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Illinois vs. Iowa: Big Ten series in need of a trophy

Traveling trophy games are fun, and so is college football. Let's add another one.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Illinois took the field against Iowa for the first time since 2008 last season for the series' 70th matchup. The Illini dropped the game 30-14, their sixth lost in seven games dating back to 2003.

Interim head coach Bill Cubit will look for his second Big Ten victory Saturday when the Ilini (4-1, 1-0 in Big Ten) visit Iowa City and No. 22 Hawkeyes (5-0, 1-0). Despite being border states, the two schools aren't even considered rivals.

The Big Ten has 15 trophy rivalries among its 14 rivals. And all have a story to tell. But Illinois-Iowa isn't one of them, but it should because trophies are fun.

Illinois-Iowa series history

The series began in 1899 at a neutral site in Rock Island with Iowa winning 58-0. Not a great way to start for the Illini, but they would win the next two games 27-0 and 80-0, the largest margin of victory in the series. The series was one-sided early on with seven of the first eight games being shutouts, including the first five.

During Illini legend, Robert Zuppke's tenure (1913-41), Illinois went 7-7-2 against Iowa. He won the first three games (1918-20) with the most important victory coming in 1919 with a 9-7 decision en route to a second national title. Illinois outscored Iowa 146-121.

In 1922, Iowa won their second straight Big Ten title and Illinois gave them their toughest fight. Gordon Locke scored the only Hawkeye touchdown and a safety made the difference in an 8-7 win. Iowa won their first three games in 1923 to extend their winning streak to 20 games. Illinois broke the streak, the longest in program history, with an 9-6 victory in Champaign.

When Ray Eliot took over as head coach in 1942, the Illini pummeled the Hawkeyes for 11 straight victories (1942-1952). Eliot's last victory was the most memorable in the series, and one that put the series on temporary hiatus.

In the 1952 game, the teams combined for 17 penalties, costing them 126 yards due in large part to some questionable officiating at then-Iowa Stadium. Iowa's Phil Hayman and Illinois' Paul Luhrsen and Pete Palmer were thrown out for fighting. Illinois won the game 33-13 and as Illini players walked off the field, Iowa students threw apples at them and game officials. Illinois' John "Rocky" Ryan was approached by Iowa fan Richard Wolfe and taunted him until Ryan had enough and threw a right hand that broke Wolfe's jaw.

Peter Elliot would earn another victory in 1967 when the series resumed before the Hawkeyes won three straight. Both of Iowa's Rose Bowl teams in 1956 and 1958 did not play Illinois.

In the 70s, Illinois fell on hard times, recording a six-game win season only once in Bob Blackman's first season in 1971. One of those wins was a 31-0 drubbing of Iowa. The series went 4-4 during the decade.

Hayden Fry's tenure (1979-1998) started strong against Illinois, but a three-game win streak from 1993-95 helped the series look less lopsided. Fry's teams put up big numbers against Illinois, including a 59-0 mark during their 1985 Rose Bowl season. The series ushered in a new decade in 1990 with a matchup of top 15 teams - No. 13 Iowa at No. 5 Illinois. The Hawkeyes jumped out to a four-touchdown lead in the first half and never looked back for a 52-28 win. In the 90s, the only game decided by less than 10 points was a 24-21 Iowa win in 1991 over the No. 13 Illini. It was the closest margin of victory for the Hawkeyes' that season.

In the first two games against Kirk Fertenz, the Illini outscored Iowa 71-24 with a 31-0 shutout in 2000. In the last decade, Iowa and Illinois have finished a season with winning records just once in 2010. And they didn't even play each other that season. The closest games were in 2007 and 2008. The Hawkeyes upset the No. 18 Illini, 10-6, in 2007 at home and a year later the Illini avenged the loss with a 27-24 victory on a last-second field goal.

New trophy time

The Big Ten is no stranger to traveling trophy games, and they're not afraid to add another one either. The league has added three such games since 2004, with two of them involving Iowa.

In 2014, the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy was created after banter between the Twitter accounts for Minnesota mascot Goldy Gopher and a parody account for then-Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, Faux Pelini. Pelini suggested the wager on the game "if we win you give me $5, if you win I get to smash a wooden chair over your back." Reddit's college football section designed the trophy and two weeks later the trophy was at the game.

Let's add another one.

How about a name?

Illinois and Iowa are border states with the Quad Cities, an urban core consists of four principal cities: Bettendorf and Davenport in Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois, joining the two. The first-ever game between the two teams was held in Rock Island, so it makes sense that the name for the game/trophy come from that same area.

One thing that binds the two states together is agriculture, and most farmers get their work done with a shade of green. John Deere operates from its world headquarters in Moline, just a stone's throw from where the series began.

Illinois-Iowa should play for a John Deere tractor. The PGA Tour's tee markers for TPC Deere Run look like a good start or an old-fashion plow could do.

The 1952 game jumps out as the most memorable in the series. And with the apple-throwing incident it's easy to lean towards calling the game the Apple Bowl with a trophy that resembles the Orange Bowl one, but with, you guessed it, apples.

Final plea

So if the Internet can create a trophy game, why not The Champaign Room? This game should mean more, and Saturday it is stacking up to be one of the more memorable ones in recent memory.

Traveling trophies are integral reminders of college football's past. And no league as a whole embraces them more like the Big Ten. So, why not one more? It might just plant the seed this series needs to be a rivalry people care about.

Illinois-Iowa series stats and notes:
  • The longest win streak by either team is Illinois with 12 consecutive victories from 1942-1967. Iowa's longest winning streak is five games from 2003-07.
  • Seven of the first eight games were shutouts, including the first five. The Illini have shutout Iowa 10 times, including the series largest margin of 80-0 in 1902. Iowa has seven shutouts in the series. The most recent shutout was a 31-0 victory for the Illini in 2000.
  • The longest stretch the series went dormant for was from 1952-1967.