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Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Illinois AD didn't want tough closing stretch

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois finalized its 2009 schedule last week by agreeing to a home-and-home series with Big East Champ Cincinnati, which begins Nov. 28 at Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium. 

Adding a solid BCS opponent to the slate should excite fans accustomed to the mostly gun-shy Big Ten, but Illinois now will face a potentially daunting nonconference lineup this fall: Missouri, Fresno State, Cincinnati and FCS-member Illinois State.

Since the Illini finish the regular season against Fresno State and Cincinnati, the team's bowl fate could be determined by its non-league performance. 

Athletic director Ron Guenther didn't intend to make things so tough down the stretch.

In a recent interview with The (Champaign) News-Gazette's Loren Tate, Guenther lamented the scheduling abnormality. Illinois will conclude Big Ten play a week earlier than the other 10 teams. Although the team will have a bye week in Week 3, it got stuck with an open date in November that needed to be filled. 

"I'm not happy about it, but there isn't much I can do when we're presented with an open date at the end," Guenther said. "Somebody had to be there, and I hope the conference changes that in the future. We really got stuck with few options after electing to keep the open date in September."

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati series could signal the end to Illinois' annual meeting with Missouri in St. Louis, Bob Asmussen writes in The News-Gazette. 

"Cincinnati will return the game to Illinois in 2013. The Illini already have a home game scheduled that year against Washington. It is difficult to imagine the school playing consecutive games against Missouri, Cincinnati and Washington to open the season."

Illinois-Missouri is a tremendous basketball rivalry that is starting to get legs in football. The teams played at campus sites from 1991-94 before moving to St. Louis in 2002-03. The Illini and Tigers will meet for the third straight season Sept. 5 at the Edward Jones Dome. 

But neutral-site games are tricky in this climate, and this series could be put on hiatus.