Thursday, October 11, 2012

Who Are You and Why Do We Care?: Illinois Fighting Illini

Is there a rivalry here?
Even though they were an original member of the Western Conference, Illinois is not a team Michigan has a traditional rivalry with. In 93 all-time games, Michigan has a 68-23-2 record. Michigan is 8-2 in the last ten meetings between the two teams. 

When did we see them last?
Last season Michigan marched into Champaign, Illinois with a 7-2 record to play the Illinois Fighting Illini who were 6-3. Even though the scoreboard didn't show it, Michigan demolished the Illini in the first half. On the second play of the game Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for 65 yards leading to a 9 yard Denard Robinson touchdown. Michigan got the ball back and ran the ball down to the Illinois 27 before a Robinson fumble gave the ball back to the Illini. Towards the end of the first quarter, Justin DuVernois punted the ball, which was returned 32 yards by Jeremy Gallon. The punt return would lead to another Denard Robinson rushing touchdown. The rest of the first half included the pattern of Illinois going 3 and out (or fumbling) followed by Michigan doing something to not score points (Turnover on downs, Robinson fumble, Gibbons missed field goal, Denard interception to end the half). Illinois would not cross enter Michigan's end of the field during the first half. 

The third quarter started the same way the second quarter ended. Michigan went three and out on its first possession and Denard got injured. Neither team was able to move the ball, and the game looked like it would continue that way until a Will Hagerup punt was fumbled by Ryan Lankford, and recovered by John McColgan. Devin Gardner entered the game at quarterback, and lead the Wolverines to a Brendan Gibbons field goal. On the ensuing possession Illinois finally crossed midfield and scored a touchdown on a thirteen yard run by Nathan Scheelhaase. In the fourth quarter a JT Floyd interception lead to a touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Martavious Odoms. Illinois responded with an 18 play 80 yard drive, which ended in a Jason Ford touchdown run. Illinois tried for an onside kick, but the Wolverines recovered. Two plays later Toussaint was in the endzone  for the game's final score. Michigan would go on to win 31-14.

What do they look like?
Their official colors are "Illinois Orange" and "Illinois Blue." Here is a sample of each of their current uniforms, and here is what they look like on football players standing indoors. They are a Nike school so they have lots of piping and weird stripes and such. Next year they will be implementing a new uniform set with these helmets

Do they have good coaches?
Bob Zuppke was a good Head Coach from 1913-1941. During that span, Illinois went 131-81-12 including four National Championships and seven Big Ten Championships. For the past seven seasons, Ron Zook was the man in charge. Zook was the head coach at the University of Florida from 2002-2004. In 2004, he was fired before the end of the season, yet Florida let him coach the rest of the season. Zook took the job at Illinois before the Gators played in the Peach Bowl. 22 of the 24 starters on Florida's 2007 National Championship team were recruited by Zook. His first two seasons at Illinois were terrible at best, with a combined 4-19 record. 2007 was Zook's best year as a head coach and Illinois best season since 2001. The Illini went 9-3, and due to Ohio State's National Championship bid, a trip to the Rose Bowl (and Disney Land). In Pasadena, they got stomped by USC. Zook was never able to repeat this success and only had one winning record after 2007. This past season, after starting the season 4-0, the Illini went 2-6, and Zook was fired. 

Tim Beckman was brought in to replace Ron Zook after three years as the head coach of the Toledo Rockets. Before working at Toledo, Beckman was the Defensive Coordinator at Bowling Green for six years, the Corner Backs Coach at Ohio State for two seasons, and the Defensive Coordinator at Oklahoma State for two seasons. After an improved 2009 where the Rockets went 5-9 (in 2008, the Rockets had 3 wins... one over Michigan), Toledo had back to back 8 win seasons. So far Beckman has gone 2-4 as head coach at Illinois. He has also shown that he loves to dip on the sidelines

Have they won any Big Ten or National Championships?
As I previously mentioned, Zuppke won four National Championships in his career at Illinois. The most recent National Championship was won in 1951. The Illini have won 15 Big Ten Championships, winning most recently in 2001. 

Where do they play?
Memorial Stadium was opened in 1923. Here are some pictures of what it looks like. According to the University, during construction of the stadium, "a rainy season caused a bulldozer to sink into what became the football field." It is still there to this day. Also, miscellaneous white man with fro in front of the scoreboard. This season, the university added an outline of the state of Illinois to the field surface. In honor of Illinois great Red Grange, Grange Rock sits in the Northeast endzone of the field, where the Illini tunnel is

What traditions do they have?
  • Beginning in 1910, there was a section of stands called the Block "I". The students in this section do tricks with cards. Video here
  • This season the Illini are trying to add this ridiculous dance to their traditions. 
  • Just as we have GO/BLUE chanted, Illinois chants I-L-L/I-N-I.
  • The Illini have trophies for games with three of their opponents. 
Do they have a goofy mascot?
Not anymore... Here's Chief Illiniwek's last dance:
If you notice, this was a game against Michigan

For years, Illinois used the Chief Illiniwek head as their main logo. In 1926, the assistant director of bands wanted a Native American war dance during halftime of football games. Starting in the mid-1970s the Chief was subject of much debate over its political correctness. In 2006, it was decided that Chief Illiniwek could no longer be the official university symbol. 

Prediction based on everything but football: Michigan 41 - Illinois 13.

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