When the 2020 Big Ten opener kicks off next Friday evening for the Illini football team, it will seek to change a historical trend that’s plagued the program for the last quarter century.
Unfortunately, only three times over the last 25 years has Illinois begun the conference season with a victory: at home against Nebraska in 2015, at home against Northwestern in 2011 and at Indiana in 2007.
For the first time since 1919, schedule makers have determined that Illinois’ slate will consist only of conference games. That, of course, means that the season opener at No. 16 Wisconsin also will be the Big Ten opener. Altogether, it’s the eighth time that the Illini and the Badgers have met in league lid-lifters. In those prior matchups, each team is 3-3-1. Illinois and Wisconsin haven’t played their first Big Ten game against one another since 1952.
Other things you might not know about Illini football and its Big Ten openers:
➜ Over its last 25 conference openers, UI’s opponent has been nationally ranked 15 times. Illinois is 0-15 in those games. Five times, the Illini have been ranked in the Top 25 (1-4).
➜ Sixteen of Illinois’ last 25 Big Ten openers have been played at Memorial Stadium.
➜ Of the last six Illini head coaches, only Ron Zook (2-5), Bill Cubit (1-0) and Lou Tepper (1-4) have registered victories in a Big Ten opener.
➜ Over the last quarter century, Illinois’ average winning score is 26-17. In UI’s 22 losses, its average losing margin is 37-17.
➜ Since joining the Big Ten in 1896, Illinois’ all-time record in league openers is 48-69-6. From 1994 through 2006, the Illini lost their first conference game 13 consecutive times.
➜ During Illini football history when Illinois has won its opening Big Ten game, it has gone on to post at least a .500 record 40 times.
Illini birthdaysSunday: Brian Carlwell, basketball (33)
Monday: Bella Loya, softball
Tuesday: Kevin Pancratz, football/wrestling (65)
Wednesday: Mike Davis, basketball (32)
Thursday: Curt Lovelace, football (52)
Friday: Demarius Smith, wrestling (22)
Saturday: Anita Clinton, basketball
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter @IlliniLegends and @B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com. Also, if you’ve got an Illini SuperFan in your family who will soon be celebrating a ‘milestone’ birthday, we’d love to try and include them in our weekly birthday list that always runs with our ‘Legends, Lists and Lore,’ entries. Email their name, age and hometown to Mike Pearson at [email protected]