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October 3, 2007

Benn changing games and more at Illinois

Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois

Regis would probably like to be watching a little Rejus right now.

Noted Notre Dame fan and TV personality Regis Philbin came close to seeing freshman receiver Arrelious Benn, who goes by the nickname "Rejus," suit up for the Irish. However, it wasn't meant to be.

Instead, Benn is part of the rebuilding process at Illinois, a process that got a boost from the Illini's 27-20 win over Penn State in Champaign on Saturday.

Benn played a major role in the upset, amassing 188 all-purpose yards and two TDs on nine touches in a signature win for third-year coach Ron Zook.

For his efforts, Rivals.com named Benn its National Freshman of the Week.

Benn is just one piece of the recruiting efforts Zook hopes will turn Illinois' fortunes. The Illini's victory over Penn State on Saturday was their first over a ranked opponent since 2001. With back-to-back wins over Indiana and the Nittany Lions, Illinois is 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1991.

Turning around Illinois is just what Benn had in mind when he signed with Zook out of Washington (D.C.) Dunbar. Benn, the No. 24 prospect in the class of 2007, landed at Illinois despite offers from Notre Dame, Florida State and Maryland.

"It was a big factor, a chance to come in and do good things at a program that's on the uprise," Benn said. "There was a chance to come and show my talent at this level."

And the name he signed on his National Letter of Intent to Illinois is the same one he uses when signing autographs – Arrelious, not Rejus.

Benn has been called Rejus since his childhood, but says he doesn't know the origin of the nickname. "I need to do a background check on that," Benn said.

Whether he's called Arrelious or Rejus - or used as a receiver, running back or kick returner - Benn can turn a game.

Take the win over Penn State, for example.

After Penn State took its only lead of the game on a 26-yard Kevin Kelly field goal in the first quarter, Benn responded with a 90-yard return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.

In the second quarter, Benn added a 29-yard touchdown catch from Juice Williams. Benn finished the day with six receptions for 84 yards and two carries for 14.

"You can put the ball in his hands so many different ways," Zook said. "We're all searching to have as many weapons as we can so you can't double one guy. He presents another weapon that way. He can catch the ball as a receiver. He can run the ball out of the backfield. He can block. He's going to get better and better, and is a guy with a lot of God-given ability."

Benn will have a more difficult test this week when the Illini look to shock the conference with a 3-0 start and a win over No. 5 Wisconsin. Against the Badgers, Benn will face the league's top corner, Jack Ikegwuonu.

"I look for challenges like that," Benn said. "It challenges me to be great and show my talent. He's a great corner."

OTHER NOMINEES FOR FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK:

Cody Hawkins, Colorado
The son of coach Dan Hawkins was 22 of 36 for 220 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 27-24 upset of Oklahoma.


Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
Crabtree tied the NCAA Division I-A freshman record for touchdown catches in a season with 14 thanks to three TDs in a rout of I-AA Northwestern State (La.).


Chris Smelley, South Carolina
Smelley was solid in his first career start, going 19 of 27 for 279 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 38-21 win over Mississippi State.


Nicolas Grigsby, Arizona
Arizona's offense is clicking in part because of Grigsby, who carried the ball 30 times for 186 yards and had nine receptions for 76 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-20 win over Washington State.




DeSean Jackson
Wide Receiver
California



The junior does more than just return punts. If you needed a reminder, Jackson caught 11 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 win over No. 11 Oregon in Eugene.

Though he battled a thumb injury in recent weeks, Jackson came up big in a game that puts the Bears in contention with USC for the Pac-10 title.

Jackson continued his tradition of being a major contributor in Cal's biggest games of the season – he had a highlight-reel punt return for a touchdown in the Bears' opener against Tennessee as well.

OTHER NOMINEES:

Ben Moffitt, South Florida
Moffitt was the defensive catalyst for the Bulls' upset of the Mountaineers with two interceptions – one returned for a touchdown – two tackles for losses and eight tackles.


P.J. Hill, Wisconsin
Hill continued to put the Badgers on his back with a 155-yard, two-touchdown performance as Wisconsin avoided an upset against Michigan State.


Jordy Nelson, Kansas State
Nelson highlighted an all-around effort for the Wildcats with 12 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown. He added an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 41-21 win over Texas.


Thomas Brown, Georgia
Brown ran for more yards than a Georgia back has in six years. He had 16 carries for 180 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-17 win over Ole Miss.



Ron Collins
Defensive Coordinator
Colorado



Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford finally looked like a freshman in Boulder, Colo. Collins' defense caused problems for Bradford, who had been the most efficient quarterback in the country. Bradford threw two interceptions and completed only eight of 19 passes.

The Sooners' powerful offense hit a speed bump by amassing only 230 yards in a 27-24 loss.

OTHER NOMINEES:

Wally Burnham, South Florida
The Bulls held Steve Slaton and Pat White in check, knocked White out of the game and forced six turnovers in a 21-13 win over West Virginia.


Will Muschamp, Auburn
In the Tigers' 20-17 win over Florida in Gainesville, Auburn held the Gators' spread offense to a 312 yards. Florida had not been held to fewer than 500 yards all season.


Mickey Andrews, Florida State
While the Seminoles' offense took a while to find itself, Andrews' defense kept Alabama off the board. FSU shut out Alabama for three quarters in a 21-14 win.


Jon Tenuta, Georgia Tech
Tenuta's defense held Clemson's duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller to 61 rushing yards and sacked Cullen Harper six times in a 13-3 win.



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