NCAAF Illinois Fighting Illini

NCAA Division: Division 1
Conference: Big Ten
Past Conferences: 

City: Champaign, Illinois
Stadium: Memorial Stadium

National Championships: 5

Conference Titles: 15

Divisional Championships:

 

Team History

The Illinois Fighting Illini football program began in 1890. The team joined the Ben Ten in 1896, which was the conference’s inaugural year. Robert Zuppke was the coach from 1913 till 1941. The Fighting Illini were successful under his leadership with an unbeaten season. In 1914, the Fighting Illini earned their first national championship. They went on to win three more championships under Zuppke. Zuppke had five All-Americans during his tenure. He left in 1941 with a 131-81-12 record. 

 

The 40s and 50s proved to be solid for the Fighting Illini under coach Ray Eliot as they won one national championship, and three Big Ten Championships. They won the Rose Bowl in 1951 and were crowned champions after finishing 9-0. The teams consisted of a host of All-Americans throughout the years including defensive back Al Brosky. Brosky still holds the NCAA record for interceptions with 30. 

 

Coaches Come, Coaches Go

The 60s,70s, and 80s saw multiple coaches come and go. The Fighting Illini only won two Big Ten championships within those three decades while having six different coaches. Ron Turner became head coach in 1997. By his third season as head coach, the Fighting Illini were finally back to winning games. In 1999 they went 8-4 and notched a ticket to a bowl game. The year 2001 became the biggest season for the Fighting Illini in recent memory. They finished with a 10-2 record and won the Big Ten for the first time in 20 seasons. They went on to lose to LSU in the Sugar Bowl

 

Ron Zook became head coach in 2005 and changed the recruiting landscape. Zook started by getting Isiah “Juice” Williams, who was one of the best quarterbacks in the 2006 class. He also added multiple other top recruits to come to play for the Fighting Illini. In 2007, the Fighting Illini finished 9-3 and earned themselves a trip to the Rose Bowl. Zook won the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award in 2007. In  2008, Zook hit the recruiting ground running again, signing a group of highly recruited players. In 2010, they had an up-and-down season but they beat Baylor in the Texas Bowl

 

The 2011 season showed major promise, starting at 6-0. Things soon went downhill, as they lost six straight and finished 6-6. The remainder of the 2010s were underwhelming for the Fighting Illini. In December 2020, they brought on Bret Bielema as head coach. They finished 5-7 in his first season, including a big win over Big Ten rival Penn State, who was ranked 7th at the time. They also beat Minnesota, which was ranked 20th at the time. 

All Time Records (CFB)

  • Passing yards

    • Nathan Scheelhaase: 8,568

    • Kurt Kittner: 8,460

    • Jack Trudeau: 8,146

    • Juice Williams: 8,032

    • Jason Verduzco: 7,532

  • Rushing yards

    • Robert Holcombe: 4,105

    • Antoineo Harris: 2,942

    • Jim Grabowski: 2,878

    • Thomas Rooks: 2,828

    • Rocky Harvey: 2,669

  • Receiving yards

    • David Williams: 3,195

    • Brandon Lloyd: 2,527

    • A.J. Jenkins: 2,432

    • John Wright: 2,284

    • Arrelious Benn: 2,221

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