Forget about 2010; 2009 isn’t over yet

JOHN SUPINIE

Illinois football coach Ron Zook won’t look toward next season until this one is completed.

Although the Illini were eliminated from bowl contention with a 21-16 loss Saturday to Northwestern that assured a losing season for the seventh time in eight years, Zook has no plans to begin preparing for 2010 until after the final two games this season. The Illini (3-7, 2-6 Big Ten Conference) are idle until Nov. 27 at No. 5 Cincinnati.

“At the end of the season, we’ll sit down and evaluate everything,’’ Zook said Sunday. “We’ll fix things we need to fix. It’s not like it was 4½ or five years ago. We’ve got a pretty good foundation. We might not be at the summit. It will take another surge of energy to take it to the top.’’

Q: Who starts at quarterback against Cincinnati?

A: If senior Juice Williams has recovered from the sprained left ankle that kept him out against Northwestern, he will start against the Bearcats. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest would remain as the backup instead of taking over the bulk of the snaps while preparing for next season.

“I don’t know any other mentality,’’ Zook said. “We’re going to do our best to win these next two games. In my opinion, Juice gives us the best chance to win those two games.’’

Zook believes Williams will be ready for Cincinnati, but he’s been optimistic on injuries all season.

Q: Will the Illini work younger players in practice this week?

A: While Illinois will concentrate Tuesday and Wednesday, on Cincinnati Zook said, the underclassmen will get extra work late in practice. The Illini were scheduled to work Sunday through Wednesday, then take off Thursday through Saturday. They will report back Sunday.

Q: Who is the placekicker?

A: Sophomore Derek Dimke will handle placekicking and kickoff chores, Zook said. Dimke took over placekicking during the loss to Northwestern. After sophomore Matt Eller missed a 23-yard field goal in the first quarter, Dimke kicked a 30-yarder for his first career field goal. Dimke also converted his only extra-point kick.

“After watching Derek kick, we’ll start with Derek as a kicker,’’ Zook said. “Derek’s done a good job kicking off. I want to make sure that (placekicking) doesn’t affect him in that regard.

“Matt’s not done. He’ll eventually get out of this slump. I don’t want him to get any deeper in it. I talked to him about not kicking this week, taking the week off. He doesn’t want to do that.’’

John Supinie can be reachedat Johnsupinie@aol.com.