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Eastern Michigan drops Illinois, beats Big Ten school for the third year in a row

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Perhaps the two conferences could work a trade? I hear one B1G school — I won’t say the name, but it rhymes with “Shmutgers” — may be available.

Trailing Eastern Michigan 31-17 in the middle of the fourth quarter, Illinois rallied for two touchdowns in a span of just over six minutes to tie the game at 31-all.  The last score, a 36-yard touchdown pass from Michigan transfer Brandon Peters to USC transfer Josh Imatorbhebhe, was the culmination of a seven-play, 93-yard drive that included a 4th-and-10 conversion from their own seven-yard line.

That would be the highest of the highs on the day for the Fighting Illini as the Eagles’ punctuated their own late-game drive with Chad Ryland‘s 24-yard field goal as time expired to claim a thrilling 34-31 win.

This marks the third straight season that Chris Creighton‘s EMU squad has knocked off a school from the Big Ten.  In September of 2018, it was Purdue (20-19); in September of 2017, it was Rutgers (16-13).

Prior to 2017, Eastern Michigan had never beaten a team from that conference in 39 tries.

Overall, the MAC has now beaten at least one Big Ten team in 14 straight seasons.

And try this final nugget on for size: Creighton now has nearly as many wins over Big Ten teams (three) as Lovie Smith (four).  Heading into Illinois’ B1G opener against Nebraska next weekend, Smith has posted a 4-23 record in conference play.

Illinois loses RB Mike Epstein for the year

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Illinois running back Mike Epstein will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury in the Illini’s season opener, the program announced Monday.

“Mike Epstein went down with a season-ending injury,” said Lovie Smith. “He’s been through so much. As is the case with Marquez Beason, these are guys that will come back as strong as ever.”

Epstein led Illinois in rushing, totaling 45 yards on eight carries, in their 42-3 defeat of Akron.

The Fort Lauderdale native has played in 13 games over his career while also missing significant time to injury over all three of his seasons. He led the club in rushing with 346 yards and three touchdowns on 57 carries in 2017, and rushed 60 times for 411 yards and three touchdowns over seven games in 2018.

Though Illinois would obviously prefer to have Epstein than not, the Illini will not lack for options in his absence. Ra’Von BonnerReggie CorbinDre Brown and Kenyon Sims all registered between five and eight totes on Saturday.

Illinois student section took shot at NCAA over Luke Ford decision during season opener

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There was an interesting thing that happened at an Illinois football game over the weekend and no we’re not talking about it being a rare win for the program nor is it Lovie Smith’s terrific beard.

No we have to point out that the Illini’s student section was in top form for the 42-3 season-opening win over Akron on Saturday. During halftime of the contest, the students performed a rather unique card stunt while in their seats by taking a shot at the NCAA over their puzzling decision to deny Georgia transfer TE Luke Ford a waiver to play right away this season.

Take a look courtesy of one sharp-eyed Twitter user in attendance:

Both the Illinois and Georgia fan bases were unhappy with the folks in Indianapolis denying the waiver in the first place and then doing the same with the subsequent appeal in June. The Carterville, Ill. native had originally transferred to the Fighting Illini to be closer to his ailing grandfather but that wasn’t good enough for to get a waiver.

Something says this kind of display will become a lot more common place around college football as waiver decisions for transfers have quickly become one of the hot button issues in the sport. It’s not often you can call Illinois a trendsetter but in this category they just might be.

Rose Bowl to build statue for Keith Jackson

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There is perhaps no person more singularly responsible for the Rose Bowl’s place in the lore of American culture than Keith Jackson. It was Jackson, after all, who dubbed the Granddaddy of Them All as, well, the Grandaddy of Them All.

Now, Jackson will get his own statue outside of the most historic venue in our nation’s favorite sport.

According to the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles, the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation and the Pasadena City Council on Monday approved plans to place a statue of Jackson outside the Rose Plaza near the stadium’s south entrance. His will join statues of Jackie Robinson and Brandi Chastain.

Jackson died on Jan. 12, 2018, at the age of 89. Fundraising for the statue began shortly after his passing.

The Jackson statue could be in place as early as December, in time for the 106th edition of the Rose Bowl Game.

Jackson holds the records for most Rose Bowls called with 15, ahead of Mel Allen, Curt Gowdy and Brent Musburger, who all called the game 12 times. (Kirk Herbstreit, who turned 50 earlier this month, has already served as color commentator for 11 Rose Bowls.)

The 1952 Rose Bowl, a 40-7 Illinois win over Stanford, was the first college football game broadcast to a national audience, and has remained a network television event ever since. Jackson called his first Rose Bowl in 1989, when ABC took over rights from NBC, and remained the game’s voice almost continuously through 2006. Among his most memorable Rose Bowls were Ohio State’s denial of an Arizona State national championship in 1997, Michigan clinching a share of the national title in 1998 and Vince Young‘s epic performances in 2005 and ’06.

Jackson was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1999, and he’s also a member of the the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, the National Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame, the NSSA Hall of Fame and the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame. The Rose Bowl’s broadcasting center was named in his honor in 2015.


Illinois beats out Florida, Nebraska, Texas for Miami transfer Derrick Smith

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Some will say that this could be one of the Fighting Illini’s only Power Five wins in 2019, but you won’t hear that from us.

Aug.13, Derrick Smith tweeted that, “effective today, I would like to inform [Miami Nation], I am no longer on the University of Miami football team.” Over the weekend, Smith took to Twitter again to reveal that four schools are under consideration as a potential landing spot — Florida, Illinois, Nebraska and Texas. In the same tweet, the third-year junior defensive back indicated that a new school will be picked at some point this week.

Friday evening, Smith revealed that he will continue his collegiate playing career for Lovie Smith and the Illini.

It’s believed Smith will be ineligible to play immediately for his new team.  He would, though, have two years of eligibility he can use beginning with the 2020 season.

The Orange Park, Fla., native came to The U as a three-star member of the football program’s 2017 recruiting class. The past two seasons, Smith saw action in 25 of the Hurricanes’ 26 games and was credited with 24 tackles, 1½ of which were for a loss.

Prior to his decision to leave, Smith was expected to play an expanded role in the Hurricanes’ secondary this coming season.