Illinois in a must-win game vs. Northwestern to be bowl eligible

ESPN logo
Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Northwestern (6-5, 4-4) at Illinois (5-6, 3-5), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)

Line: Illinois by 5 1/2, according to .

Series: Illinois leads 57-54-5.


Illinois must win to be bowl eligible and make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2010-11. Northwestern secured its first bowl berth since 2020 when it beat Purdue 23-15 last week.


John Paddock will get his second straight start at quarterback for Illinois. After throwing for a Memorial Stadium record 507 yards vs. Indiana, Paddock struggled last week against Iowa and he'll be facing a Northwestern defense that's coming off a great effort against Purdue. The Wildcats forced four turnovers and held the Boilermakers to 6 of 16 on third downs.


Northwestern: LB Xander Mueller had 13 tackles and the game-sealing interception vs. Purdue. Down by eight points with less than a minute remaining, the Boilermakers reached the Northwestern 34 on their final drive when Mueller picked off a pass.

Illinois: This will be All-American DT Jer'Zhan Newton's final game at Illinois. He said this week he will declare for the NFL draft after the season and he will not play if Illinois makes it to a bowl game. A nominee for four national awards, Newton has played more snaps (680) than any other defensive tackle on a Power 5 team. His four blocked kicks leads the nation and ties for the most in a season in Illinois history.


Northwestern was 5-1 at home this season, the top win total at Ryan Field since 2017, but is just 1-4 on the road. Illinois is 3-3 at home. ... Northwestern has more wins this season than in the last two seasons combined. The Wildcats were 3-9 in 2021 and 1-11 in 2022. ... At age 38, Northwestern coach David Braun is the 10th-youngest coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision. After being hired as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator in January, Braun was named interim coach just before the season after Pat Fitzgerald was fired in the fallout from a hazing and abuse scandal. The interim tag was removed last week. .... Illinois has thrived in one-score games. The Illini are 5-2, with three walk-off wins. ... The Illini have lost four running backs for the season because of the injuries. The latest was promising freshman Kaden Feagin, who had started three games. ... Illinois has a two-game winning streak in the annual battle with Northwestern for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, including a 41-3 victory last year in Evanston. The last time the Illini won three straight against the Wildcats was 1988-90.


Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here ------ AP college football: and