Big Ten 2010 // Keeping the Enemy Close - A Northwestern Wildcat Riffs on the "Rivalry" with Illinois

Our own Northwestern Law attending, beer swilling Hmlee has graciously shared her thoughts on the joy of beating up on Illinois and facing Ron Zook on a yearly basis.

The meme towards Illinois is that they should be great - fertile recruiting grounds, great college town, some football tradition, fans that truly care. Why is this meme incorrect?

The perception is wrong because Illinois is not special. Now, even though I am the "rival blogger" I'm not saying this just to be antagonistic. It's just a fact. When it comes down to it, Illinois is like pretty much every other Big 10 school. Does it have a fertile recruiting ground? Sure, but so do most of the other schools in the conference because, as large state schools, they command the loyalties of their various populations. Decent college town? Yeah. But I also hear that some little places called Madison and Ann Arbor are pretty nice during the autumn too. Some football tradition? Uhm, I think the Buckeyes and those that Hail to the Victors would like to have a word with you about that one. And the fans? Okay, but those that fill Kinnick, Beaver Stadium, and Camp Randall are at the very least equal in their dedication.

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What's this all mean, then? Well it means that Illinois should really be no better or worse on average than every other Big 10 school. There isn't anything, like with Michigan or Ohio State, that might push them to the top of the pile. Zook is a great recruiter to be sure, but he's a terrible coach, which pretty much negates the positive aspects right there. Admittedly, Illinois has been under performing to even this expectation over the last decade, but if we set their benchmark at "average" - where it really should be - instead of "great," then it really isn't as far.

On a scale of 1-10, how much satisfaction do you get from beating Illinois?

I'd say it's about a 6 or 7. Oh don't get me wrong, I like beating Illinois. And I much prefer not to be on the receiving end of taunts from my Illini friends. But... well, let's face it folks. Illinois isn't really a good football team. They have their years, but over the last decade or so, well, most of the time they've been pretty bad. If we beat them when they're having a good year that's a lot of fun. The other times it sort of feels like kicking a dog. A small, mutt-like, smelly dog, but a dog none the less.

What is your best memory of the last two years of Illini beatings by NW?

This past season I actually got to drive down to the NU - Illini game in Champaign. I met up with some friends and we took in the game for free (good seats too -- thanks connections!). We grilled lots of meat and drank lots of beer. And Northwestern won. A good weekend all around. I hope that the Northwestern - Illinois game for the upcoming season does in fact happen at Wrigley, as then I would only have to walk a mile to go see it. I think that'd be the only way to top this past season.

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What is the key to keeping NW football head and shoulders above Illinois football?

Well it would certainly help if Ron Zook could stick around for a few more years. NU and Illinois are almost polar opposites when it comes to coaching and recruiting. Northwestern has traditionally struggled to recruit top level players (though it's getting better) but Fitz and the rest of the staff have proven that they can make the best use of what they do have. Zook, on the other hand, is able to recruit top level players and then utterly fails to utilize them in any successful way. I fear the day when Illinois hires a real coach and puts Zook in charge of recruiting.

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This week...

MONDAY:
Spring Field Guide

TUESDAY:
Illinois' Achilles Heel - The Coaching

WEDNESDAY:
Illinois' Greatest Strength

THURSDAY:
MVP Profile

FRIDAY:
Keeping the Enemy Close - Rival Blogger Interview

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More Big Ten 2010...

Indiana | Michigan

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