Illinois notebook: Illini need help to snag BCS slot

John Supinie

The football regular season is done for Illinois and coach Ron Zook.

But with the Illini so close to a BCS berth, fans have a rooting interest heading into the next two weekends.

Illinois moved Sunday to No. 17 in the BCS rankings -- three spots away from a top 14 ranking that would make them eligible for an at-large BCS slot. The Illini may not learn their bowl destination until Dec. 2, when BCS bowl matchups are announced and the remaining teams released to fill other bowls.

The Illini should easily make the cut when the BCS selection committee today trims the BCS field and releases teams to work deals with other bowls. Depending on games this weekend, the Illini will also likely make the second BCS cut on Nov. 27.

Essentially, the Illini need help from conference favorites while Hawaii needs to get out of the way.

The key games come in the ACC and Big East, two conferences apparently battling with the Big Ten for the final BCS at-large spots. Virginia Tech would do the Illini a favor by defeating Virginia on Saturday and later winning the ACC title game over Boston College. Illinois also needs West Virginia to take the automatic berth from the Big East. The Moutaineers host Connecticut on Saturday before meeting Pittsburgh on Dec. 1.

If you're an Illini fan, cheer for Arizona State against Southern Cal on Thursday. Hope that Oregon's level of performance and attractiveness to the bowl selection committees fall without injured quarterback Dennis Dixon. Since the Western Athletic Conference isn't a BCS conference, Hawaii must climb to No. 12 before it's eligible. Hawaii plays Boise State on Friday and Washington on Dec. 1.

If Illinois doesn't receive a BCS berth, the Illini appear as a lock for the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day in Orlando.

Long layoff

Illinois' layoff from the end of the regular season to Jan. 1 is 45 days. While Illinois benefits from extra practice time granted to bowl teams and exposure during a busy December recruiting season, there's the possibility of too much time between games.

"I've never been in a situation like that,'' Zook said. "I talked to (Ohio State coach Jim Tressel) a little about that in the spring, being off for so long.''

Illinois will work on fundamentals and likely add a few wrinkles during the 15 practice sessions.

"It's the Robin Hood theory,'' said Illini offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. "The rich get richer. That's what we've been missing around here for the last few years. The good teams get to practice and continue to develop young players. We've been sitting home watching and guys had to do things on their own.''

Climbing the charts

Locksley opened his jacket Saturday after the 41-22 victory over Northwestern to unveil more Illini gear. It was a show of support for the Illini from a talented assistant coach who will likely get more interest in the offseason coaching market.

A talented coordinator with fertile recruiting ties to Washington, D.C., and Florida, Locksley's stock is sky-rocketing on the coaching market.

If he's not a serious candidate at Syracuse -- Greg Robinson is expected to lose his job -- then he'll get interest elsewhere when the dominoes begin to fall.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr resigned Monday. Texas A&M, Nebraska and Arkansas are expected to make changes. When coaches move up the ladder to those positions, they create other opportunities at the stepping-stone schools. Don't be surprised if Locksley's name isn't a player in the next month or two.

Pack your bags

Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber said the Illini will play an in-season exempt tournament next season, most likely at a warm-weather location. Illinois is considering tournaments that conclude in Cancun, Mexico; South Padre Island, Texas; and Puerto Rico.

In 2009-10, the Illini may return to a Las Vegas tournament. Weber prefers the format where the Illini get two home games and two games at a neutral site.

"The home games are usually an advantage for us,'' he said. "It's a better money situation. If we can go a nice place, whether it's Cancun or Vegas or Puerto Rico, that's a bonus.''

Illinois' appearance this week in the Maui Invitational is its first since 2000 and third in school history.


Illinois senior Trent Hoerr finished 16th at the NCAA cross country championships Monday and became the first Illini to earn All-America since 1990. The finish by the Morton native is the highest by an Illini since Craig Virgin was third in 1976.

"It felt good to go out and accomplish my goals and be where I've thought I should be the past three years,'' Hoerr said. "I'm happy to earn All-America status and hope that it will help coach McRaven with recruiting top guys to our program.''

Meanwhile, the Illini women finished sixth overall.

Women’s soccer

Illinois fell 2-0 to Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament's second round Sunday. The Illini finished with a 12-7-2 record. Illinois finished with 12 wins or more for the fifth straight season.

John Supinie can be reached at For more information, read Illini Talk blog at and