UPDATE: Game on in Tampa

UPDATE: Game on in Tampa

Following speculation about the game's status after Hurricane Irma hit Florida over the weekend, Illinois will face South Florida in its scheduled game Friday in Tampa, Fla. The Illini and No. 22 Bulls will kickoff at 6 p.m. in a nationally televised game on ESPN. 

"We are grateful that our student-athletes, staff and their families are safe and accounted for," USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement Tuesday morning. "After consulting with university leadership and the Tampa Sports Authority, we are confident that Friday's game can proceed safely as scheduled without impacting the recovery efforts.  Our thoughts remain with all of those impacted by the hurricane in Florida and elsewhere, and we express sincere gratitude to all first-responders for their efforts."

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CHAMPAIGN — Illinois went through its team meetings and practice Monday with the idea Friday's game against No. 22 South Florida will still happen as it is on the schedule.

A 6 p.m. kickoff in Tampa, Fla.

No official word one way or another from USF had come by Monday evening after Tampa was hit — albeit not as hard as initially forecast — by Hurricane Irma on Sunday. The decision is the Bulls' to make as the home team, and the last word from USF athletic director Mark Harlan on social media came Monday morning. Evaluations as to if the game could be played were still ongoing.

"Right now we have a game Friday night," Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. "Nothing has changed. We're preparing the way we always have been. I know there's been speculation.

"I have a home in Tampa. I was paying attention closely. I don't think Tampa was hit as hard as we anticipated, so, again, we're planning on getting on the plane Thursday and playing a great game Friday."

Illinois monitored the conditions in Florida throughout the weekend. Fourteen players on the Illini roster are from state. Six of the team's 15 recruits in the Class of 2018 also hail from the state.

"They're all in a good place, whether their families stayed or just where their home was located," Smith said. "I think everybody came out as well as can be expected."

This marks the second week of three this season Illinois has had multiple players and coaches balancing football with severe weather conditions hitting their home states after the events of Hurricane Harvey in Texas at the end of August.

While Illinois is prepping to play Friday in Florida — all it can do until official word comes — the team is again rallying around the players whose families are dealing with a serious situation.

"It's been a pretty wild couple weeks," redshirt junior wide receiver Mikey Dudek said. "As weird as this might sound, it brings us closer together. It's reiterating to them we have their backs, and we're there for them. We all consider each other brothers."

Redshirt senior offensive lineman Christian DiLauro said the team regularly checked on its "Florida guys" last week and did so again after the hurricane hit during the weekend. The team stands as a surrogate family when they're away from their own.

"At the end of the day, we're all grown men but still kids," DiLauro said. "We've got our families, and they hold a big part to our lives. You've got to make sure they're good.

"It's kind of hard mentally if you're worried about your family. You've got to have your other family here at Illinois, the team, to help you through that."

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