Thanks to Northwestern's occasional brushes with respectability, IU and Illinois have quite often found themselves in a battle for 10th place recently. In the last decade, IU and Illinois have had many rotten Big Ten seasons. In the eleven seasons since the teams began playing annually in 1995, Illinois has been 1-7 in the Big Ten three times; IU has been 1-7 six times. IU has only one 0-8 Big Ten season in that span (1995); Illinois has three (1997, 2003, 2005). In three of IU's six 1-7 seasons, the Hoosiers' only Big Ten win was against Illinois (1997, 2003, 2005). Does that last list of years look familiar? It means that in each of the three seasons in which the Illini went 0-8, IU would have gone 0-8 but for defeating Illinois. Of Illinois's three 1-7 seasons, on two occasions a win over IU has been the Illini's only Big Ten win (1996, 2004). On each occasion, IU also finished 1-7 in the conference. In sum, while Illinois has managed a couple of bowl games and a Big Ten title in that span, mostly both programs have been awful. Since the four-year hiatus that I described yesterday, Illinois leads the series 7-5. Illinois won 6 of the first 8, while IU has now won 3 of the last 4. Illinois has won twice in Bloomington during that time (1995, 2001); IU won in Champaign in 2006, its first win there since 1979.
Both programs seem to be improving. This season, instead of attempting to stay out of 11th place, both teams point to the game as integral to the program's bowl hopes and future direction. Still, it will take a while to move beyond the stink of the last decade.