As we move towards a new era of the Big Ten starting in 2024, with west coast powers joining, we tend to forget some of our more historic rivals. We get the chance to look at some of the more underrated rivals. One of those is the Ohio State football team vs the Illinois Fighting Illini.
The battle for the Illibuck. Besides being one of the coolest and most unique trophies, it is one of the most historic rivalries in the Big Ten. These two programs have played over 100 times, according to Winsipedia.
Ohio State leads the all-time series 68-30-4. The Buckeyes are on an eight-game win streak over the Fighting Illini. These two programs last met in 2017, when Urban Meyer’s team destroyed the Illini, 52-14. However this is a long-running rivalry, and while the Ohio State football team has dominated it in recent memory, as Illinois only has one victory over the Buckeyes since 2001, that doesn’t mean there isn’t history.
That infamous 2007 loss is considered one of the biggest upsets in Ohio State history. Ron Zook brought the fighting Illini into Columbus and beat the Buckeyes 28-21. They really took it to Ohio State that day and earned that victory.
However, in the 1980s and 1990’s the Fighting Illini were a force to be reckoned with. With stars like Jeff George before he went to Purdue, Jack Trudeau, and Howard Griffith, the Fighting Illini were no laughing matter.
Their coach John Mackovic at the time really had them going. The program was rising, they were beating Ohio State consistently. No one beats Ohio State consistently nowadays. Had coach Mackovic stuck around he could’ve built Illinois into a national title contender.
However he took a job at Texas, and the Fighting Illini continued to be solid and were still able to earn victories over the Buckeyes in the 90’s. Eddie George carried the Ohio State football team with 314 yards and 3 TDs in a 1995 victory. It seemed after the 2002 season, the glory days had ended.
They had their moments, but things continued to decline. The Tim Beckman era was a tough one, and the Lovie Smith era was not a good one for Illinois either. But a new ray of hope in Champaign occurred, in an unlikely form. Coach Bret Bielema arrived and made them into a force once more.
He runs a smash-mouth football style of offense. It was apparent early in his first season he had Illinois going in the right direction. The next season he had Illinois on the cusp of a Big Ten championship appearance.
With the resurgence of the Fighting Illini, it would be amazing to see a home and home with the Buckeyes. It is a crime that the Illibuck trophy has been fought over for nearly six years.
With a high-powered offense in Ohio State, and a smash-mouth run-the-ball offense in Illinois, we could see these two play this fall, in Indianapolis by chance. We would be very pleased to see an old-school rivalry in the Big Ten title game!