Illini's Mendenhall Ends Season With Flourish, Now Has Decision To Make

If the Rose Bowl was his final game for Illinois, Mendenhall went out in style

Jan. 1, 2008

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - Hounded by a swarming defense, Rashard Mendenhall looked as if he was ready for another college season instead of a big paycheck from the NFL.

And then, he showed just why he might have a wealthy future.

If the Rose Bowl was his final game for Illinois, Mendenhall went out in style. He ran for all but 27 of his 155 yards in the second half, but No. 6 Southern California overwhelmed the 13th-ranked Illini, 49-17 on Tuesday.

Now, Mendenhall has to decide whether to turn pro or return for his senior season.

It's the biggest issue facing the Illini (9-4), who orchestrated a stunning turnaround this season after winning just two games in each of coach Ron Zook's first two years. The Illini reached the Rose Bowl for the first time in 24 years, thanks in large part to Mendenhall, but they were no match for USC.

Mendenhall did his part after being held in check through the first two quarters, and set the school's single-season record for all-purpose yards along the way. He caught five passes for 59 yards and finished the season with 1,999 all-purpose yards.

He finally came alive on the Illini's first possession of the second half, when he broke up the left side for a 79-yard touchdown run. That cut the deficit to 21-10 and ignited the large Illinois contingent.

He also turned a screen pass into a 55-yard gain later in the quarter, but USC turned three Illini turnovers in the third quarter into touchdowns.

Mendenhall, who began the game with 1,526 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns this season, made it clear in the days leading up to this game he's thinking about skipping his senior year.

He acknowledged last week that he has little left to accomplish in school, that he's not interested in a run at the Heisman Trophy. A possible BCS championship might be a powerful reason to come back. Then again, the lure of NFL riches could be too strong to resist.


 

 

Zook believes Mendenhall has the talent to be picked in the first round. The million dollar - or multimillion dollar - question is whether he needs another season to go that early, even though he said his decision won't hinge on his anticipated draft position.

Fanstore.com