Discussion

Illinois exceeding expectations, Penn State falling short

Updated: October 10, 2007, 3:28 PM ET
By Bruce Hooley | Special to ESPN.com
Here's a team-by-team look at the first half of the Big Ten season:

Illinois Illini

The Illini (5-1, 3-0) have already won more games overall and in the Big Ten than they managed combined in Ron Zook's first two years (4-19, 1-15). Zook is doing it with a combination of veteran holdovers (like linebacker J Leman and tailback Rashard Mendenhall) and his own recruits (wide receiver Arrelious Benn, cornerback Vontae Davis and quarterback Juice Williams). Illinois' methods aren't mysterious. It plays hard-edged defense and run-oriented offense. Both are time-tested avenues to success in the Big Ten. Leman is a certified star in the middle of the defense and has flair, too, telling an ABC audience prior to a win over Wisconsin, "We put the pain in Champaign." That victory, on the heels of an upset of Penn State, gave Illinois its first back-to-back triumphs over ranked teams in consecutive weeks since 1959. Now Zook has his team in the Top 25 for the first time at the school since 2001. There are still some holes that Zook's recruiting hasn't had the time to fill. But for the first time in a long time, Illini fans are more excited about the second half of a football season than they are about the start of basketball practice.

MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES