Illinois football has its traditional rivalry games. The Land of Lincoln Trophy against neighbors to the north Northwestern. The Purdue Cannon against Purdue and their new head coach Jeff Brohm. This upcoming season the battle for the infamous “Illibuck” Trophy returns to the college gridiron. “Illibuck” combines the words “Illini” and “Buckeye” into one word that happens to be the name of a giant wooden turtle trophy.
A traditional pregame passing down of the Illibuck:
The Illini finished the 2016 season under first-year head coach Lovie Smith with a 3-9 record. Illinois did not play Ohio State as they traditionally do last year because of conference expansion and realignment into western and eastern divisions. The Buckeyes finished 11-2 last season, their only losses coming to Penn State on the road in October and to Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
The Illibuck will once again be in play in 2017. The Illini travel to Columbus on November 18, the week before the Buckeyes travel to Ann Arbor for their arch-rivalry game against Michigan. Illinois has a favorable schedule, avoiding Big Ten powers Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State from the Big Ten East. The Illini’s crossover games are against Ohio State, Rutgers and Indiana.
Nonconference opponents this season include Ball State, Western Kentucky and South Florida. The South Florida game is at Soldier Feld in Chicago, home of the Chicago Bears. Western Kentucky finished with an 11-3 overall record and won the Conference USA championship. Ball State struggled in 2016 going 4-8 and finishing last in the Mid-American Conference western division. South Florida was tremendous behind their quarterback/running back duo of Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack. Those two led the Bulls to 11-2 record in the American Athletic Conference.
Will the Illini improve on their 3-9 record?
Michael Berns is Editor in Chief of Endzonescore.com. He also contributes to college football writing: particularly covering the Illinois Fighting Illini and all things BigTen. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter –@MichaelBerms.