Notes on this week’s Big Ten Football play

Luke Middendorf

One more Big Ten team became bowl-eligible after a victory last week, bringing the current number of teams to six in the conference that will play an ever-important 13th game of the season.

Illinois (6-3 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) defeated Ball State on Saturday to gain the opportunity to play in a bowl game for the first time since 2001, a year in which they won the Big Ten championship and played in the Sugar Bowl.

The other six teams that have solidified a bowl game in the Big Ten are Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue and Penn State.

Head coach Ron Zook will be bringing the Illini to a bowl game for the first time in his three-year tenure at Illinois.

The next test for Zook will be this Saturday against a struggling Minnesota team led by first-year coach Tim Brewster – something that Zook is all-too familiar with.

In his three years since joining Illinois, Zook’s Illini have gone through a similar rebuilding period to what the Gophers are currently in, and he said that it’s not as easy as it looks.

“You can see the improvement that they (Minnesota) are making, you can see them, week to week, battling,” Zook said.

Illinois has found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as far as rebuilding is concerned, and Zook said that Brewster’s team is heading in the same direction.

“That’s a team that is as improved as any team that we have played against,” Zook said. “That’s the sign of a good coaching staff. Ö He’s (Brewster) way ahead in his first year then where we were in our first year.”

Will No. 1 fall?

The current No.1-ranked team in the nation, Ohio State, faces a tough test this week against No. 19 Wisconsin.

The Buckeyes bring into the game a pair of prestigious winning streaks; one for tying the Big Ten record for consecutive wins with 19, and also a 27-game regular-season winning streak, the second longest streak of any Big Ten team going back to 1903.

Ohio State stands as one of only five unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, but face a tough road ahead as they close the season off with the Badgers on Saturday, fellow bowl team Illinois next week and their bitter rival Michigan to end the season.

Wisconsin has had the most success of any Big Ten team against Ohio State lately, defeating the Buckeyes three of four times since head coach Jim Tressel’s hiring.

The Badgers broke OSU’s 19-game winning streak in 2003 in Madison, and they have a three-game winning streak in Ohio Stadium that started in 1999 and continued with wins over the Tressel-coached Buckeyes in 2001 and 2004.

“They are a very good Big Ten football team, and I am excited about the opportunity in front of us,” Wisconsin’s head coach Bret Bielema said. “Obviously it’s a tremendous challenge, but something I know our guys are excited about and looking forward to Saturday.”