Since college football analysts want to crack some jokes over Illinois' appearance in the Rose Bowl, Illini junior linebacker Brit Miller wanted to play the role of comedian in front of TV cameras Sunday.

Since college football analysts want to crack some jokes over Illinois' appearance in the Rose Bowl, Illini junior linebacker Brit Miller wanted to play the role of comedian in front of TV cameras Sunday.
 
Nearly a two-touchdown underdog and the only team with more than two losses in a BCS game, Illinois (9-3) has its critics before facing Southern Cal (10-2) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 (3:30 p.m., ABC).
 
"If I was going to be a comedian about it, I would say, 'It's America. People have the right to freedom of speech,' '' Miller said. "Isn't the second amendment the right to bear arms?
 
"So I'm going to the camera and say, 'They have the right to freedom of speech. I have the right to bear arms,' flex up and walk away from the camera.''
 
In other words, the Illini don't seem too disturbed about a lack of respect coming from national media that would have preferred a Southern Cal-Georgia matchup over a traditional game between teams from the Big Ten and Pac-10.
 
It's not the first time the Illini have been caught up in an uproar about the Rose Bowl matchup. In the school's first appearance in 1947, Illinois played UCLA because of a five-year agreement signed in the previous month contracted the Big Nine (forerunner to the Big Ten) and the Pacific Coast Conference (now the Pac-10) to meet in the Rose Bowl. The West Coast wanted UCLA vs. Army.

It's just easier to hear all the sniping now because of talk radio and the Internet.
 
Said espn.com analyst Pat Forde, "I anticipate seeing USC pole-ax BCS interloper Illinois in the Rose Bowl.''
 
Added SI.com's Stewart Mandel, "And do you think USC's Carroll . . . is losing much sleep over those Illinois game tapes?''
 
Changing public opinion is hard, considering Illinois' record over the previous four seasons (eight wins overall, two in the Big Ten; blowout losses, such as 63-10 vs. Penn State).
 
"We've been underdogs so long,'' Miller said. "We used to get beat so bad, they didn't play the other team's highlights because it was against us. People still have the image of 56 points in the first half (scored by) Penn State two year ago. It's not that any more.''
 
It might be the Big Ten's plummeting approval rating outside the Midwest. League champ Ohio State fell to Florida 41-14 in last year's national title game. The Big Ten hasn't posted a winning record in bowl season since 2002. The league was 2-5 last winter.
 
"Respect is something you have to earn,'' Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "It's something you have to continually work hard to get. Until our program is consistent, we're going to have to work toward that.
 
"It's important to talk about conferences. It's important to prove to people that the Big Ten Conference plays pretty good football.''
 
Sixty-one years ago, Army -- undefeated in three seasons -- prepared to play in the Rose Bowl with Glenn Davis, its Heisman Trophy winner from suburban Los Angeles. But the game's organizers announced the plan pitting the Big Ten vs. the Pac-10.
 
Wrote Paul Zimmerman of the Los Angeles Times, "In Memoriam. Rose Bowl. Born, January 1, 1916. Died, November 21, 1946. Rest in Peace.''
 
Added Bob Hoenig of the Hollywood Citizen-News: "A game that could have made football history now fades out of the picture and in its place a tourist attraction takes form. There was a fumble on the play, and a bad one.''
 
Illinois coach Ray Eliot didn't help the press coverage from West Coast writers, when he banned them from Illinois' practice site. Once, Eliot had them ushered out by police.
 
"The press was just brutal,'' said Tommy Stewart, a quarterback-defensive back on that Illini team. "They wanted Army. Army was the elite.''
 
In 1947, Illinois whipped UCLA 45-14.
 
More than six decades later, it hasn't changed. Illinois shows up for the Rose Bowl and hears the complaining.
 
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.