Asmussen: Illinois searching for first victory in its remaining five games

CHAMPAIGN – Twelve days.

Enough time to finish a World Series. Enough time to whip a bout of the chicken pox. Enough time for that trip to Ireland you’ve been putting off.

But, is 12 days enough time to fix the University of Illinois football team?

The first-year coaching staff plans to try, starting today with a review of a 31-7 loss to Wisconsin that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

That’s as much looking back as the Illini will do. Coach Ron Turner said after the Wisconsin game that he isn’t into that “reflecting stuff.”

Six games, six losses. Three were close at halftime. The other three turned lopsided.

The Illini don’t really want to think about it.

After Saturday’s game, quarterback Tim Lavery pointed to the final five games.

Lavery and his teammates have a chance to win one for the Turner, but it won’t be easy.

Here’s the way the rest of the season shapes up:

Oct. 25 vs. Purdue

Chances of winning: 40 percent

In the winter of 1993, Illinois signed a star player from Bloomington High School. Looks like they got the wrong one.

Illinois went for receiver Marquis Mosely. He was recruited by Texas and Miami, which in hindsight shouldn’t have meant much.

Quarterback for the Purple Raiders was Billy Dicken. Big-time schools wanted Dicken, as a kicker. He wanted to play quarterback.

Off he went for four mostly ho-hum seasons with the Boilermakers.

His fifth year might have been a bust too, if not for Purdue’s hiring of Joe Tiller. The new coach dumped quarterback John Reeves out of the lineup and told Dicken to go crazy. He has.

Five touchdown passes against Minnesota tied a school record. He’ll warm up for his return to almost-home with a game Saturday against Wisconsin.

Dicken has a few helpers, none more important than receiver Brian Alford. The Big Ten leader in receptions per game had to go to a junior college to regain eligibility for his senior season.

Alford might be the best in a string of big-name receivers the Illini have faced. It went from Louisville’s Ibn Green to Iowa’s Tim Dwight to Penn State’s Joe Jurevicius to Wisconsin’s Donald Hayes.

Purdue isn’t perfect. It sits in the second half of the Big Ten defensively and gave up 43 to Minnesota. Oh, and the Boilermakers lost to Toledo.

Nov. 1 at Indiana

Chances of winning: 60 percent

Another Saturday, another quarterback with ties to central Illinois.

Indiana starter Jay Rodgers spent part of his childhood in Champaign. Had John Mackovic not gone off to Texas, and taken his dad Randy with him, Jay Rodgers might be an Illini.

Instead, he’s passing for the Hoosiers. New coach Cam Cameron took the reins off Rodgers and the sophomore has responded. He’s among the Big Ten leaders in passing.

This will be lone time all year Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner won’t root for former assistant Cameron. His brother needs the win more.

Coming off a game at hostile Wisconsin, a trip to wake-us-up-when-its-over Hoosier Field ought to be a breeze.

Nov. 8 vs. Northwestern

Chances of winning: 80 percent

Two years in a row, Big Ten champion Northwestern squeaked out wins against Illinois. The run might be over.

The bounces are going the other way. The last-second kicks go against the Wildcats. Gary Barnett’s team is staring at a wisenless Big Ten season.

Physically, the Illini matchup with the Wildcats better than any other team in the league. Emotionally, Illinois has more to play for. A win means plenty when you only had two the previous season. A win means nothing when you started getting used to the postseason.

Nov. 15 at Ohio State

Chances of winning: 10 percent

The Buckeyes aren’t the all-powerful team they were a year ago (discounting Michigan). But Ohio State did give the new No. 1 a great game Saturday.

Credit John Cooper for maintaining a top 10-level team despite huge losses on defense. He should again win 10 games and qualify for New Year’s Day game. Finish out with six wins, and the Buckeyes are in the bowl alliance.

Illinois liked Ohio Stadium until the last trip. In 1995, Eddie George sealed up his Heisman Trophy by running over Illini stars Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice.

Nov. 22 vs. Michigan State

Chances of winning: 20 percent

Before the season, this looked like the Spartans might need this game for a bowl bid. Now, they’re playing for a trip to Pasadena.

If Michigan State and Penn State keep winning, that helps Illinois. The Spartans will be looking ahead to their Nov. 29 game vs. the Nittany Lions.

For the third time in Illinois’ final five games, it plays a quarterback from the state. They could have Todd Schultz after his senior year at Morris High School, but the old coaches went a different direction. Schultz is among the national leaders in passing efficiency.

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