Illinois Football: Ranked 24th in AP Poll, They Look Like They're for Real

Todd ThorstensonAnalyst ISeptember 20, 2011

Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illini are off to a 3-0 start.
Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illini are off to a 3-0 start.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With a tough 17-14 win over a solid Arizona State football team this past Saturday, the Fighting Illini football team is starting to make people take notice.

They now find themselves somewhere they haven’t been in three years: ranked within the Top 25.

The Illini are currently ranked 24th in the newest Top 25 AP poll, and they have the orange and blue nation excited about football again.

The win over ASU also marked the first win for the Illini over a ranked opponent since the Rose Bowl season of 2007. The victory also gave them a 3-0 record—a feat they haven't been able to accomplish since 2001.

So the question is, are they for real? We’ll see.

Illinois now has a legitimate shot of starting the season with a 6-0 record. Yes, I said 6-0.

They finish up their non-conference schedule next Saturday against Western Michigan at home, which, unless they have a big letdown, should put them at 4-0 heading into the Big Ten schedule.

On October 1st the Illini will open up Big Ten play with another home game—their fifth in a row to start the season—against inner-state rival Northwestern. This is definitely a winnable game, but it won’t be easy, as Pat Fitzgerald will have his Wildcats fired up and ready to go against the Illini.

The following week, the Illini will have their first road contest of the year as they travel to Bloomington, Indiana to take on the Hoosiers, which isn’t exactly the mecca of college football.  In fact, the Illini couldn’t ask for a better place for their first road game. Indiana is not a very good football team, but the Illini still have to take care of business.

So it would seem that Illinois has a good shot at being 6-0 heading into their October 15th matchup against Ohio State in Champaign. Wouldn't that be interesting? With the way Ohio State has looked thus far, it’s not a stretch to say that the Illini could win that game as well.

Then Illinois has Purdue on the road which is another winnable game.

After Purdue, the Illini will travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State, but have the Nittany Lions really impressed anyone?

Following that, they will play Michigan at home, and the Illini will be looking for payback after last year's triple overtime 67-65 loss to the Wolverines.

Dare I say it, but could Illinois possibly be 10-0 heading into a showdown with Wisconsin on November 19 for the Leaders Division title?

Well, I don't know if I would count on that just yet, but things are setting up pretty nicely for the boys from Champaign.