We've been talking about upcoming football schedules over the past few days (hey, it's the offseason -- we gotta talk about something and I can no longer bring myself to care about realignment unless the Big East or ACC officially go belly-up) and one thing in particular caught my attention about those schedules: the inclusion of an elusive, mysterious program named "Illinois" in the 2015 and 2016 schedules. Who is this "Illinois"? Is it a non-conference opponent (perhaps from the MAC?) that's slipped into the later portion of Iowa's schedule? We've seen that happen before (see: Northern Illinois, 2006 and Western Michigan, 2007).
Is it perhaps a conference opponent? Has Jim Delany surreptitiously added a new team to the Big Ten? That would explain why they're scheduled among so many other conference opponents. They can't possibly be a longstanding member of the Big Ten, right? Surely if they were a conference opponent we would remember playing them, right? Surely, if they were a fellow Big Ten program, we wouldn't have gone six years between games with this "Illinois," right?
The googles inform me that, indeed, they are a fellow Big Ten program. In fact, Iowa has played them a whopping 69 times in past football games! Why, that's the kind of familiarity I might expect out of a series with a program from a border state with similar academic and athletic standing. It's almost like they used to be one of Iowa's rivals.
Hlas has provided a rundown of all the things that will have changed in the world since the last time Iowa and Illinois met -- notably, President Obama's entire first term and the whole Jersey Shore phenomenon. Seriously, the last time Iowa and Illinois played in football, no one had any idea who Snookie and The Situation were. (Ah, blissful ignorance.)
It gets even more jarring when you realize that Iowa will host Illinois in 2015, the first time in eight years that Illinois has played a game in Iowa City. Eight years! The last time we saw Illinois inside Legendary Historic Kinnick Stadium, Jake Christensen was quarterbacking Iowa, Juice Williams was leading the Illini, and Ron Zook was in the midst of leading the Illini to the Rose Bowl. (Which somehow seems even more unbelievable than Iowa and Illinois going six years between games.) Shonn Greene was still several months away from introducing the world to the concept of "Duonging," Ricky Stanzi was a little-known back-up quarterback (and not the celebrated patriot-cum-Iowa folk hero he is today), and Cedric Everson and Abe Satterfield were just freshmen defensive backs getting their feet wet on special teams (rather than central figures in one of the most sordid stories in the history of Iowa athletics).
C.J. Fiedorowicz, who flipped from Illinois to Iowa during his recruitment, will never get a chance to show Illinois what they missed out on. Marvin McNutt, who had the greatest career of any Iowa receiver in history, never caught a pass against the Illinois -- hell, he never even played a snap against them in his Iowa career. Nathan Scheelhaase, on pace to be a four-year starter, could start over fifty games for the Fightin' Illini (he's already started twenty-six games)... and never play Iowa. (Unless the two programs happen to meet in the Big Ten Championship Game in 2012 or 2013.) Hell, Tim Beckman, the new coach Illinois pried away from Toledo this offseason may never coach a game against the Hawkeyes -- there are three full seasons before Iowa and Illinois will clash again, which is an eternity in today's "what did you do for me today?" college coaching environment. (Just ask Turner Gill.)
In-between games with Illinois, Iowa will have become more familiar with several non-conference opponents than the Illini -- and not just Iowa State, an annual opponent. In-between Iowa's games against Illinois in 2008 and 2015, Iowa will have played three games apiece against UNI and Pitt and a pair of games each against Northern Illinois and Arizona. Yes, Iowa will be more familiar with Northern Illinois than the Illinois that's been a member of the Big Ten for over a century. Thanks a lot, Delanybot 9000.