Why are football rivalries key to the game?

Before receiving the title of a true Illinois fan, the first thing to do is learn about the Illini’s rivals. Rivalries play a large role in the emotion and competitiveness of college sports.

From in-state rivalries to border battles, Illinois has plenty of good matchups each season. Here’s a look at the Orange and Blue’s annual football rivalries.

Northwestern

The Illini and the Wildcats first met on the football field in 1892 in Champaign, and the game ended in a 16-16 tie.

The rivalry officially began in 1941, when the teams began to play for a trophy – the Fire Bell Trophy.

The teams battled for the Fire Bell until 1943, when the trophy was handed over to Illinois head coach Ray Eliot and then disappeared.

In 1945, a new trophy came about, in the form of a Native American statue from a cigar store, which came to be titled “Sweet Sioux.”

Two years later, in 1947, the trophy became a tomahawk instead of the entire statue because it was easier to transport between the two schools.

The tomahawk in 1947 was used until 1970, when a smaller, framed replica tomahawk with an attached plaque became what is now known as the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk.

In 2008, the two schools announced the retiring of the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk. The trophy will permanently reside at Northwestern.

In its place, the schools will now battle for the Land of Lincoln trophy.

The all-time series on the gridiron is 52-45-2 in favor of the Illini. The Wildcats have dominated in this decade, going 6-3 against Illinois in the 2000s.

Last season, the Illini fell 27-10 in Evanston, despite playing with a 5-6 record and a bowl game on the line.

Indiana

While Illinois and Indiana do not compete for a rivalry trophy, and the teams are bigger rivals in basketball than football, the two schools have a protected rivalry, meaning they are scheduled to play each other every season. And although some may claim Iowa or Michigan to be bigger rivals, Indiana still undoubtedly provides competition.

Not only do the teams duke it out on the field, they also share the same names for both their football stadiums, Memorial Stadium, and their basketball stadiums, Assembly Hall.

The biggest reason for criticism in this matchup has to be the mismatch in talent.

While the teams were evenly matched a few years ago, the Illini skyrocketed into a Rose Bowl appearance in the 2007 season, while the Hoosiers have been on the downturn.

Though the Illini finished with a disappointing 5-7 record in 2008, Indiana finished at 3-9. Illinois also has more reason to be optimistic in 2009.

The Hoosiers, on the other hand, lost their starting quarterback, senior Kellen Lewis, who set 16 school records.

Lewis was kicked off the team in April for “violating unspecified team rules,” and junior Ben Chappell will be the starter in 2009.

The teams began playing in football in 1899 with a 5-0 win for the Hoosiers in Champaign. In 2008, the Illini destroyed the Hoosiers, 55-13, in front of 62,870 fans in Champaign.

Missouri

This on-again, off-again rivalry has been on again since 2007, but is scheduled to end, at least briefly, following the 2010 season. And while this rivalry, dubbed the Arch Rivalry game, is not an in-conference matchup, it still provides some fireworks to start the season.

The all-time record in the series is 15-7 in favor of Mizzou, dating back to 1896, the first season Illinois was a member of the Big Ten.

The Illini and the Tigers fought hard in 2007 after Illinois quarterback Juice Williams was knocked out of the game.

Illinois’ comeback attempt fell short behind the effort of backup quarterback Eddie McGee, as the Illini lost 40-34 in the season opener, before going on to a 9-4 record and a Rose Bowl appearance.

Last season, the Illini defense couldn’t keep up with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and the high-powered Tiger offense, as Illinois fell once again, 52-42.

Missouri has won the last four meetings between the two teams.

In 2009, the Illini will look to reverse the losing streak and have a greater chance than the past two years with the departure of Mizzou’s Maclin and quarterback Chase Daniel.