This writer was a wee little freshman during Illinois football’s magical, unexpected run to the 2008 Rose Bowl. Victories that year stand the test of time, and this coming football season marks the 10th anniversary of that memorable season.
September 29, 2007. Penn State rolls into Champaign with one of the most electric all-around play-makers the program has ever had: former No.1 overall recruit Derrick Williams. Williams’ star-power was overshadowed that day by an Illinois player of similar strengths and abilities in the return game.
After Penn State went up 3-0, this is what happened when Illinois returned the following kickoff.
In that moment, true freshman Arrelious Benn’s 90-yard kick return for a touchdown not only put Illinois in the national spotlight, but he put himself squarely in the hearts and minds of NFL scouts.
Illinois would go on to win that game 27-20. Benn caught six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown reception on top of his first-quarter return touchdown.
There is no doubt there were bigger games during that 2007 season. The weekend after against No. 5 Wisconsin, which Illinois won 31-26. Later that season there was the infamous road win at No. 1 Ohio State for the Illibuck Trophy.
The Penn State game was the true breakout game in 2007, the first game that had Illinois fans and the national media believing that this team was something special.