clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

BIG 2013 //Illinois Week - The greatest team none of us ever saw. The 1923 National Champion Fighting Illini.

They actually played football back before the widespread use of the radio, the invention of TV and the internet. We take a look at some of the greatest squads to play for the the University of Illinois.

Red Grange - 1923. Photoshop to the rescue. Illinois...nice things etc.
Red Grange - 1923. Photoshop to the rescue. Illinois...nice things etc.

Before you look at the photo attached to this article and assume that this will be a hatchet piece full of snark, stop and disabuse yourself of that notion. The photo is due to SBNation's rules on photo usage. I don't own a picture of Red Grange personally. Our designated repository for photos here at SBNation does not include a photo of Grange, hence the MS Paint picture.

We offer a lot of slings and arrows to the Fighting Illini at the OTE due to the fact that we have (or have had) a plethora of NU Wildcat alums writing for us, we don't have an Illini writer, and finally there isn't a large Illini fan presence here to defend their "honor." So sometimes our snark meter on all things Illini goes to 11 (Right across the board...11,11,11...If we need that extra push over the cliff we put it up to 11...).

However today is not one of those days. Today we'll look at one the greatest teams to don the Blue and Orange for the grid men from Cham-bana. Many of us know and can repeat the history of our own favorite teams. In the interest of making us more well rounded B1G fans it's good to hear about the heights to which other schools in the conference have climbed.

So let's take a quick look at one of the squads that can claim "Greatest" in the history of University of Illinois football. I offer the following caveat: I'm not a fan or alum of Illinois and I didn't grow up watching or hearing about Illini football. What I do have is an internet connection and an analytical mind. This is my choice. Illini fans might have another one in mind.

I started with the website College Football Data Warehouse to find the Illini teams credited with National Titles: 1914, 1919, 1923 and 1927.

1914: In the season that kicked off a couple of months after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the Fighting Illini were a juggernaut outscoring the opposition 224-22 on the way to a 7-0 (6-0 B1G) season. That opposition included such powerhouses as Christian Brothers (MO). It did not include Michigan or any of the then Eastern powers. Next.

1919: The squad that finished their work right before the roaring 20's kicked off went 6-1 (6-1 B1G). Non conference games?! Who needs stinking non conference games? How a team that doesn't play any games out of conference are National Champions is beyond me. Maybe I should check with Alabama. Anyway, 6-1 with a loss at home. Next.

1927: This team was a great one. They out scored opponents 152-24 on the season enroute to a 7-0-1 (5-0 B1G) finish. Again, a blemish on the record (a home tie with Iowa State) leads me to consider this team one of the greatest, but not the greatest in school history. Next.

1923: I can't speak about the mood on campus coming into the 1923 season but 1922 was a brutal year for the Illini as they went 2-5 (2-4 B1G) and were outscored 60-26. Indignities in 1922 included a 24-0 blanking at the hands of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 1923 would bring the introduction of sophomore Harold Edward "Red" Grange to the team. All he did was score over half the team's points (72/136) on the season as they outscored opponents 136-20 and finished up 8-0 (5-0) with wins over OSU, Nebraska, Mississippi State and Iowa. Iowa was the only squad to come within a TD of the Illini.That same Iowa team was the last team to score a point on Illinois as the Illini shut out their last five opponents 82-0. The University of Washington of the then Pacific Coast Conference was allowed to choose their own opponent - and they selected 5-1-2 Navy instead of the 8-0 Illini giving proof that Bowl chicanery is not a new phenomenon.

Now there have been other Illinois teams that have had great seasons, Rose Bowl victories, and B1G titles but it seems to me that the 1923 Illinois Fighting Illini were the best team in school history.

What do you think?

Join our team at OTE

Off Tackle Empire is looking for a writer to bring that unique Champaign flavor to our coverage. Are you an Illinois alum or fan who would like to join our staff of malcontents and ne'er do wells? Contact if you are interested.


Cocktail Party Preview

TUESDAY | Smartest Guys in the Room

WEDNESDAY | Illini Potluck


FRIDAY | Keeping the Enemy Close