Is Illinois going to win a Big Ten game this season?
The best remaining chance to avoid a winless conference slate came and went Saturday, the Fighting Illini losers against the visiting Indiana Hoosiers by a 24-14 score in Champaign.
Lovie Smith won just two league games last season, his first as the Illinois head football coach. And with two ranked teams the only foes left on this year’s schedule, it looks like he’ll be moving backward in Year 2.
The Illini were without the services of young quarterback Cam Thomas on Saturday, meaning Jeff George Jr. was pressed into full-time quarterbacking duties. He threw a pair of late interceptions in addition to two second-half touchdown passes. But Illinois was without a point at halftime, down two touchdowns after punting on all seven of its first-half possessions.
The Illini got within three points early in the fourth quarter, but after Indiana scored a touchdown to go up by 10 with six minutes remaining, Illinois turned the ball over there straight times, George fumbling and then throwing his two picks in a mad dash to make up that late deficit.
Illinois failed to gain 300 yards of offense and had a paltry 33 rushing yards.
And so now Smith’s team faces the very real possibility of an 0-9 conference record with Ohio State and Northwestern all that’s left on the schedule. The Buckeyes were smoked at Iowa last weekend but pulverized Michigan State on Saturday by a 48-3 score, making Urban Meyer’s squad a terrifying matchup once more. Meanwhile, the Wildcats entered the College Football Playoff rankings earlier this week and entered Saturday’s game against Purdue with three straight overtime victories.
Illinois has dropped eight straight games after starting the season with back-to-back non-conference wins over Ball State and Western Kentucky. The Illini head into the final two games of the season with a 2-8 overall record and an 0-7 mark in Big Ten play.
Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.
Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football.
"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.
"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.
"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline."
Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."
"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.
"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."
Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.
Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.
As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.
Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.
The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.