Would anyone be surprised if that's the last game in an Illinois uniform for the talented running back?


Wearing a white Stetson that goes to the Texas Bowl MVP, Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure could be riding off into the sunset.

Expected to jump to the NFL after breaking five single-season school records and tying one more while leading the Illini to a 38-14 over Baylor in Reliant Stadium, the junior from Champaign Centennial became a key part of the offense on offensive coordinator Paul Petrino's first day on the job a year ago.

"The key was right from the start, he knew that I believed in him, then he went out and worked his tail off from day one all the way to the end,'' Petrino said. "If you practice that hard and you're a great athlete, you have a chance to be really good player.''

Leshoure rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns against Baylor. In the process, he set single-season school records with 1,697 yards rushing, 122 points, 20 touchdowns, nine 100-yard yard rushing games and 5 consecutive games of 100 yards or more rushing. He also tied Rashard Mendenhall's record of 17 rushing touchdowns.

Like Mendenhall, Leshoure could jump after his junior year, although he's not talked about his plans specifically.

"Hopefully, I can do the same thing and follow in his footsteps and make my name in the NFL,'' he said.

Petrino just hoped Leshoure doesn't make move for one more year.

"We all need to say prayers,'' said Petrino, who pleaded for him to stay one more year. "He's going to do what's best. I told him what I think is best.''

Leshoure ranks second in school history with 281 carries. Just like Petrino promised on the day Illinois announced his hiring, he went with FTS: Feed the Studs.

FENDER BENDER: The Illini's seven-bus carvan suffered a minor accident on the way to Reliant Stadium. No one was seriously injured. Three buses that lead the formation were filled with coaches and players. The fourth bus, filled with staff, collided with another vehicle.

The buses were following a police escort, and the accident occurred at an intersection.

FIELD: Reliant Stadium has a removable grass field, composed of 8 foot by 8 foot square modules 8 inches deep. About 1,250 modules with each section weighing 3,500 pounds. The field was installed Monday. The stadium has enough sections for two more fields, and the grounds crew rotates the sections to keep fresh grass on the field.

ETC.: Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's streak of 13 pass completions was the longest in school history to start a game. His 55-yard touchdown run to cap scoring was his longest of the year. . .