Illini football notes: Zook says later games may be start of trend

John Supinie

While the Big Ten Conference doesn't have a tradition of playing regular season games after Thanksgiving, Illinois and Wisconsin might be starting a new trend, Illinois coach Ron Zook predicted Tuesday.

Illinois (3-7) plays at No. 5 Cincinnati (10-0) on Friday (11 a.m., ABC) and hosts Fresno State on Dec. 5 – the first regular-season game for the Illini in December. Wisconsin takes a trip to Hawaii for its regular-season finale on Dec. 5. By extending the season and practice time, Zook felt there's a benefit to reducing the layoff from the regular season to the bowl season, even if it didn't work in the short term for the Illini.

Zook thinks the idea will catch on with the rest of the Big Ten.

"You never used to be allowed to play after the Ohio State-Michigan game,'' Zook said. "You'll begin to see this more and more (because) the Big Ten allowed us to do that. The Big Ten allowed each team to make their own decisions. It will be two, three, four or five years until anybody knows if we're doing the right thing or not.''

OK, so maybe playing Cincinnati wasn't a good idea. Cincinnati is one of six undefeated teams in the nation.

"When we scheduled Cincinnati, we didn't realize they'd be the No. 5 team in the nation and undefeated,'' Zook said. "Maybe when they come here, we'll be the No. 5 team in the nation and undefeated.''

If so, Illinois has time to rebound. Cincinnati doesn't return the game to Memorial Stadium until 2013.

QB SHUFFLE: Illinois senior Juice Williams is expected to start after missing the Northwestern game with a sprained ankle, but redshirt freshman Jacob Charest could get some playing time. Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike is back after missing three games with an injury to his non-throwing arm, and backup Zach Collaros is a capable runner.

"There's a lot of quarterbacks,'' Williams said. "You're looking to see at least four quarterbacks this weekend."

KICKING IT: Illinois sophomore Derek Dimke will handle the kickoff and placekicking duties after taking over field goals and extra points from sophomore Matt Eller, who missed six of his last seven field-goal attempts.

"Derek gets the first shot,'' Zook said. "You hate to put pressure on them that you have to make it or you're out. Matt kicked extremely well (Monday). Matt needed time off. Yesterday, he was the Matt of old. Still, Derek deserves the opportunity. He earned it.''

NOTES: Safety Donsay Hardeman (neck) is the only player who isn't expected to play because of injury, Zook said. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (ankle) has already missed five games with a lingering ankle injury. . . The Illini will meet for Thanksgiving dinner at the Colonnades Club on Wednesday. The team travels to Cincinnati Thursday afternoon by bus.

John Supinie can be reached