Illinois Fighting Illini
The Illinois Fighting Illini is another program that has a rich history that many fans don’t know about. Younger generations don’t remember the legendary Dick Butkus, and those that do know him probably think of him as a Chicago Bear. Before he was a pro, he played for the Illini from 1962-64. Long before that, “The Galloping Ghost” Red Grange played for Illinois from 1923-25.
Some of that history has faded from memory because most of Illinois’s best years were in the early half of the 20th century. They have five claimed national titles, but the most recent is from 1951. They have cycled up to win the Big Ten a few times in the modern era, most recently behind head coach Ron Turner in 2001. The most recent highlight for the program was in 2007 when they represented the conference in the Rose Bowl with head coach Ron Zook.
The Illini have only tested themselves against the Tigers on one occasion: January 1, 1991. It was in the Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa, Florida to cap off the 1990 season. It was the first season for Clemson under head coach Ken Hatfield, and the Tigers were ranked 14th after a 9-2 regular season. Their only two losses came to other ranked teams.
Illinois was coached by John Mackovic and was ranked 16th after an 8-3 regular season. What seemed like an even matchup on paper turned out to be a mismatch. The Tigers shut out the Illini 30-0. Quarterback DeChane Cameron had two touchdown passes and Arlington Nunn took an interception to the house. Chris Gardocki had three field goals on the day.