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Ranking protected rivalries for Illinois football in the new Big Ten



Can Illinois Football Salvage Their Season?

Which rivalries are a must-have for Illinois football in the new Big Ten?

The Big Ten says goodbye to division play at the end of this season. Consequently, 2024 is the first season since 2010 without divisions. Illinois football says goodbye to the Big Ten West. Like their counterparts, the Big Ten will go to an eight or nine-game schedule with three or four protected rivalry games they’ll play yearly and rotate other conference opponents every seasoThe Big Ten must keep as many of its “trophy” rivalry games as possible. Some games are a given. Michigan will play Ohio State every season, as will Indiana and Purdue. What is the Big Ten without the Floyd of Rosedale or Paul Bunyan’s Axe?

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Where does that leave Illinois? Here is a ranking of the Illini’s traditional rivals.

4. Indiana, Nebraska, and Iowa:

None of these teams are fierce rivals to Illinois, but if either one of these three teams needs an additional rival, they could add the Illini. The primary reason is geography. The Illini did play the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers every season as members of the Big Ten East. Illinois/Indiana does not mean a lot in football, but it is a big-time rivalry in basketball. Geography is the primary reason to add any of these three teams as a protected rival for Illinois.

3. Ohio State (The Illibuck Trophy):

Although this game does have a trophy, it has not felt much like a rivalry game. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 68-30-4. That is to say that a trophy is not an indicator of a rivalry. The Buckeyes and Illini haven’t played since 2017, and the rivalry might not be crucial to either fan base as it once was.

2. Purdue (The Purdue Canon):

There is no question that Indiana is a bigger rival for the Boilermakers, and Northwestern is a bigger rival for the Illini. However, Purdue and Illinois are a solid second rival for one another. In addition, the Cannon is a pretty cool trophy. This rivalry is close, with the Boilermakers ahead by two games, 47-45-6. Purdue has won six of the last eight, but the last three games have all been one-score games. Ryan Walters leaving Champaign to be the new head coach of Purdue also makes this game a bit spicier.

1. Northwestern (That Land of Lincoln Trophy, a.k.a The Hat):

The Northwestern/Illinois rivalry has layers to iOn the one hand, Northwestern is the prestigious Ivy League-level private school close to Lake Michigan. At the same time, Illinois is the public university in the rural part of the state. Most students who attend Northwestern view Illinois as the state school you go to when you can’t get into Northwestern. However, the University of Illinois is not easy to get into. You would think the Illini have a massive lead in this rivalry, but the series is close. Illinois leads the series 57-54-5. When the Big Ten moves away from divisions, interstate rivalries are a lock to be protected.

Armchair Illini is a comprehensive site dedicated to covering University of Illinois Athletics owned and operated by Alex Kyi. Dante Pryor has been writing about College Football for years on Saturday Blitz and is now the Lead Football Author for Armchair Illini.