While looking over the Illinois football schedule earlier this season, I recall saying to myself, "If Tony Pike is healthy, Cincinnati might hang 70 points on the Illini." For a half, my prediction was on pace. The No. 5 Bearcats had a 35-20 lead at halftime Friday and went on to a 49-36 victory to remain in the national title chase. Pike (pictured) tossed six touchdown passes, a new school record.
Illinois (3-8) still has one game to go -- a home contest against Fresno State on Dec. 5. Anybody want my tickets? I gotta work that day and you can have 'em for free. Yes, I'm serious. Tickets to that meaningless contest are going for $1 or $2 on StubHub. They are literally worth next to nothing.
I think I'm going to refer to these last two games of the season as "Guenther's Folly, The Sequel." The first "Guenther's Folly" was last year, when Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther sent the Illini to Detroit to play a neutral-site game against Western Michigan late in the season. It was a trap game that Illinois lost. Not coincidentally, the Illini finished one win short of bowl eligibility.
Scheduling Cincinnati, a top 10 team that played in a BCS bowl last year, and a very respectable Fresno State program were strokes of idiocy by Guenther. That's especially true given that Illinois already plays one tough non-conference opponent in Missouri every year.
Basically, Guenther handed overmatched coach Ron Zook a schedule that was just too difficult this year. Illinois hasn't been to back-to-back bowl games since the early 1990s. When you are a struggling program, you need to schedule two or three non-conference cupcakes to try to get yourself to six wins and bowl eligibility. I suppose Illinois can puff out its chest and say it played a tough schedule this year, but the reality is 4-8 is now the best-case scenario. Memo to Ron Guenther: You're not USC, so don't play a USC-like schedule.
Of course, even if Guenther had scheduled a bunch of September home games against Directional U., it's possible Zook would have found a way to foul it up. He didn't have the Illini prepared to play against Western Michigan last year and got beat -- oh so typical of Zook-coached team.
Former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips used to say of Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, "He could take his'n and beat your'n, or take your'n and beat his'n."
Well, the exact opposite is true of Ron Zook: He can take his'n and lose to your'n, or he can take your'n and lose to his'n. Nice enough guy, but a terrible head coach.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating -- fire Ron Guenther. Fire Ron Zook. Fire the whole football staff. Enough of this garbage. Seeing the Illini embarrassed on national television is old. Start over with a new regime, please.