It was no secret that Illinois head coach Ron Zook's seat was hotter than a two dollar pistol before the start of the season.
In his six years at the school, Zook has gathered a less than remarkable 28-45 (16-32 Big Ten) record and only one bowl victory. His 2007 squad earned a spot in the prominent Rose Bowl but suffered an embarrassing 49-17 loss to a superior USC team.
Coming into the 2011 season, the general consensus was that this year would be a make or break season for Zook.
It seemed like Zook's job was more than secure after leading his Illini to a 6-0 start and giving the impression that they were a conference contender. Now, after three straight losses in which the Fighting Illini looked like a middle of the road team once again, Zook may just be headed right back to the hot seat.
The Illini skeptics that argued Illinois' early success was solely due to their very favorable schedule have appeared to be right. When facing perennial title contenders Ohio State and Penn State, Illinois failed to execute at the level expected from a top tier team.
Not only did Illinois fail as a team, but Zook and perhaps more so offensive coordinator Paul Petrino failed to adapt and make the necessary adjustments to put sufficient points on the board.
Zook's time management and decision-making abilities have been questioned time and time again. Following a second quarter touchdown against Indiana, which resulted in a 20-13 lead, Zook decided to go for a two-point conversion. The conversion failed and when asked about it after the game, Zook said, "Maybe I didn't know what the score was. That's happened to me before."
Illinois went on to win the game against the Hoosiers, but that is beside the point. I understand that things can get exciting and hectic in the midst of a game. However, when you're the coach of a Division I football team, one can only assume that the score is a pretty important factor to keep track of.
One thing that Zook has excelled at is recruiting. According to Scout.com, he boasted Top 20 recruiting classes in 2007 and 2008 as well as the 28th-ranked recruiting class in 2006. Since 2008; however, Illinois' hasn't managed to crack the Top 35 in recruiting since. Zook's current recruiting class for 2012 is ranked 72nd in the nation and last in the Big Ten.
Other than the 2007 Rose Bowl appearance, Zook hasn't been able to do much, even with his Top 20 classes. The Illini finished 5-7 in 2008 and 3-9 in 2009, before a mediocre 7-6 campaign last year. One bright note is that Zook led the Illini to their first bowl win since 1999.
Illinois still has to play Michigan and Wisconsin the next two weeks, which are sure to be tough games. They close out their regular season at Minnesota. With the way that Illinois has performed in recent weeks, Minnesota may even turn out to be a tough opponent.
The way the Big Ten has been playing out this year, all three of their final games are winnable. At the same time, if Zook and his staff don't make some changes, the Illini very well might finish with another disappointing 6-6 (2-6 Big Ten) record.
If that is the case, and the Illini do in fact drop their final games of the season, there's no doubt that Illini fans will be calling for a change in the near future.
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