The Brief But Odd History of Nebraska-Illinois
When you join a new conference, you often encounter schools with which you have little history. Ten games might seem like a fair number, but it's been more than a quarter century since Nebraska and Illinois last played each other in football. Still, the sparse history between the schools does have a few interesting footnotes.
The Huskers played Illinois way back in 1892, just the third season in which NU fielded a football team. The Illini were the first team from outside the state of Nebraska to play a game in Lincoln against NU. Nebraska would win 6-0. Reportedly, the left guard for Illinois punched an NU player in the face.
In 1903, Illinois was the last opponent for an undefeated NU squad that finished the year 10-0 with a 16-0 victory over the Illini in Lincoln. Nebraska won two more home games over Illinois in 1904 (16-10) and 1905 (24-6).
The teams then met to play three games between 1923 and 1925. The Illini took the first two 24-7 in Champaign and 9-6 in Lincoln before falling 14-0 in Champaign. Most noteworthy was that Illinois featured gridiron legend Red Grange in each year. Hall of Famer Ed Weir helped NU get the last laugh. Nebraska scored its first touchdown of the last meeting with an interception return, this became a recurring theme in the games to come.
The teams next met in Champaign in 1953. The game ended in a 21-21 tie. Three of the touchdowns scored that day were set up by fumbles. The most notable element might have been that Illinois twice got a hand on the extra point kick by NU, but in each case the Illini knocked the ball over the crossbar. The Huskers were stopped on a 4th down run near the Illinois 7, perhaps going for it out of concern that a field goal attempt would be blocked.
The last pair of meetings were a home and away match between the schools in 1985 and 1986. The 1985 game in Lincoln was won by the Huskers 52-25. NU returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the game and picked off another pair while tossing one of their own. One of the more interesting statistics from the game is that Nebraska completed just three out of ten passes for 110 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Huskers also returned an interception for a touchdown in Champaign the following year in an easy 59-14 Nebraska win.
If history is any guide, there will be turnovers. Maybe in bunches. And if there's no one like Red Grange on the Illinois roster, then you have to like NU's chances.