Land of Lincoln rivalry taking new shape

New Illinois head coach Tim Beckman made a statement with his opening press conference in December, sparking what has become an in-state turf battle with Northwestern and its head coach, Pat Fitzgerald. The Land of Lincoln rivalry is beginning to take shape as a legitimate, hostile battle.

When the tune of "Sweet Home Chicago" loudly blared across Memorial Stadium in Champaign, shortly after Illinois' comeback win over Northwestern last season, something was missing from the two teams.

The song was meant as a dig at Northwestern's slogan, "Chicago's Big Ten team," drawing ire from Wildcat fans, each hurting after a gut-wrenching defeat.

After the in-state battle, Fighting Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase hoisted the Land of Lincoln Trophy in the air, symbolizing an exciting win over their Big Ten foes. Orange-clad fans stayed in their seats long after the final whistle, celebrating the bragging rights earned with the thrilling victory.

New Illinois head coach Tim Beckman has made it a priority to fight for the Land of Lincoln's top prospects.

It had all the makings of a rivalry, the spirit was present, but one thing was missing: genuine, true bad blood.

Northwestern and Illinois first battled in 1892, a 16-16- tie, and have met 104 more times since. The rivarly has begun to take a new shape.

In his introductory press conference, new Illinois head coach Tim Beckman sent a message heard at all ends of the Prairie State. The 47-year-old head coach stated he will never wear purple, then laid out his recruiting plan.

"We're going to recruit this area as hard as anyone has ever recruited this area before," Beckman proclaimed to the media.

Beckman's bold, pointed statement served as a statement to "the team up north," as he deemed Northwestern. It was declaration of a turf war.

Since accepting Illinois' head-coaching job in December, Beckman has landed six in-state prospects, including four-star Aaron Bailey, ranked the state's top quarterback in the class of 2013.

Under Ron Zook's leadership, Northwestern and Illinois coaches rarely had encounters on the recruiting trails. Zook landed just two prospects with NU offers since Pat Fitzgerald's first full recruiting class in 2008. The former Florida head coach made the Sunshine State his top priority as Illinois' head coach.

Beckman made an immediate impact, landing Bailey, the state's top quarterback recruit, who happened to be one of Northwestern's top prospects.

The two coaches have drawn lines on the battleground, fighting to become kings of Illinois, while making the Second City a top priority. Illinois' new head coach is looking to establish himself, pointing Northwestern as its enemy.

Beckman has done his part to foster hostility between the two schools. He even went as far as posting an anti-Northwestern sign in the Fighting Illini locker room. Fitzgerald, whose record is 3-3 against Illinois, referred to the Illini as "that team from Champaign" during a television appearance in Monday's Chicago Cubs broadcast.

The two history-laden programs have seen numerous battles on the gridiron. The fight for the Land of Lincoln Trophy is drawing some bad blood.

Chris Emma has covered college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports since 2009. He covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs.
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