Sometimes, you just take what is given to you.
For the Illinois Fighting Illini, they will gladly take the No. 15 ranking given to them by the USA Today Poll.
Head coach Ron Zook has his team playing its best football since he arrived five seasons ago, and credit must be given where credit is due. The Illini have a perfect 6-0 mark to begin the 2011 season, their best start since 1951 when they started 7-0.
History and records aside, there is no way that Illinois is deserving of the No. 15 ranking.
One glance at the schedule and the story unfolds.
Illinois kicked off its season by reeling off wins against Arkansas State and South Dakota State by a combined score of 89-18, as any relevant program should do.
Then the Illini played host to then-No. 22 Arizona State, promptly knocking off the Sun Devils 17-14 in a turnover-heavy battle that saw Illinois score the go-ahead touchdown with 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Illinois was applauded for its three-game winning streak, consequently halting its 10-gaming skid against ranked opposition.
After the lauded victory over the Sun Devils, the Illini hosted Western Michigan and Northwestern, winning both games by an unimpressive combined margin of six points.
Then this past Saturday, Illinois whipped Indiana, which has occupied the cellar in the Big Ten for the past three seasons, 41-20.
In the grand scheme of things, the Illini play just four of its 12 games this season on the road.
In a glance at the neighborhood around the Illini, you have West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Kansas State and Michigan State behind them. While Nebraska, South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Arkansas are in front of them.
One of these programs is not like the other.
Perhaps the most telling instance that will expose Illinois as a fortunate bunch this season will be the road ahead, as three of its last six games are road contests.
The Illini will host Ohio State next weekend before back-to-back away games at Purdue and Penn State. Then Illinois will return home for consecutive games against ranked opponents in No. 11 Michigan and No. 4 Wisconsin before finishing the season at Minnesota.
On paper, the Illini could easily drop four of those six games, bringing them to an 8-4 mark on the season, signifying the best finishing record they have had since their 9-3 campaign in 2007.
Illinois run has been a welcome one for college football fans, as it has rattled the status quo in recent history. But make no mistake. The Illini are a far cry away from a legitimate Top 15 ranking.
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