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.