It has been a special year for Illinois and there is one more regular-season game for the seniors to make an impact.

Illinois will be taking on Northwestern in Champaign with a lot on the line. The Illini have lost four straight to the rival Wildcats and six of the last seven in the series. Beyond that, Illinois hasn’t reached seven wins since 2011.

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During his Monday press conference, head coach Lovie Smith admitted this group of seniors has been special. Though the players had an opportunity to head elsewhere when he was hired at Illinois, they stayed to build something important with Smith.

Now, Smith is hopeful the team can send the seniors out “with a good taste in their mouth” by beating their rivals and a bowl win in the postseason. Isaac Trotter with the Illini Inquirer shared Smith’s comments:

“When there is a coaching change, a lot of guys leave. They want to try something different. As a new staff coming in, we let them know how we’d run our program. These guys that stayed got on board. Even though we didn’t recruit them, they’ve been as much a part of us as the guys we recruited. Just feel like this is one of our classes that is leaving. There had been a lot of disappointment. Three years haven’t been to a bowl game. For those guys to leave with a good taste in their mouth is really important.”

Saturday’s Rivalry Week kickoff against Northwestern is set for 12 pm EST on FS1.