Illinois football coach Ron Zook can't just turn it off. He can't just relax, step back and admire the success this fall.

Illinois football coach Ron Zook can't just turn it off. He can't just relax, step back and admire the success this fall.

Illinois jumped two spots to No. 18 in the Associated Press poll after finishing the regular season Saturday with a 41-22 victory over Northwestern. The Illini improved to 9-3 overall and tied with Michigan for second place in the Big Ten Conference with a 6-2 record.
 
It's probably the most rewarding season in Zook's six as a head coach, except he's not given himself time to think about it.
 
"When I'm able to relax and enjoy it, yes,'' Zook said. "We've accomplished an awful lot. The great thing is we have more to accomplish. Once I sit back and think about what we've done, it's going to be very rewarding. I just can't turn it off. It takes me a while to wind down. When you redline, you don't shut it off quickly.''
 
Zook will likely receive Big Ten Coach of the Year honors when the all-conference team is released tonight.
 
While the players were given the week off for Thanksgiving break (school is out this week), Zook and his staff will remain busy.
 
The team's bowl preparations must be put in place. The coaching staff will also recruit, meet with players and teams during the state playoff championship weekend at Memorial Stadium and talk soon with running back Rashard Mendenhall about his pro prospects.
 
Since the Illini could remain in contention for a BCS bowl, their bowl destination might not be known until Dec. 2, when BCS bowls are announced the day after conference championship games.

Representatives from the Capital One, Outback, Alamo and Champ Sports attended Saturday's game.
 
"Everybody is talking about the Capital One,'' Zook said. "Nothing is etched in stone.''
 
Whether it's the Capital One and a matchup with Florida -- Zook's former team -- or a BCS appearance in the Sugar or Fiesta bowls, Zook knows the Illini will be playing in January for the second time since 1991.

"A lot of things would have to happen for us to get pulled up (to a BCS bowl),'' he said. "Last year, had UCLA not beaten USC, Florida would never have the opportunity to get into (the national title) game. A lot of things have to happen and fall right. I'm not going to get overly anxious about who or where we play. We have an opportunity to go to a neat bowl.''
 
Mendenhall, who broke the school's single-season rushing record with 1,526 yards, said in October that he would consider leaving after this season for the NFL. Zook plans to meet with Mendenhall soon after his return following this week's break.
 
"I'll give him the pros and cons,'' Zook said. "He's going to the next level either this year or next year. It will become a business decision. Guys have to go to understand that being a first-rounder as opposed to a third- and fourth-rounder is millions and millions of dollars. You can stay in college for a year and (recoup) $3 million.
 
"We have a chance to be pretty good next year. It's not a cut and dried thing. You have to find out as much as you can on where you fit into the NFL (draft). If he comes out early and he's a later draft choice, you're costing yourself millions and millions of dollars, as opposed to staying here a year and getting a year's more experience and having a chance to run for the Heisman.''
 
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. For more coverage, read Illini Talk blog at www.sj-r.com and www.pjstar.com.