Illinois football looking for first bowl berth under Beckman

By Charlotte Carroll

In the past 68 years, Illinois has been to 17 bowl games with an 8-9 record. And it’s hoping to even out that tally with its 18th bowl game opportunity.

After an up-and-down season, the Illini are bowl eligible after a victory at Northwestern this past week sealed a six-win season. 

Those six wins were necessary for the Illini to qualify for a bowl and were one of the big reasons that head coach Tim Beckman will be back next year.

“I get an opportunity, selfishly, I guess you’d say, to be with those seniors again for another opportunity to play,” Beckman said after Saturday’s win. “To beat Northwestern was one of their goals; to be bowl eligible was one of their goals. When you see your players do that, because you’re with them all the time, they’re your sons – you get to see the way they are so gratified about the victory.”

Illinois has not been to a bowl game under Beckman, and the last time it appeared in the postseason was in 2011 at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco against UCLA. The Illini defeated the Bruins 20-14 under the guidance of interim coach Vic Koenning after Ron Zook was fired. Beckman was on the sidelines for that win.

While Illinois started 2014 with three wins and a loss to Washington, the team would go on to lose three straight Big Ten games. This included a loss to Purdue at home that had many fans convinced the season was over.

But the Illini stuck it out and stayed true to their six-win goal to snag a possible bowl game berth.

The Illini are likely to go to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit or the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas. Both games are on Dec. 26.

“It means the world,” quarterback Reilly O’Toole said on the team’s bowl game berth. “We set this goal early on. For a couple of weeks there, who would have thought we’d be in a position to go to a bowl … We rose to the occasion; the coaches want it just as bad as we do. So we all just wanted it real bad.”

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @charlottecrrll.