of a 13/18 performance against Syracuse this weekend, Isaiah is completing over 60 percent of his passes this season. He did, of course, manage only 12/24 with an interception against I-AA Western Illinois. Further, he hasn't generated many yards. His 13 attempts against Syracuse generated only 97 yards, and he has only 117 rushing yards on the season. Last season, Williams completed over 50 percent of his passes only twice (against Syracuse and Michigan State). So he is getting better. As good as Kellen Lewis, he of 643 passing yards, 9TD/3INT, 317 rushing yards, 3 TD? No. But better.
I'll take a deeper look at the Illini as the week progresses. Other notes:
  • If IU starts 4-0, it will be the Hoosiers' longest winning streak to start the season since IU began 4-0 in 1990. IU also started 4-0 in 1986 and 1985, and went undefeated in the first six games (5-0-1) in 1988. Before 1985, the Hoosiers' most recent start of better than 3-0 was the 8-0 start in 1967, IU's only Rose Bowl season.
  • Illinois and IU are "protected rivals," meaning they play every season. I can't remember exactly what year the Big Ten normalized the protected rivalries (each school now has exactly two), but IU and Illinois have played every year since 1995 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In contrast, during the scheduling wackiness associated with Penn State joining the conference, IU and Illinois did not play at all for four years (1991-1994). After losing in Champaign in 1989, IU did not play there again until 1996.
  • The two most "forced" protected rivalries are Illinois-Indiana and Purdue-Northwestern. Frankly, I'm surprised that the two aren't switched. Champaign and West Lafayette are less than 100 miles apart, and Purdue and Illinois have played 84 times (as opposed to 63 meeting between IU and Illinois). Before the Big Ten normalized scheduling in the early 1960s, IU and Illinois played only sporadically. From 1915-1927, IU and Illinois played only twice. They didn't play at all from 1940-43, 1952-58, or 1961-64. I have absolutely no inside info. For all I know, all four schools wanted the protected rivalries arranged this way. It still strikes me as odd.