Multisport notebook, with items on football, women's basketball and more.
Illinois began the football season with high expectations. Ranked in the top 25 to start the season for the first time since 2002, Illinois finished third in the preseason Big Ten Conference poll, and The Sporting News tabbed the Illini at No. 10 to start the year.
After three games where the Illini left plenty of meat on the bone, No. 22 Illinois (2-1) plays at No. 12 Penn State (3-0) in the Big Ten Conference opener Saturday (7 p.m., ABC) as a 14-point underdog.
Instead of using it as bulletin board material, quarterback Juice Williams preferred the role of underdog.
"It's a lot easier being the underdog,'' Williams said. "It's less pressure on you. Guys aren't expecting you to do anything. We can pretty much go out there and play the game, not worry about anything.
"I've been an underdog all my life. It's difficult at times. At the same time, it allows you opportunities to go out there and prove yourself. We can go out there and show the world that we can play and that we have some of the best players.''
While Penn State gained momentum behind first-year starting quarterback Daryll Clark and its spread HD offense that brought the Nittany Lions and coach Joe Paterno into the 21st century, Illinois heads into the conference season with questions left unanswered.
Outside of the Illini locker room, they're not sure what to expect from Illinois after a loss in a high-powered opener before two wins over lesser opponents.
"That's how it's always going to be,'' said Illini defensive end Will Davis. "We've gone on long winning streaks, beaten Penn State and Wisconsin last year, and people were saying, 'We don't know about Illinois.' We're used to that. We'd love it if we could go into every game as underdogs.''
Illinois allowed 402 yards rushing in the first two games combined, then saw the offense dry up against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Williams' passing didn't hit the mark against the Ragin' Cajuns. He was 13-for-25 for 147 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He missed another score by throwing behind an open receiver, then had another pass dropped in the end zone. Coach Ron Zook called out his best players -- Williams and receiver Arrelious Benn -- for not playing their best.
"I can't knock him for saying it,'' Williams said. "The great players have to play great all the time. There were things we did out there (against Louisiana-Lafayette) that he didn't so much like. We have to come out and play better.''
A win at Penn State, where the Illini are winless in five previous trips, would make a statement, said Illini linebacker Brit Miller.
"We're not your Daddy's Illinois,'' he said. After starting the season with plenty of hype, the Illini are back to a familiar, and comfortable, role of underdog.
Illinois could be lining up a big recruiting class this fall. Illinois is a finalist with Kelsey Bone, the top rated senior in the country by Blue Star recruiting service.
Bone, a center from Dulles High in Sugar Land, Texas, will choose from Texas A&M, South Carolina, Illinois, Texas and Tennessee. She will make official visits to all five schools in that order.
Forward Brianna Jones of Toledo (Ohio) Central Catholic will chose from Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. She is rated No. 43 by Blue Star. Forward Destiny Williams of Benton Harbor (Mich.), ranked No. 16 nationally, made an official visit to Illinois last weekend. She also considers Georgia, Maryland and Louisville.
Illinois already has verbal commitments from Chicago Marshall forward Adrienne GodBold, Detroit Country Day forward Amber Moore and New Lenox Lincoln Way East forward Kersten Magrum. Blue Star ranks GodBold at No. 101, Moore at 109 and Magrum at 149.
In other news
- Unranked Illinois won the Olympia Fields/Illinois Invitational in men's golf Sunday, defeating a field loaded with three of the nation's top five teams and seven ranked in the top 25. Illinois finished 11 strokes ahead of runner-up Indiana (the Hoosiers are ranked No. 20) and 12 in front of third-place Oklahoma State (ranked No. 2 nationally). Illini junior Zach Barlow, the reigning Illinois amateur champ, tied with Indiana's Alex Martin for medalist.
- Junior goalkeeper Alexandria Kapicka earneed co-defensive player of the week in the Big Ten after the Illini's shutout wins over Washington and Colorado College, a pair of previously undefeated teams. Kapicka had a career-high six saves against Washington. Illinois has an 11-game home winning streak but plays on the road Friday against Wisconsin and Sunday at Northwestern to start Big Ten play.
- Zook spent Friday night at the East St Louis-Belleville West game, the high school football game he attended since becoming Illinois coach in December, 2004.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.