A lot has been accomplished in the fourth year of the Lovie Smith at Illinois. The Illini knocked off a ranked Wisconsin team, rattled off four-straight wins and secured a bowl bid this year, all first-time feats for Smith’s team. But there’s still one thing Illinois has not done.
That one thing is beating Northwestern.
Illinois gets a crack to end that streak this Saturday, having lost four straight to the Wildcats in the head-to-head series. Smith is 0-3 against Pat Fitzgerald, a statistic he’d like to change come Saturday.
Smith understands the importance of getting a win this weekend.
“There’s a rivalry you have every year. You know who your rival is and what’s at stake,” Smith said. “Contempt, dislike, whatever word you want to use, you have to beat your rival. Simple as that.”
With Illinois already guaranteed a spot in a bowl game and Northwestern knocked out of contention, there’s not much at stake outside of bragging rights. But Smith says there’s still plenty of motivation to get another tally in the win column.
“To win 7 games is big. To beat our rival is big. To start another streak again would be big,” Smith said.
Illinois enters this game with a 6-5 record following a loss to Iowa. Before Saturday, the Illini had ripped off four-straight wins. Northwestern, on the other hand, is 0-8 in B1G play and is trying to get a conference victory before the season ends.
Kickoff between Northwestern and Illinois is scheduled for noon ET with the game being aired on FS1.