Northwestern picked up its seventh loss of the 2013 season last week, all but eliminating it from bowl eligibility. Technically, one path remained (if not enough bowl slots, of which there are 70 this season, were filled with 6-6 or better teams which would open up the NCAA backup plan, one of which is if a 5-7 team is in the top five of the APR rankings, which may very well be NU this season).
Unfortunately, this weekend also saw the 70th team become bowl eligible, meaning no backup plans are necessary and NU fans can officially book alternate holiday plans. But, one game remains: the battle for LOLHat (Land of Lincoln Trophy).
Illinois and NU roll into this matchup with identical 4-7 records. Fortunately, the 'Cats have fared well against teams with records under .500, currently riding a 7 game win streak against such teams. In games against opponents with a losing record, Fitz is 21-7 (0.750), with the last such loss coming in September 2011.
Northwestern is 12-9 all time against Illinois when both teams have losing records, with the 'Cats winning the past two such matchups (2006 and 2003), with an average margin of victory of 14 points in those two games.
The opening line has Northwestern favored by 3.5, which is good news for the 'Cats, who are 7-1 against Illinois when favored (since 1985), with the only loss being a 13-10 affair in 1998. Speaking of being favored by 3.5 points, that is a lucky number for the 'Cats, who are 8-0 (since 1985) when favored by that margin (NU is also 6-2 ATS in such games). Fitz has two wins as a 3.5 point favorite: both in 2010 (over Indiana and Vanderbilt).
NU is currently on a two game losing streak when favored (losses to Minnesota and Michigan this season), and up until this point Fitz had never lost consecutive games as a favorite. Prior to this season, the last time NU lost three consecutive games as a favorite was 2001 (Penn State, Indiana, and Bowling Green), which was also the only time that NU has lost three consecutive games as a favorite dating back to at least 1985.
Since 1995, NU is 5-4 against Illinois in Champaign and the total scoring margin of those games is 5 points in favor of the Wildcats.
The 'Cats will be trying to avoid going winless in the conference for the first time since 1998 and will try to avoid their longest losing streak since 2001-02 (8 games). But, things aren't as bad as they were in those times. In its current seven game swoon, NU has lost by an average of 12 points with four games decided by single-digits. In the 2001-02 streak, the average margin of defeat was 20.8 (also with four games decided by single-digits), and in 1998, the average margin was 19.8 points (with three games in the single digit margin).
Illinois is averaging just under 45,000 per game in attendance in 2013. Under Fitz, NU is 8-4 on the road when attendance is under 45,000. Since 1995, Northwestern is 22-14 in such games.