CHAMPAIGN – After a couple of wins early last season, Illinois went on a long downhill slide.
A once-stiff defense gave up points in bunches, the offense lost its punch, and injuries and a thin roster doomed Illinois to a 2-10 finish with zero wins in the Big Ten.
The Illini getting ready to open the season Saturday against Southern Illinois, linebacker Jonathan Brown insists, are not that team.
Those Illini had talent – seven were on NFL rosters as preseason cranked up. But Brown, without naming names, said some were too focused on individual goals.
"Sometimes you get caught up in your individual accomplishments. You can start thinking about yourself more than others," he said. "You've got to take yourself out of the equation. That's something I've tried to do."
The Salukis, a Championship Subdivision school coming off a 6-5 season, look like the most winnable game on an Illinois schedule that will quickly get more difficult – Cincinnati, a 10-3 bowl team last fall, comes to town next.
But Southern Illinois has a win against the Big Ten in the not-so-distant past, a 35-28 victory at Indiana in 2006. That Indiana team, like Illinois now, was trying to find its footing after a losing season.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman, a veteran of the small school-big school games during his days as head coach at Toledo, is hardly penciling in a win.
"I've been on that side at Toledo, I was on that side at Bowling Green when we went to Ohio State," he said. "Football's football, and everybody goes out, plays to win. But you have that special feeling when you play your in-state school. ... We're going to get everything they've got."