For Illinois football, a program first is in sight as November begins


CHAMPAIGN – With each passing week, the Illini are reaching milestones that are setting the program up for a major first.

An undefeated October is a big reason for all of that.

Illinois finished the month with a 4-0 record to improve their overall mark to 7-1, opening up a world of possibilities for the team as they approach the final four games of the regular season.

Thanks to a 26-9 win over Nebraska, Illinois has won seven of their first eight games for the first time since their 2001 Big Ten championship season when the team made a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

Now at seven victories, the Illini are guaranteed their first winning season since 2011, when they opened they finished the season 7-6 and got their last bowl victory (Kraft Fights Hunger Bowl in San Francisco).

Bret Bielema’s team has also moved up to No. 14 in the rankings, their highest spot in the poll since they were No. 13 before the 2008 Rose Bowl. It’s expected that Illinois will show up in the College Football Playoff rankings when the first ones are released on Tuesday night.

More importantly, these wins give Illinois the shot to play for something the program has never had: A Big Ten West championship.

At 4-1, the Illini have a one-game lead on Purdue at 3-2, with the rest of the teams in the division having at least three losses. The Boilermakers are the second opponent of a two-game homestand that starts on Saturday with a 2:30 PM contest with Michigan State at Memorial Stadium.

If Illinois wins both of those games, they would clinch the Big Ten West title no matter what would happen in their final two games of the regular season on the road against Michigan and Northwestern.

A great October gave Illinois the opportunity to have this chance, and a good November could make this program first a reality.

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