When Illinois fired Ron Zook after their once-promising 2011 season ended with a six game losing streak, fans (especially bloggers) of other Big Ten schools were crestfallen*. Zook's frequent tactical blunders (such as the time he went for two because he didn't know what the score was) and bizarre behavior at press conferences made him an easy target for jokes. But fear not, Big Ten fans who enjoy bumbling head coaches, new Illinois coach Tim Beckman is adding fuel to the lukewarm fire that is the Northwestern-Illinois football rivalry.
* Yes, Zook did beat Northwestern each of the last two years. Embarrassing.
Back in December, when Beckman was introduced as Illinois' head coach, he had this to say about his new arch rival (per Brian Bennett of ESPN.com):
Beckman wore an Illini-colored orange tie. He said he bought it on Thursday, because at Toledo he had the team burn everything they had that was orange, the color of the Rockets' main rival, Bowling Green. He said he only referred to Bowling Green as the "team down south" and now will only call Northwestern "the team up north." "You'll never see me wearing purple," he said.
I'm not much of a MAC historian, but I was unaware that Toledo hated Bowling Green to the point of burning their clothing like a crazy ex-girlfriend. I'm currently wearing a purple tie, should I be on the lookout for Beckman sneaking up behind me and setting it on fire?
And Beckman, if you're going to refuse to even say the name of your hated rival Northwestern, at least come up with something original. Ohio State already refers to Michigan as "that school up north". Call us "that team of nerds", or even better, "that team of purple poopy-heads". Go all out, Beckman. Put up an anti-Northwestern in your locker room and tell the world you will not stand for the evil Northwesterners. Wait, what's that? He's already done that?
via Jeremey Werner (@WernerConnectFM on Twitter)
Being anyone's most hated rival is uncharted territory for Northwestern football in the modern era. The program was a national laughingstock before the miraculous Rose Bowl appearance in 1995, and while there have been occasional excellent seasons since then, Northwestern has never been good for long enough to inspire hatred from the rest of the Big Ten; the closest they've come was probably when they unexpectedly won five out of six from Iowa between 2005 and 2010, but Iowa never really considered Northwestern a rival, instead electing to dismiss NU as a little brother on a lucky winning streak. Despite Northwestern's recent modest success, other Big Ten schools expect to beat NU and don't find wins over NU cause for much celebration.
But now, perhaps for the first time ever, an opposing Big Ten school cares more about beating Northwestern than vice versa. Congratulations, Tim Beckman, you've given Northwestern football our first little brother.