Illinois' secondary suddenly has become a primary concern.
After announcing that cornerback Terry Hawthorne will be out four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot, Ron Zook and his staff were scrambling to reorganize their depleted defensive backfield.
Hawthorne, who also is a kickoff and punt returner, joins another projected starter, safety Supo Sanni, on the sidelines. Sanni, who tore his Achilles' tendon Wednesday, is out for the season.
The defensive backfield also will be without Walt Aikens, a starter at safety last season who had been working at safety and corner. Aikens, who had been on shaky ground after spending five days in jail over the summer for misdemeanor theft, was dismissed from Illinois on Aug. 20 after university officials turned down his appeal to remain in school.
Hawthorne, who returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown at
Minnesota last year, could be back in time for Ilinois' Big Ten opener
vs. Ohio State on Oct. 2.
To fill the voids, tailback Justin Green has moved to cornerback and receiver Steve Hull has moved to safety. Receiver Jack Ramsey also is working out with the secondary.
With the safety situation uncertain, veteran corner Tavon Wilson may move to safety, where he can be more of a steadying influence. Travon Bellamy, Miami Thomas and Pat NIxon-Youmans should be in the mix at cornerback.
The Hawthorne injury is especially big because the speedy sophomore, a Parade All-American receiver at East St. Louis, also is a dangerous returner.
``It bothered him a bit during camp, but he's such a tough kid, he never said anything. He kept going,'' Zook told reporters. ``You love him because he doesn't ever complain. But if he would have said anything, maybe we would have been able to get away with just giving him a few days off. But he'll be fine and we'll be fine.''
Expected to have his best team in years, Illinois coach Bruce Weber unveiled a rugged schedule Thursday that includes five high-profile nonconference games.
Beyond its annual Braggin' Rights meeting with Missouri on Dec. 22 and an ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup with North Carolina on Nov. 30, Illinois will play Gonzaga in Seattle on Dec. 4, and face Texas, plus Pitt or Maryland, in New York City on Nov. 18 and 19.
``With an experienced team that we feel can be competitive nationally,'' Weber said, ``we were aggressive in our non-conference scheduling with the goal in mind to be prepared heading into conference play. The Big Ten promises to be as strong as it has been in many years, so there is no question we will need to compete at a high level each and every night out.''
Illinois--which will be led by seniors Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and Bill Cole--should have the best depth it has had under Weber. A trio of sophomores (D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey) who also saw significant playing time return, and a freshman group led by McDonald's All-American Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard and redshirt Joseph Bertrand also should make a serious contribution.
The Illini, who missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years, will need to be improved to compete in a Big Ten in which Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State again are expected to set the bar high.
The schedule. . .
Monday Nov. 8 UC Irvine % Assembly Hall 7 pm ESPN3.com
Wednesday Nov. 10 Toledo % Assembly Hall 7 pm ESPN3.com
Saturday Nov. 13 Southern Illinois Assembly Hall 7 pm BTN
Thursday Nov. 18 vs. Texas % New York, N.Y. (Madison Square Garden) 8 pm ESPN2
Friday Nov. 19 vs. Pittsburgh/Maryland % New York, N.Y. (Madison Square Garden) 6 pm/4 pm ESPN2
Tuesday Nov. 23 Yale Assembly Hall 8:45 pm ESPNU
Saturday Nov. 27 at Western Michigan Kalamazoo, Mich. 1 pm
Tuesday Nov. 30 North Carolina # Assembly Hall 8:30 pm ESPN
Saturday Dec. 4 vs. Gonzaga @ Seattle, Wash. (Key Arena) 4 pm ESPN
Wednesday Dec. 8 Oakland Assembly Hall 7 pm BigTenNetwork.com
Sunday Dec. 12 Northern Colorado Assembly Hall 5 pm BTN
Saturday Dec. 18 vs. UIC Chicago, Ill. (United Center) 1 pm BTN
Wednesday Dec. 22 vs. Missouri * St. Louis, Mo. (Scottrade Center) 8 pm ESPN2
Wednesday Dec. 29 at Iowa Iowa City, Iowa 8 pm BTN
Sunday Jan. 2 Wisconsin Assembly Hall 5 pm BTN
Thursday Jan. 6 Northwestern Assembly Hall 8 pm ESPN2
Tuesday Jan. 11 at Penn State University Park, Pa. 8 pm BTN
Saturday Jan. 15 at Wisconsin Madison, Wis. 2 pm BTN
Tuesday Jan. 18 Michigan State Assembly Hall 6 pm ESPN
Saturday Jan. 22 Ohio State Assembly Hall 11 am CBS
Thursday Jan. 27 at Indiana Bloomington, Ind. 8 pm BTN
Tuesday Feb. 1 Penn State Assembly Hall 8 pm BTN
Saturday Feb. 5 at Northwestern Evanston, Ill. Noon CBS
Thursday Feb. 10 at Minnesota Minneapolis, Minn. 8 pm ESPN/ESPN2
Sunday Feb. 13 Purdue Assembly Hall Noon CBS
Wednesday Feb. 16 Michigan Assembly Hall 7:30 pm BTN
Saturday Feb. 19 at Michigan State ^ East Lansing, Mich. 8 pm ESPN
Tuesday Feb. 22 at Ohio State Columbus, Ohio 6 pm ESPN
Sat./Sun. Feb. 26/27 Iowa Assembly Hall TBA TBA
Tuesday March 1 at Purdue West Lafayette, Ind. 6 pm ESPN
Sat./Sun. March 5/6 Indiana Assembly Hall TBA TBA
Thu.-Sun. March 10-13 Big Ten Tournament Indianapolis, Ind. (Conseco Fieldhouse) TBA TBA
Tue.-Wed. March 15-16 NCAA First Round TBA TBA TruTV
Thu.-Sun. March 17-20 NCAA Second & Third Rounds TBA TBA CBS
Thu.-Sun. March 24-27 NCAA Regionals TBA TBA CBS
Sat. & Mon. April 2 & 4 NCAA Final Four Houston, Texas (Reliant Stadium) TBA CBS
% = 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer
# = ACC/Big Ten Challenge
@= Comcast Battle in Seattle
* = Busch Braggin' Rights
^ = ESPN College GameDay Driven by State Farm and Saturday Primetime Presented by DIRECTV
All times listed are Central.
All dates and times are subject to change.