Mike Hlas is an award-winning columnist with the Cedar Rapids Gazette and force behind The Hlog. Each week, he will break down the biggest mismatch in college football. Considering the increasing number of uncompetitive games, Mike's task is more challenging than keeping the neighbor kids from taking the helium balloon for a spin.
Ron Zook pumped life into a dormant Illinois program. Then the air immediately seeped out of the tires, and things are right back where Zook found them.
The Fighting Illini were more like the Comatose Illini before Zook arrived and in his first two years in Champaign-Urbana.
Illinois was 1-11 in 2003 and 3-8 in 2004. Enter Zook, who somehow transformed Florida from a national power to a face in the SEC crowd.
Zook's first two Illini teams were 2-9 and 2-10, but the man recruited hither and yon to bring big-time talent to the eastern Illinois prairie. Everything came together nicely in 2007 with a dynamic sophomore quarterback named Isaiah "Juice" Williams.
Illinois won nine games and reached the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1983. Then the Illini played a team that really knows how to recruit. USC brutalized them, 49-17.
Juice is still in Champaign (Isn't that called a mimosa?), but the winning is long gone. Illinois went 5-7 last year, and things have only gotten worse.
The Illini are 1-4 this season, and 0-3 in the Big Ten. They got systematically destroyed by Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State.
But now Zook (career-record 42-48) faces a foe on his team's level. Illinois visits Indiana in the Game of the Weak.
The Hoosiers are 3-3, but it's one of those 3-3 records that's as soft as Indiana's defense. The wins came against Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan and Akron.
The losses came to bigger boys: Michigan, Ohio State and Virginia. Indiana is using a flu bug to partly explain its 47-7 loss at Virginia last Saturday.
Yeah, that's it. The flu. Maybe a visit from Illinois will put a little pep back in the Hoosiers' steps. Or maybe facing Indiana's alleged defense will make the Illini reminisce about 2007.
Somebody's got to win.
The Big Ten needs seven teams to be bowl-eligible this year to send one to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in beautiful downtown Detroit.
The conference couldn't fill its spot last year, the final one in which that Dec. 26 delight was called the Motor City Bowl. So the bowl pitted Florida Atlantic against Central Michigan. Get ready for an equally scintillating matchup again this year, Detroit.
Is there no end to the indignities that poor city must endure?