Saturday's game will be the 97th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Northwestern Wildcats, the longest running series for the Illini, which dates back to 1892. Illinois leads the series with a 51-40-5 record and a 24-17-2 mark in Champaign. Illinois head coach Ron Turner- is 4-2 vs. Northwestern, while Wildcat head coach Randy Walker is 1-3 in his four games against the Illini. Illinois won the last two meetings between the two teams, including a 31-24 victory last season.
This weekend, the Illini and Wildcats will play for the right to possess the "Tomahawk" in the 57th game of the traditional trophy series. The story of the Illinois-Northwestern trophy dates back to 1945 when the staff members of the two student newspapers conceived the idea of a wooden Indian trophy. In September 1946 "Sweet Sioux" was stolen from a showcase at Northwestern. A Tomahawk Trophy was inaugurated in 1947 to replace the wooden Indian and has been used ever since. Illinois leads the trophy series with a 31-23-2 record. The trophy has resided in Champaign for the past two seasons. Twenty-one Illinois seniors will be making their final run out on to the Memorial Stadium turf on Saturday. They are: QB Jon Beutjer (Wheaton, Ill.), LB Joe Bevis (Edwardsville, Ill.), TE Brett Boyter (Joliet, Ill.), OT Sean Bubin (Rantoul, Ill.), FB Carey Davis (Florrisant, Mo.), DT Charles Gilstrap (Columbus, Ohio), PK John Gockman (Coal City, Ill.), LS Mike Gomez (Miami, Fla.), FB Brad Haywood (Mt. Carmel, Ill.), DT Aaron Hodges (Country Club Hills, Ill.), DB Mike Imeokparia (Springfield, Ill.), S Marc Jackson (Corvallis, Ore.), S/WR Eric McGoey (Wheaton, Ill.), CB Christian Morton (St. Louis, Mo.), LB Ty Myers (Springfield, Ohio), DE Mike O'Brien (Oak Lawn, Ill.), DT Jeff Ruffin (Aurora, Ill.), DE Derrick Strong (Chicago, Ill.), LB Winston Taylor (Decatur, Ill.), PK JJ Tubbs (Rock Island, Ill.) and QB Dustin Ward (Champaign, Ill.).
The Illini have the ninth-toughest schedule nationally according to the latest Sagarin ratings. Five of Illinois' losses this season have come to ranked teams and seven of Illinois' scheduled opponents have been ranked in the Top-25 at some point during the season. Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa have a combined 41 wins. Eight of Illinois' 11 Division-IA opponents are currently bowl eligible. Of junior wide receiver Mark Kornfeld's 42 catches this season, 28 have converted first downs (66.7 percent). Sophomore punter Steve Weatherford currently has a 44.5 punting average, which ranks second in the Big Ten and 10th nationally. He is on pace to break the 56-year-old single-season punting yardage average record of 43.0, which is held by Dike Eddleman from the 1948 season. This weekend's contest against Northwestern will be the 12th televised game for the Illini this season and the 16th in a row, dating back to ESPN's telecast of the Illinois/Penn State game on Nov. 2, 2002. This is the first time in school history Illinois has had the entire season broadcast to either national or regional audiences. Only five conference teams have had every game televised (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State).
THE COACHES' CORNER
RON TURNER, ILLINOIS - (32-48 in his seventh year at Illinois, 39-52 overall, 19-36 in the Big Ten). Turner is 4-2 vs. the Wildcats over the last six seasons, including a 2-1 record in Champaign. He was an assistant at Northwestern in 1981-82 under head coach Dennis Green.
Turner earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 2001 after leading Illinois to the Big Ten championship and a trip to the Nokia Sugar Bowl and its first 10-win season since 1989. The league title was the Illini's first since 1990. Turner has served as quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator or head coach since 1981. During that time he coached quarterbacks such as Jeff Garcia, Erik Kramer, Jim Harbaugh, Sean Salisbury, Rodney Peete and Kurt Kittner. Turner led the Illini to an 8-4 record and a 63-21 thumping of Virginia in the Micronpc.com Bowl in 1999. For his efforts, Turner finished fourth in the Associated Press Coach of the Year voting. Turner came to Illinois after a four-year stint as the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears (1993-96). In 1992, he was the head coach for San Jose State where he turned in a 7-4 record and a second-place finish in the Big West Conference. Turner served as an assistant at Stanford, Texas A&M, Southern California, Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Arizona working mainly with quarterbacks and receivers during his 20+ years in college coaching.
RANDY WALKER, NORTHWESTERN - (23-34 in his fifth year at Northwestern; 82-69-5 in his 14-year collegiate coaching career) Walker is in his fifth season at Northwestern and led the Wildcats to a share of the Big Ten title in 2000. He is 1-3 against the Illini in his four contests. He came to NU after a nine-year stint as head coach at Miami University. He served as an assistant at North Carolina, Miami Univ. and Northwestern during the years of 1976-1989.
ILLINOIS/NORTHWESTERN SERIES HISTORY The series with the Northwestern Wildcats is the longest-running in Illinois' 112-year history, with 97 meetings between the two teams. Illinois has won four out of the last five games against Northwestern. In 1998, Illinois snapped an 15-game Big Ten losing streak with a 13-10 win in Evanston. A win over NU in 1999, 29-7, ensured the team's first bowl bid in five years and in 2001 the Illini clinched a Big Ten title with its 34-28 win on Thanksgiving Day. Northwestern defensive coordinator Greg Colby, in his first season with the Wildcats, is very familiar with the University of Illinois. He was on staff as a grad assistant from 1974-75 and 1977-78 as well as linebackers coach from 1988-95. Illinois head coach Ron Turner was on the Northwestern staff in 1981-82 under Dennis Green as the quarterbacks and receivers coach.