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Remembering the 1983 Big Ten Champion Illini



Big Ten Champion

 The 1983 Fighting Illini went undefeated on its way to the Big Ten Championship.

The irony of the Illini winning the Big Ten Championship in 1983 is it was also the 20th anniversary of the last time Illinois won the Big Ten and went to the Rose Bowl. Since the 1963 season, however, Illinois had been nothing more than a blip on the college football radar. In fact, the Illini would not play in a bowl game for another 20 years. Head coach Mike White led them to the Liberty Bowl in 1982. That year was the second of two seven-win seasons for Illinois, the first time they’d had back-to-back winning seasons since 1950-51.

The 1983 season was special. Illinois has won 15 Big Ten titles (some when it was the Western Conference), but 1983 was the only year in the modern era they went undefeated. Mike White had not only ended the bowl game drought, but he also ended the Illini’s Rose Bowl drought as well. Here’s a closer look at the 1983 Big Ten Champions, the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Key Players: 

Quarterback Jack Trudeau was the unquestioned leader of the team despite being a sophomore. That year, Trudeau threw for 2,446 yards and 18 touchdowns. Wide receiver David Williams and tight end (and future Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach) Tim Brewster were Trudeau’s favorite targets. Both had 59 receptions and combined for 1498 yards and eight touchdowns. Wide receiver Mitchell Brookins was the deep threat, averaging 21.7 yards per reception and scoring five touchdowns.

The defense was elite at all three levels. The Illini held six teams under twenty points, including pitching one shutout and holding three teams to single digits. Defensive backs David Edwards and Mike Heaven led the team with five interceptions. The Illini picked off 21 passes as a team that year. The best player on that team was defensive end Don Thorp. A sixth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints, Thorp was an All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

Key Game:

Illinois did not look like the Big Ten Champion after a 28-18 loss to Missouri. After a 27-17 win against Stanford, conference play began. After a win against Michigan State, the Illini hosted #4 Iowa and star quarterback Chuck Long. Their 33-0 decimation of the Hawkeyes was the first indication that something might be brewing in central Illinois. Two weeks later, the Illini hosted #6 Ohio State. The Buckeyes held a 13-10 advantage in the fourth quarter. Trudeau led a drive to the Buckeye 21-yard line that began at their own 17-yard line. Thomas Rooks ran for the most important 21 yards of his career, scoring the winning touchdown.

Perhaps their victory against Purdue could be argued as the most important win of the season. Despite the Boilermakers not being very good, Illinois did not lose what could have been a trap game. They hosted Michigan after the Purdue game, defeating them 16-6. They capped an undefeated Big Ten season with wins against Minnesota, Indiana, and Northwestern.

Though they lost to UCLA in the Rose Bowl, the 1983 Big Ten Champion Fighting Illini is still among the best teams in school history.


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.