Welcome to Know Your Opponent! Each week during the season we will shed some light on the Buckeye’s opponent, examining their record, traditions, mascot, famous alumni and anything else we think is worth making fun of. This week: The Illinois Fighting Illini.
Here’s something to get you pumped up:
Points per Game: 152th
Points Allowed per Game: 67th
Yards per Game: 137th
Yards Allowed per Game: 65th
It should be noted I initially pulled these numbers before their game against Purdue on Saturday, and when I updated them after they had improved by about 20 on both points and yards allowed. Not a bad swing for one week.
Yes, really, the Illini have no mascot. Until 2007 it was Chief Illiniwek, a student dressed in Sioux regalia to represent the state’s namesake, the Illiniwek confederation of Indian tribes. In 2006 the NCAA barred Illinois from hosting any postseason games or tournaments under its “hostile and abusive American Indian nicknames” ban. The school appealed the ban, but the NCAA upheld it. Illinois relented, and retired the mascot after the 2006-2007 basketball season. They have yet to determine a new mascot. Apparently the name “Fighting Illini” does not refer to the Indian tribe but came from the name of the school paper, which has been called The Illini since 1874. The adjective “fighting” was added five years before the appearance of Chief Illiniwek to honor Illinois soldiers killed in WWI, so it has been deemed inoffensive. It’s all very confusing, to say the least. It is the opinion of this columnist that “Fighting Illini” is a silly name, just like The Ohio State University “Fighting Ohioans” would be a silly name.
2015 Record: 5-4, 4th in Big Ten West Division
Illinois is another OSU opponent that played Kent State this year, which is an odd pattern I didn’t expect to see when I started writing these. Do the Buckeyes and Kent State play the exact same teams? Only time will tell. Notable games include a one-point win over Nebraska, a nine-point loss to Iowa, a 39-0 loss to Penn State, and last week’s 48-14 victory over Purdue. Like Minnesota (or most of the conference, to be fair), Illinois is one of those teams that isn’t bad, but isn’t great either. They didn’t have any must-see matchups so far this season, and they don’t have any games left on their schedule that merit watching unless you’re a fan of theirs or their opponent. Also, without a mascot, the most interesting thing about college football games is missing: the pre-coin toss meeting of the mascots. No hijinks will be ensuing on the Illinois sideline for the foreseeable future.
Coach: Interim Head Coach and Joe Biden body double, Bill Cubit
Cubit was the offensive coordinator until the firing of head coach Tim Beckman this August for the alleged mistreatment of players. Beckman, who finished high school at Berea and played football at the University of Findlay, was fired after an internal investigation substantiated allegations of gross player mistreatment, to include forcing players to play through serious injuries and having his medical staff clear injured players too soon. Sounds like a real pleasure to play for. Beckman was previously the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Bowling Green under Urban Meyer, the cornerbacks coach at Ohio State from 2005-2006 under Jim Tressel, and the head coach at Toledo from 2009-2011. A lot of Ohio and OSU ties for the guy who was just unceremoniously fired for colossal malfeasance, which looks good for us. I had no idea “cornerbacks coach” was a thing in the FBS. I’m still paying off my loans to Ohio State, but they’ve got enough cash on hand to hire a coach just for cornerbacks. Not having a top cornerbacks coach is the “first world problem” of college football.
Cubit, on the other hand, has only one tie to our beloved home state over his long coaching career, and that is his stint as the running backs coach at Akron from 1990-1991. Before he came to Illinois in 2013 as the OC he was the head coach at Western Michigan for seven years. Western Michigan fired him and hired hot young coach PJ Fleck, who was very excited when they played us earlier this season. He kept making quips about a bronco’s foot fitting into a horseshoe and how that wasn’t a coincidence, or something. It was nonsense. Imagine being shit-canned for this guy:
Cubit has the look of a stockier Joe Biden, with a full helping of gravitas. I don’t know anything about his actual coaching ability, but this guy has leadership written all over him. We can’t afford to mess around this week with such an obvious born leader captaining the Illinois ship. I bet when he fills in for Biden during the Veep’s clandestine IROC-Z races, he gets a bunch of stuff done like balancing the budget, saving ISIS hostages, and finding solutions to Israel-Palestine, and then Biden comes back and messes it all up. Typical Diamond Joe.
Silly Traditions: Go here if you’re bored enough to want a full list of University of Illinois traditions:
Frankly, it’s another letdown here as far as traditions, folks. I apologize. No insane or offensive traditions again, at least not since they axed Chief Illiniwek. The band does a special bit called the three-in-one, but who cares, really. Fans chant I-L-L and are answered by I-N-I, which is obviously reminiscent of our own O-H / I-O, but without the inherent pluck and moxie. Six letters is too much; have some self-respect. My wife and I went to the Baltimore Zoo two weeks ago and as we passed a middle-aged woman wearing a Michigan sweatshirt, I leaned in to her face and gave her a rousing “O-H!”, but did not get a reaction. It was disappointing. I try to give everyone out here wearing Michigan gear an “O-H!” whenever possible. It’s usually old men, likely Korean War vets, and they just glare back at me and shake their heads. I half expected to discover Illinois fans employ a tomahawk chop motion of some sort, but did not find anything. Let down again.
Famous Alumni: We may have whiffed on traditions again, but we certainly struck gold once more with famous alumni! Legendary actor Gene Hackman, Parks and Recreation funnyman Nick Offerman, Hulk (the terrible one) director Ang Lee, crusty Law & Order detective and many-time Murder, She Wrote cameo-maker Jerry Orbach, film critic extraordinaire Roger Ebert, Deadspin founder Will Leitch, founder of Playboy and actual playboy Hugh Hefner, bluegrass musician Dan Fogelberg, founder of Mortal Kombat Ed Boon, and every member of the band REO Speedwagon are all Fighting Illini.
Finally, last, but of course not least, is the Cleveland Browns’ own Doug Dieken. This Illini and retired Brown, one-time pro bowler and current Browns commentator not only still holds team records for 194 consecutive starts and 203 consecutive games played, but holds the league record for consecutive starts at left tackle. He served as the “ambassador” for the Browns Trust during the franchise’s ignominious “inactive” period of 1996-1998. I just re-watched the A Football Life episode “Cleveland 1995,” where Dieken was featured agreeing with Ozzie Newsome and Bill Belichick that the Browns would have gone to a Super Bowl had they stayed in Cleveland with that coaching crew. It made me sad. Then they showed footage of Art Modell, and my emotions swung to blind rage. Anyway, Doug Dieken is the man:
Illini currently in the NFL (10 total):
Jeff Allen (OT, Chiefs)
Alan Ball (DB, Bears)
Jeff Cumberland (TE, Jets)
Vontae Davis (CB, Colts)
Michael Hoomanawanui (TE, Saints)
Corey Liuget (DT, Chargers)
Whitney Mercilus (LB, Texans)
Akeem Spence (DT, Buccaneers)
Hugh Thornton (OL, Colts)
Tavon Wilson (SS, Patriots)
Again, not a huge contingent of Illini in the NFL, but there are definitely some standouts. Noteworthy Illini pros include Vontae Davis, who has been doing well the past few weeks with interceptions and breaking up passes – I think he’s the only Colts defender who is still trying. By the way, the Colts-Broncos game Sunday was awesome. The Broncos made it close, and I needed Brandon McManus and Ronnie Hillman to have good games in fantasy, but anytime I get to see Peyton Manning fail I will take it. I would be remiss if I did not mention perpetually injured Jadeveon Clowney’s backup, Whitney Mercilus, who besides having perhaps the perfect linebacker’s name, has been a really good defensive player, often overshadowed by superstar teammate and second-only-to-Russell-Wilson-shameless-product-endorser, JJ Watt. Mercilus won’t be chopping wood on your television set anytime soon, but he will be tackling people for loss on Sundays to little fanfare outside of the Houston media. Michael Hoomanawanui’s name flashed across the bottom of the screen while I was watching the Patriots-Redskins on Sunday, so he does get to play, which is exciting.
Noteworthy Players: Did you hear how tough and what a great leader the Minnesota QB is? I thought that you might. Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt is fifth in the B1G with 2000 yards and 12 touchdowns, and fourth with only four interceptions. Wide receiver Geronimo Allison is fourth in the B1G with 56 receptions, fifth with 756 yards, fifth with 13.5 yards per catch, and 24th with three touchdowns. Running back Josh Ferguson is 22nd in the B1G with 83 rushes, 15th with 514 yards, and 30th with three touchdowns. QB Lunt and WR Allison look like a fairly potent pair that the Silver Bullets will need to keep their eyes on, but the run shouldn’t be an issue. Is it a coincidence that the team with the (former) offensive Native American mascot has a star wideout named “Geronimo?” Probably not – all the more reason Ohio State deserves this win.
Prediction: I would like to note that I was close last week with my prediction for the OSU-Minnesota game, but I am not happy about it. That first quarter was brutal to watch. This week I predict the Buckeyes take it 42-7. We should have JT Barrett back, so the offense will be clicking, and Illinois will only score during garbage time when our third-string defense is in.
That’s it for this week, folks. Let us know in the comments if there’s anything you want see in next week’s edition that we didn’t include here. Enjoy your weekend, stay safe, and go Buckeyes!