Getting to know Illinois’ Homecoming foe

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Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics

The Illinois defense took down Minnesota’s offense during last season’s game on Nov. 6. The Illini will take on the Gophers for this season’s homecoming game on Saturday.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

It’s officially Homecoming Week, and with it comes another Illini football game with a new Big Ten opponent. Minnesota will be on the opposing sideline on Saturday at 11 a.m., but instead of just getting to know Minnesota, let’s get to know the Illinois’s true opponent: the Golden Gopher.

The Golden Gophers are a familiar foe for the Illini, with both teams playing each other every season in a Big Ten West showdown. Although Minnesota has a solid roster this year, its mascot remains questionable … what even is a golden gopher?

Minnesota became the “gopher state” in 1857 after a political cartoonist drew striped gophers dragging a train symbolizing Minnesota’s fight for statehood toward the “Slough of Despond.” The cartoon depicted state legislators building new railroads, and it stuck with the state so much that it adopted the gopher as its mascot.

Moving forward to the 1930s, when the gophers sported their full gold uniforms, legendary radio commentator Halsey Hall coined the term “Golden Gopher,” and the nickname took off.
Minnesota has thrived as the Golden Gophers ever since, with the mascot Goldy the Gopher originating in 1952. The image of Goldy and the Golden Gophers prevails to this day and will visit Champaign once more.

The Golden Gophers lead the series all-time against the Illini with a record of 40-31-3. Despite the positive record for Minnesota, Illinois took down then No. 20 Minnesota in Minneapolis during the 2021 season. This time around, Illinois is ranked No. 24, setting a higher expectation for team performance.
This is a position that Illinois has not found itself in some time, but head coach Bret Bielema was hired to bring the program to this very spot and wants the Illini to succeed. The Illini are coming off back-to-back statement wins and are seeking another big crowd for Homecoming.

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    Minnesota will be the fourth rematch of the season for an Illinois team that is 3-0 in such games this year. The 2021 matchup was a low-scoring affair, with Illinois marching into Minneapolis for its second road victory against a ranked opponent that season. While the Golden Gophers totaled more yards, two interceptions cost them the game and allowed the Illini to emerge victorious.

    While no real Golden Gophers will be facing any Illini this weekend, both teams will send tough, physical football teams ready to face off for an opportunity to remain among the Big Ten West’s top teams.

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