UC-Illinois preview

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Mardy Gilyard has been dreading Friday for the past few years. It's Senior Day, and he's not looking forward to it in the slightest.


"We thought we'd never leave," Gilyard said. "We thought that day would never come. It sucks, man. I'm down about it."


Gilyard, along with 15 other Bearcats seniors, will play their last game at Nippert Stadium on Friday when they face Illinois at noon. And it makes Gilyard a sad panda.


"I love the city, I love the school," he said. "Win, lose or draw, this city has always had our back. That's what is special about the community. They've just showed us so much love. It sucks to know that I'm leaving."


Gilyard, after last season, thought about not coming back at all. He was thinking about skipping his senior season and declaring for the NFL Draft. He thought long and hard about it. He talked to his mom, who wanted him to continue completing his education. He talked to his father, who said he knew Gilyard wanted to take care of the family but assured him the finances would be fine for another year. He thought about it some more.


"It also played in the fact where I would be (picked)," Gilyard said. "(Michael) Crabtree was coming out and Kenny Britt. I thought I had a better chance of making more money by staying, helping the team, developing myself more, being more football sound and being more prepared for the next level."


Brian Kelly will miss this class - who were sophomores when he took over the UC job - as well.


"They've meant so much to our program," Kelly said. "Obviously, three consecutive 10-plus seasons for this senior class. It obviously puts them in a select group.


"What they've done more than anything else, is shown a consistency in their approach to handling being a championship program and raising the bar. If they did not do the things on the day to day basis, they wouldn't be here where we are. They're a group of sophomores that did the right things. The means a lot to stability and continuity to the program. To win a championship, you have to have that focus every day. This group gives us that."


--Remember two years ago when Marcus Barnett was a freshman All-American and set a school record with 13 touchdown catches. Now, you don't see him much. He switched to cornerback for the Fresno State game earlier this season and performed rather well. But when Dominique Battle returned from his injury, Barnett went back to offense.


He caught six passes for 57 yards vs. Miami, but he made one catch against Louisville, accumulated zero stats against Syracuse and did not play in the South Florida, Connecticut and West Virginia games. Overall this season, he's got 10 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.


I asked Gilyard about Barnett.


"That's my little brother," Gilyard said. "We spend a lot of time together off the field. I spend a lot of time talking to him, making sure his head is on right. I know what he's going through. I went from being a starter in 2007 to not playing a lick later in the season. I know how it feels to go from being hot to being cold. His head is OK. Marcus isn't worrying about nothing. He's enjoying himself. He's a joy to be around. He's gone from being an All American to not catching too many balls. But he's taking care of business."


--Senior DL Alex Daniels will look across the line of scrimmage Friday and see an old buddy. Illinois tight end Jeff Cumberland and Daniels played together in little league and won a state championship together at Brookhaven High in Columbus.


The fact Daniels will get to play a Big Ten opponent is also a wonderful feeling for the former Minnesota Golden Gopher.


"Playing a Big Ten team will be joyful for me," Daniels said. "It's coming full circle. I just feel like it will be a great experience."


-- Brian Kelly says you can't know anything about Illinois if you just look at the 3-7 record.


"Everybody looks at their record and if you haven't watched them on film, you'd say this is not a very good football team," Kelly said. "They're two years removed from a Rose Bowl berth, and they have a great depth at the running back position. Just a good football team. It will be a great challenge for our football team."


--<b>Prediction:</b> Well, I haven't watched film of Illinois, and I'd go on record as saying that the Illini are not a good football team. They had a nice win vs. Michigan and at Minnesota, but a home loss to Northwestern last week can't sit well. With Senior Day and the national implications of this game, UC won't overlook Illinois. Say, UC 38, Illinois 17.

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