1. Ohio State has played Illinois 101 times since the series began in 1902; the only team that Ohio State has played more often is Michigan (111 games since 1897). Ohio State leads the series 67-30-4, for a .683 winning percentage.
2. Ohio State got off to a very slow start in the series, with a 0-0 tie in 1902; a 46-0 loss in 1904; and a 37-0 loss in 1914. The Buckeyes finally managed a field goal in 1915 to force a 3-3 tie with the Fighting Illini. Ohio State's first win came the following season, when the legendary Chic Harley led the Buckeyes to a 7-6 road victory.
3. With Chic Harley leading the way, the Buckeyes compiled a 7-0-0 record in 1916 and an 8-0-1 in 1917 (including a 13-0 win over Illinois). During that 16-game unbeaten run, the Buckeyes outscored their opponents by a combined 550 to 35 (or 34 to 2 on a per game basis) with 10 shutouts. When Harley left to serve in World War One in 1918, the team fell into a state of mediocrity, posting a 3-3 record which included a 13-0 loss to Illinois.
4. Harley had one year of eligibility left and he returned to the Ohio State squad for the 1919 season. The Buckeyes quickly regained their lost greatness, beating their first six opponents by a combined 169 to 3. In the seventh and final game of the season, Ohio State faced a 5-1-0 Illinois squad with a Big Ten championship on the line. Trailing 7 to 6 with two minutes left in the game, Illinois quickly drove into field goal range. With their best kicker (Ralph Fletcher) sidelined with an injury, the Fighting Illini turned to Fletcher's brother Bob. It was a desperate move, as Bob Fletcher had never attempted a field goal before. But apparently Bob quickly learned place kicking from his brother Ralph through osmosis, as his 25-yard attempt was good. Ohio State was unable to score during the final seconds and Illinois won the game by the score of 9-7, handing Chic Harley the first and only loss of his Buckeye career.
5. In retroactive national title designations (the AP poll did not start until 1936, the coaches poll until 1950), several college football researchers have named Illinois (6-1-0) the national champion for 1919, and the NCAA recognizes Illinois as a national champion for that season (along with Harvard, Notre Dame, and Texas A+M). If Ohio State had beaten Illinois to complete a perfect season and earn an outright Big Ten title, it is very likely that the Buckeyes would have had their first ever national championship in 1919.
6. During the 1920's, Illinois owned the rivalry with a record of 7 and 3, outscoring Ohio State 94 to 29 with six shutouts. This period included the Red Grange era (1923 to 1925, all wins for Illinois). Grange was arguably the best player ever to suit up for Illinois. In just 20 games over three seasons, Grange rushed for 3,362 yards (168.1 yards per game) and scored 31 touchdowns.
7. Illinois was a true powerhouse program during the early days of college football. From 1910 to 1929, the Fighting Illini compiled a record of 104-34-10 (.737 winning percentage) with eight Big Ten Championships and four national titles (1914, 1919, 1923, 1927).
8. Ohio State took over the rivalry in 1930. Since then, Ohio State holds 62-19-2 record (.759 winning percentage) in the series.
9. Illinois won the 1946 contest by the score of 16 to 7. The highlight of the game was a 98-yard interception return by the Fighting Illini's Julius Rykovich, the longest ever against Ohio State.
10. Illinois's last real shot at a national championship came during the 1951 season. The Fighting Illini won their first seven games of the year, but in the eighth game the Buckeyes held them to a 0-0 tie, thus spoiling their perfect season and ultimately their hopes for a national championship (but see below). The star of the Buckeye defense was back Fred Bruney, who had a team-record three interceptions (tied with 8 others). After beating Northwestern in the season finale, Illinois would finish its regular season with an 8-0-1 record, an outright Big Ten championship, and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
11. Back in 1951 both major polls selected their national champions before the bowl games, the bowls being considered mere exhibition games and not part of the season proper. Undefeated Tennessee was named the national champion by both the AP and the UP (coaches) poll, but the Volunteers subsequently lost the Sugar Bowl to Maryland (#3 AP, #4 UP). Illinois (#4 AP, #3 UP) beat the oh-so-politically-incorrect Stanford Indians (#7 AP, #7 UP) in Rose Bowl by the score of 40 to 7. Georgia Tech (#5 AP, #5 UP) defeated the Baylor Bears (#9 AP, #9 UP) in the Orange Bowl by the score of 17 to 14. The undefeated Michigan State Spartans (#2 AP, #2 CP), who were in the process of transitioning into the Big Ten, did not play in a bowl game. So here are the final records of the top five schools for 1951:
Needless to say, the outcomes of the bowl games clouded the 1951 national championship picture. Based on their pre-bowl titles from both the AP and the UP, the NCAA considers Tennessee to be the sole national champion for 1951. However, each of the other four top schools certainly had a valid claim, and not surprisingly both Michigan State and Illinois have declared themselves to be a national championship for that year (but somehow Maryland does not, even though they had the best claim for the title based on their victory over #1 Tennessee). Here's a LINK to Illinois's rationale for a national championship in 1951. Aren't you glad that we have a playoff system now?
School AP Rank UP Rank Final Record Bowl Game Tennessee Volunteers 1 1 10-1-0 Lost to #3 Maryland Terrapins in the Sugar Bowl, 28-13 Michigan State Spartans 2 2 9-0-0 No bowl game Maryland Terrapins 3 4 10-0-0 Defeated #1 Tennessee Volunteers in the Sugar Bowl, 28-13 Illinois Fighting Illini 4 3 9-0-1 Defeated #7 Stanford Indians in the Rose Bowl, 40-7 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 5 5 11-0-1 Defeated #9 Baylor Bears in the Orange Bowl, 17-14
12. In the 1962 game, won by Ohio State 51 to 15, Illinois quarterback Mike Taliaferro connected with Mike Yavorski for a 90-yard touchdown pass, tied for the longest ever against the Buckeyes.
13. The only other year Illinois finished top-5 in the major polls was 1963 when they were #3 in the AP and #4 in the coaches poll. The Fighting Illini finished the 1963 season with an 8-1-1 record, an outright Big Ten conference championship, and a 17-7 victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Once again, Ohio State ruined Illinois's perfect season with a 20-20 tie in week three (Illinois would also lose to Michigan later in the year).
14. In the 1975 contest, Tom Skladany, a three-time All American as a punter, kicked a 59-yard field goal which remains the longest in Ohio State history.
15. In 1980, Ohio State beat Illinois 49-42 despite the fact that the Illini had a record-setting offensive performance. On the afternoon, Illinois had 36 first downs and 659 yards of total offense, while quarterback David Wilson completed 43 passes for 621 yards passing and 6 TDs. Thirty-five years later, all five marks remain opponent single-game highs against Ohio State.
16. Illinois also holds the opponent single-game high in rushing yards (432), set in their 1953 contest against Ohio State. Illinois won that game by the score of 41 to 20.
17. The 1984 Illinois-Ohio State game was also a crazy affair. The Illini jumped out to a 24-0 lead before the Buckeye offense got into gear. Led by junior tailback Keith Byars, who had 274 yards rushing (2nd best in Buckeye history) and 5 rushing touchdowns (Buckeye record), Ohio State was able to complete the comeback with a 45-38 victory. The highlight of the game was a 67-yard touchdown run from Byars, who lost a shoe midway to the end zone but was still able to outrun the Illinois defense. Byars would finish the season with 1,764 yards rushing (3rd best), a team-record 2,441 all-purpose yards, and 24 total touchdowns (3rd best). Based on his incredible season-long performance Byars would finish in second place in the Heisman race to Boston College senior quarterback Doug Flutie.
18. The 1992 game marked a low point in the rivalry, at least from an Ohio State fan's perspective. The Buckeyes lost to the Fighting Illini for a series-worst fifth straight time, 18-16, despite beating Illinois in first downs (21 to 14), total yards (342 to 270), and yards per play (5.0 to 3.9). Although the Buckeyes rushed for 184 yards, the running backs really let the team down as they were directly responsible for half of Illinois's points. Early in the first quarter, Ohio State had the ball 3rd-and-goal from the one-yard line. True freshman Eddie George took the handoff and fumbled the football, and Illinois's Jeff Arneson returned the fumble 96 yards for a touchdown. In the second quarter, Robert Smith was tackled in the end zone for a safety; Illinois scored its second touchdown of the game after the ensuing free kick. With Ohio State holding a 16-15 lead early in the fourth quarter, George once again fumbled at the Illinois one-yard line; the Illini recovered and drove deep into the red zone before kicking the go-ahead field goal. The Buckeyes got the ball back with nearly five minutes left on the clock but eventually missed a 44-yard field goal that would have potentially won the game. On the day, George finished with 6 carries for -7 yards and the two huge game-changing fumbles. Many Buckeye fans never wanted to hear the name Eddie George ever again....
19. But of course Eddie George would overcome that early debacle to become Ohio State's second leading rusher (3,768 yards) and the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner. And fittingly, it was George's performance against Illinois that propelled him to his Heisman. In a 41-3 blowout victory over the Fighting Illini, Eddie had 36 carries for a team-record 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns. George would finish the season with a team-record 1,927 yards rushing, 2,344 all-purpose yards (2nd best), and 25 total touchdowns (2nd best).
20. Ohio State also won the 1997 contest handily, 41-6, but the Buckeyes really should have had a shutout. With Ohio State trying to run out the clock at the end of the game, walk-on quarterback Steve Gehlert fumbled the ball. Illinois cornerback Trevor Starghill recovered the fumble and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown as time expired.
21. In the 2001 contest, running back Jonathan Wells had a career-high 192 yards rushing, which is tied for 24th-best in Buckeye history along with Archie Griffin, who had 192 yards against Illinois in 1972. Despite Wells's massive effort, Illinois won the game by the score of 34-22 thanks in part to a blocked punt TD and a 5-yard pick six, the shortest ever against Ohio State.
22. In 2002, an unranked Illinois team with a 4-6 record almost knocked off the second ranked Buckeyes who were a perfect 12-0 at the time. With star running back Maurice Clarett out of the game due to injury, Ohio State's offense was able to generate only 296 yards during regulation. On the other side, Illinois wide receiver Walter Young was unstoppable with 10 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown, and place kicker John Gockman connected on a 48-yard field goal to tie the game at 16 as time expired. In Ohio State's first ever overtime game, the Buckeyes took the lead on an 8-yard touchdown run from third-string tailback Maurice Hall. Illinois had a chance to send the game into a second overtime period, but the Illini failed to connect on three straight passes from the 9-yard line and Ohio State held on to win by the score of 23-16.
23. In the 2005 contest, Illinois avoided the shutout by scoring on a rare defensive two-point conversion. After scoring a touchdown to take a 19-0 lead, Ohio State decided to go for two. Quarterback Troy Smith fumbled the ball, which Illinois defender Kevin Mitchell recovered and returned for the score. Ohio State won the game, 40-2.
24. Illinois almost cost Ohio State a shot at a national championship in week 11 of the 2007 season. The Buckeyes entered the contest with a perfect 10-0 record and the #1 ranking in both polls, while the Illini were in the midst of a fine season with a 7-3 record. Ohio State scored first on a Beanie Wells 11-yard touchdown run, and then controversy struck. After the ensuing kick-off, Illinois took over at their own 17-yard line. On 2nd-and-10, Illinois running back Daniel Dufrene ran for 80 yards, the fifth-longest run ever against Ohio State. As he was being tackled at the end of the run, Dufrene fumbled the ball through the end zone, but the officials called him down by contact. Replays clearly showed that Dufrene had fumbled prior to hitting the ground and that Ohio State should have been awarded the ball at their own 20-yard line after a touchback. However, the replay officials could not overturn the call because the officials on the field had blown the play dead. Illinois would take full advantage of the fortunate break courtesy of "incompetent" officials (see below), and they would end up scoring a touchdown on the next play to tie the game at seven. In fact, it seemed like good fortune (or something) was with the Illini all afternoon long. Illinois quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams, not known for his passing ability (entered the game 113th in FBS), threw four touchdown passes in leading the Illini to a 28-21 fourth quarter advantage. After Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman threw an interception (his third of the day), Illinois took over at their own 24-yard line with 8:09 left in the game. The Illini then went on a 16-play, 42-yard drive that killed the entire remaining time to preserve the 7-point victory. During that final drive, Illinois converted (in order) on 4th-and-inches, 3rd-and-7, 3rd-and-10, and 3rd-and-2, all courtesy of very predictable runs by Juice Williams. After the loss, Ohio State dropped to 7th in the BCS standings.
25. Some aftermath from the 2007 Ohio State-Illinois game: First, the Buckeyes went on to beat Michigan 14-3 to finish the regular season with an 11-1 record and 5th place in the BCS standings behind #1 Louisiana State (10-1), #2 Kansas (11-0), #3 West Virginia (9-1), and #4 Missouri (10-1). Even though it looked like Ohio State would be out of contention for a national championship, in the following two weeks Louisiana State lost to Arkansas; Kansas lost to Missouri; Missouri lost to Oklahoma; and West Virginia lost to Pittsburgh. When all the number crunching was done at the end of the regular season, the BCS computer spit out a final #1 team: The Ohio State University Buckeyes. The #2 team was Louisiana State, who ended up beating our Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS title game, 38-24.
26. Second, based at least in part on the blown call on the Daniel Dufrene fumble, the NCAA changed the replay review to allow for a fumble recovery after a ruling of down by contact if the opposing player made the recovery "in the immediate action following the fumble."
27. Third, the officiating crew for the game was certainly suspect if not downright shady. The entire crew was due to be suspended (or possibly fired) for an inordinate number of egregious errors committed in their prior game (Penn State vs Purdue), and crew chief Stephen Pamon, a Chicago native, had a history of gambling, bankruptcy, six-figure debts, tax evasion, and personal misconduct. After the 2007 season, Pamon was fired by the Big Ten (technically, his contract was not renewed).
28. The 2007 game was the last time that Illinois beat Ohio State, and the Buckeyes have won the last seven meetings between the two teams by a combined score of 268 to 111 (38 to 16 on a per game basis). Ohio State has scored at least 52 points in each of the last three games in the series.
29. Ohio State won the 2011 game, 17-7, despite having just 228 yards of total offense and four pass attempts (one completion) for 17 yards.
30. In the 2013 contest running back Carlos Hyde had a career-best 246 yards rushing, which is tied for the fourth-highest total in Buckeye history, and four touchdowns. Ohio State beat Illinois by the score of 60 to 35.
31. The 2014 game saw the first appearance of Cardale Jones on the national stage, although not for any heroics of the type that would subsequently launch the Buckeyes on a national title run. With the Buckeyes up 31-0 in the third quarter, Jones was in the game to get some reps as the second-team quarterback. After a fumble, Jones viciously clotheslined the Illinois player who'd recovered the ball. Later in the game, Jones made another highlight reel play when he hurdled an Illinois defender during a run.
32. Illinois has kicked the two longest punts ever by an Ohio State opponent: 86 yards by Dwight Eddleman in 1948, and and 82 yards by Phil Vierneisel in 1974.
33. Ohio State and Illinois play for the Illibuck Trophy. To quote Jeanna Thomas of Land Grant Holy Land: "In 1925, the Bucket and Dipper honorary society at Ohio State, and the Atius-Sachem honorary society at Illinois, worked together to come up with a way to commemorate the rivalry between the Buckeyes and the Fighting Illini. Beginning with the 1925 season, the team that won the rivalry game was presented with a live turtle, named the Illibuck. A turtle was chosen because of their long lifespan, which was meant to symbolize the long life of the rivalry between the Buckeyes and the Illini." The original Illibuck disproved the long lifespan theory as it died just two years later, and since 1927 the teams have played for a wooden facsimile of a turtle.
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