Illini Notebook: Bowl Talk Is Fun, But Illini Still Have Some Unfinished Business

Brian Barnhart
Brian Barnhart

Nov. 8, 2007

It is November already--can you believe it? And the Illini are soon headed to a bowl game, which I know has a lot of fans getting out their maps and checking on possible destinations for the Orange and Blue.

As of this date, I think the Illini will wind up at the Outback Bowl in Tampa, and based on the standings in early November and the third-place standing the Illini possess, that bowl seems very possible. Now if the Fighting Illini can upset the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes Saturday, then the bowl payoff might get even bigger.

By the way, isn't it fun to be talking about BOWL games again? It's been quite a while for us Illini fans!

The Illini took care of business last Saturday in Minneapolis. Tim Brewster was a great Illini, and I think will eventually get it going for the Gopher program, but he has a lot of work to do. When an opponent can roll up...not 200...not 300...not 400....not 500....but 655 yards of total offense on your defense, your work is cut out for you.

I think Juice Williams had his best game as an Illini at Minnesota, rushing for over 100 yards and throwing for over 200 yards. While the statistics were outstanding, I was even more impressed with Juice's patience in the pocket and the touch on his passes. He hit Jacob Willis and Jeff Cumberland in stride for touchdowns and showed powerful running skills on tough yardage situations. He just gets a little better every day, and just think, he is only a sophomore!

Illinois has had great running backs and kickers over the years, and we are witnessing a little of both with this year's team. Rashard Mendenhall has set the single-season touchdown mark (rushing and receiving combined) already with two regular-season games left. He passed our friend Howard Griffith during the win over Minnesota. He also will pass the single season rushing mark held by Antoineo Harrs this year and has a chance to set the all-time record for 100-yard rushing games in a season. He is currently tied with Illini greats Jim Grabowski and J.C. Caroline in that regard. Combining power with speed and committing only one turnover has made Rashard into a potential NFL draft pick. He has been amazing to watch this year.

Placekicker Jason Reda is also having an great year. Up to this point he has only missed (1) field goal and is one of a handful of kickers in the country to have hit at least three 50-yard-or-longer field goal attempts. He also is closing in on Chris Richardson and Chris White as the all-time field goals-made leader at Illinois. Reda already has passed well-known Illini placekickers Neil Rackers and Dan Beaver and seems to be headed to the top of the charts.

I spent a lot of years as a young Illini fan cheering on great quarterbacks like Jack Trudeau and Tony Eason and Dave Wilson. I love passing attacks that really cause headaches for other teams. But I have really grown to appreciate Mike Locksley and his option-style attack this year. Juice is such a magician with the football, and when he tucks it in the belly of Rashard Mendenhall or Russ Weil or Arrelious Benn, you are not quite ever sure who REALLY has the football. The rushing yards average is in the Top 10 in the country, and the Illini have continued to lead the Big Ten in that category by a wide margin.

We have had a lot of fun in the radio booth this year. Kurt Kittner has been a wonderful addition to our broadcasts. Not only do I enjoy his expertise as a former quarterback, I appreciate the fact that he really does his homework. He takes his new job seriously, but also has fun with me on the air...showing a great sense of humor.

It always is a team effort on the air to produce a quality broadcast. Our engineer, Ed Bond, spends a lot of time getting the equipment set up to make the broadcast sound professional. I have had a lot of help as well from my broadcast spotters...Mark Schultz, Patrick Pfingsten and Marty Kaufman, and my statistician Kent Brown. It always helps to have those extra "eyes and ears" in the booth. Thanks, guys, for all your help this year!

Thanks also to Cassie Arner with the Sports Information office. She has been a big help in producing our Ron Zook Television Show and helps supply me with all the important information that I need about the football team.

And finally, congratulations to Coach Zook and his staff. They have worked hard for (3) years to get the Illini back to a bowl game. It is satisfying to see that hard work rewarded in 2007. It has been an exciting year to be an Illini fan!

Talk to you soon...and we will see YOU on the radio!

Brian Barnhart "Voice of the Illini"