Illinois to play eight home games in 2011

Illinois' 2009 football schedule was less than ideal for head coach Ron Zook, who started off with a rivalry game against Missouri and finished with games against both Cincinnati and Fresno State after Big Ten play had concluded. Though Illinois had far bigger problems than the schedule last fall, it certainly didn't help matters.

The 2010 slate is a bit better, as Illinois has only one game -- a Dec. 4 trip to Fresno State -- after conference play is over.

Things certainly will get easier in 2011, as Illinois today announced a schedule that features eight home games for the first time in team history. Illinois will open the season with five consecutive home games -- Arkansas State, South Dakota State, Arizona State, Western Michigan and Penn State -- before visiting Iowa. Missouri falls off the schedule for the first time since 2006.

Illinois misses both Ohio State and Minnesota in 2011, creating a potential chance to break through. By any measure, the 2011 slate is very manageable.

The big question: Will Zook still be in Champaign to enjoy it?

Here's the full schedule:

Sept. 3: Arkansas State

Sept. 10: South Dakota State

Sept. 17: Arizona State

Sept. 24: Western Michigan

Oct. 1: Penn State

Oct. 8: at Iowa

Oct. 15: Northwestern

Oct. 22: at Indiana

Oct. 29: Open

Nov. 5: Michigan State

Nov. 12: at Michigan

Nov. 19: at Purdue

Nov. 26: Wisconsin