Second-half outlook: Illinois

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
9:45
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois Fighting Illini


Record: 1-5

Remaining schedule: at Purdue, vs. Michigan, at Minnesota, vs. Northwestern, open, at Cincinnati, vs. Fresno State

The final six games are absolutely critical for head coach Ron Zook and the future of a program that appeared to be turning a corner in 2007. Illinois must find ways to spark an offense that has scored just one first-half touchdown against an FBS opponent and ranks 112th nationally in scoring (16.5 ppg). Zook needs to settle on a quarterback and hope Arrelious Benn and the wide receivers start to be difference-makers. The defense ranks last in the league against the pass and must start changing games by forcing turnovers. As Purdue showed last Saturday against Ohio State, defense is the best way to turn things around. Confidence is clearly an issue right now, and Illinois can't afford many more losses before things completely unravel.

Best-case scenario: The Illini start playing to their potential and put up points in bunches. Clay Nurse and Tavon Wilson spark the defense. Illinois somehow wins five of its final six to finish .500 and squeaks into a bowl game. Zook gets another chance to turn things around in 2010.

Worst-case scenario: Illinois drops its remaining games and finishes last in the Big Ten for the fifth time in seven years. The offense never gets on track as quarterback Juice Williams and Eddie McGee continue to struggle. The locker room splinters and Zook is fired before Thanksgiving.

Prediction: No bowl. Illinois doesn't go 1-11, but the season is a lost cause.

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