CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Just because Ron Zook hasn't faced Michigan in three seasons coaching Illinois doesn't mean he isn't aware of the programs' history.
"If you think about the last time we beat Michigan here, nobody on our football team was even born," Zook said. "I think that I had just gotten married. It's been a long, long time."
The Illini (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) haven't defeated the Wolverines (5-2, 3-0) in Champaign since 1983, and haven't beaten them at all since 1999.
No. 24 Michigan has played in 32-straight bowl games, appeared in the Associated Press poll more times than any other team and has the most wins in the Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A. The Illini, on the other hand, haven't had much to smile about since their 10-2 season in 2001 and subsequent Sugar Bowl appearance.
Now with both teams at 5-2 and in contention for the Big Ten title, Saturday night's matchup has meaning for the first time in a long time.
"It's a game where you know there's a lot on the line," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
After shocking losses to Appalachian State and Oregon in the first two weeks, the Wolverines have won five straight.
"I think you've got to remember that (Michigan) was picked preseason to be a national contender, and that's how they're playing right now," Zook said.
Behind quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart, Michigan is averaging 201.3 yards per game on the ground and 206.7 yards through the air.
In last week's 48-21 win over Purdue, Henne completed 21 of 28 passes for 264 yards and had two touchdowns. Hart rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
Early in the season, Michigan committed turnovers and was flagged for numerous penalties, but Carr credits part of Michigan's turnaround to its strides in the red zone.
Hart, who leads the nation in rushing with an average of 154 yards per game, injured his right ankle against Purdue and did not play in the second half. He is questionable against Illinois, but teammates expect to see him in uniform.
"Mike is an extreme competitor; he wants to get on the field," Michigan senior safety Jamar Adams said. "We only have a few games left in our career; it's that mind-set. It's going to take a hurricane to stop him."
If Hart can't play, Carr may have to count on his defense, which forced four turnovers for 28 points against Purdue. Michigan leads the Big Ten with 23 forced turnovers and 12 fumble recoveries.
"They've got a defense where if you make a mistake, they're going to exploit it," Illinois senior offensive lineman Martin O'Donnell said.
More importantly, Michigan has only allowed three rushing touchdowns in Big Ten play.
The Illini, who lost 10-6 to Iowa on the road last weekend after defeating ranked opponents Penn State and Wisconsin, are having their best season since they finished 2001 ranked No. 12.
Illinois' offense relies heavily on junior running back Rashard Mendenhall, who is averaging 119.9 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. Against Iowa, he had only 67 yards and Illinois never found its offensive rhythm.
Quarterback Juice Williams completed just 9 of 15 passes for 98 yards, and replacement Eddie McGee, who came into the game in the fourth quarter, threw an interception to end Illinois' comeback.
Top 25 Overview
The disaster that was Michigan football has made a quiet recovery. The Wolverines returned to the top 25 with five straight wins and will look to make it six against Illinois. The Illini need to rebound after falling to Iowa last week.
Michigan has reeled off six straight wins since starting the season 0-2. Illinois is coming off a tough loss. Who will win what could be a nail-biter in Champaign? This one could come down to the Wolverines' outstanding running back, Mike Hart.