CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois coach Ron Zook understands what's at stake this season, but he said he's not concentrating on saving his job.
"I don't worry about the job," Zook said. "You don't go into a season or a game worrying about your job security.
"You do the best you can do. You do everything you can do. If it's good enough, great. If it's not good enough, you take the next job."
The season ahead is a critical one for Zook in that respect. The Illini haven't lived up to expectations the past two years and are coming off a 3-9 record. Some have called for Zook's job, but his past success -- including Illinois' 2008 Rose Bowl appearance -- has earned him at least one more season in Champaign.
Zook understands he can't afford another horrid season.
"I don't think there's any question," Zook said. "There's going to be pressure to win. There's always pressure to win.
"Because we have struggled the last couple of years, I think it's important that we go out there and play the way we're capable of playing. I think that's the big thing with me. Let's play the way we're capable of playing. I think the frustrating thing the last couple years is we haven't played the way we're capable of playing. That's the frustration."
Zook takes a certain level of excitement and anticipation into every season. This season, though, he feels he has something to prove.
"I think I'm as excited as I've been," Zook said. "Anytime you feel like you have something to prove, you want to go out there and go do it.
"I'm looking forward to showing people that, 'Hey people, this football program and football team can be competitive.'"
Practice begins next Thursday at Memorial Stadium, then Zook and the team are off to Rantoul, Ill., to prepare for their season-opener against Missouri on Sept. 4.
Whether Zook will be moving on after the season might be determined by the outcome of that opener. A year ago, Missouri crushed the Illini 37-9, and Illinois' season never rebounded.
"It did steamroll," Zook said. "After that first game, it all went downhill. It's going to be important that we get off on the right foot this year, probably more so maybe than any year that I've been here.
"I think we're more of a mature team now than we were. I think the guys understand we have to go play. Missouri has done a great job there. Obviously, they always play as good a game against us that first game as they do the whole year. We have to be ready to go."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.