Complete Illinois Fighting Illini Bowl Game History and Bowl Summaries



Good morning college football and Illinois Fighting Illini fans. Another autumn Saturday is in the books and the season is just flying by. Last night saw Illinois go on the road, to Michigan State, and win their fourth straight game. They did it in extremely dramatic fashion, achieving the biggest comeback in school history (25 points).

Illinois is now bowl eligible, for the first time under Lovie Smith, and there are still two games left to play. This will be Illinois’ 19th bowl appearance, and they are 8-10 all-time. Let’s take a look at where we’ve been, so we can try to see where we’re going. And if you’re looking for the best football cards at great prices, click the hyperlinked text.


Illinois Fighting Illini Bowl History

1947 Rose Bowl, UCLA, W, 45-14: This was the first bowl game on national television, according to the history books.

1952 Rose Bowl, Stanford, W, 40-7 and 1964 Rose Bowl, Washington, W, 17-7: I refrained from commenting too much on these games because they happened decades before I was born.

1982 Liberty Bowl, Alabama, L, 15-21: Legendary coach of legendary coaches Bear Bryant’s last game! He forever lives on in houndstooth. Fun fact: Illinois was the final opponent for both Bryant and Joe Paterno.

jack trudeau illini football

1984 Rose Bowl, UCLA, L, 9-45: Literally my first sports memory; can’t recall watching any game of any sort, live or in first person, prior to this. My sister, then a freshman at U of I, got to see this massacre in person.

You’ve heard the infamous stories about this game- Hugh Hefner, or “Hef” (an Illini alum) supposedly had the team over at the Playboy Mansion on New Year’s Eve, and they spent the night, well, we’ve covered the rumors and urban legend in detail at this link.

And then we covered this narrative again, in even more detail in a podcast at this link.

1985 Peach Bowl, Army, L, 29-31: The legend of Jack Trudeau continues. He’s one of those guys that, well, almost everybody who has met in person, has a colorful off the field story about him.

jack trudeau illini bowl

1988 All-American Bowl, Florida, L, 10-14: Don’t remember much of this game. However, my sister who attended that Rose Bowl told me that she once got a ride home from a party, at sunrise no less, from Jeff George on his motorcycle.

I guess she’s kind of like a Forrest Gump of Illini football history.

1990 Citrus Bowl, Virginia, W, 31-21: George, who never came even remotely close to living up to his status as a #1 overall NFL Draft pick, dominated in this one, with a 300+ yard, 3 TD performance. It’s a shame he was such a bust in the NFL, but we’ll always have that sweet stache, which makes him resemble almost everybody who appears on that Super 70s Sports Twitter account.


1991 Hall of Fame Bowl, Clemson, L, 0-30: This Big Ten-ACC Challenge didn’t go so well.

1991 John Hancock Bowl, UCLA, L, 3-6: YAWN! Should have been a shoot-out, with Tommy Maddox and Jason Verduzco, two prolific passers, going at it. Instead it was another example of how when these two teams get together, some of the most boring games in history can ensue.

1992 Holiday Bowl, Hawaii, L, 17-27: The Rainbow Warriors mainland bowl debut was celebratory; at the expense of the Illini. Welcome to the heart of TepperBall…bleh…ick.

1994 Liberty Bowl, East Carolina, W, 30-0: Fun-filled way to rock in the New Year! Johnny Johnson had 250 yards passing in just three quarters. One of the most overlooked and underrated wins in Illini football history.


1999 Bowl, Virginia, W, 63-21: Illinois owns another blue/orange team, UVA, in bowl games. QB Kurt Kittner had an end-around reverse pass TD catch from WR Brandon Lloyd, highlighting a 28 point outburst in the second quarter. Ron Turner must have taken the Y2K end-of-the-world fears seriously, given the way he called plays and ran up the score in this one.

My senior year in Champaign, I covered this game for the school paper and ushered in the millenium in Miami. The Illini set school records for points as the Illini fight song was more over-played in 1999 than “Livin la Vida Loca!”

2002 Sugar Bowl, LSU, L, 34-47: I really thought Illinois had a great chance in this game. Especially since LSU had to start second stringers at numerous skill positions. However LSU WR Josh Reed took complete 100% ownership of the Illini defense. Halftime score was 34-7 LSU, and that’s indicative of how this game actually went. The final score is very misleading.

2008 Rose Bowl, USC, L, 17-49: I knew Illinois had no chance, at all, in this game. They really didn’t even deserve to be here in the first place. Yet, they were still a couple momentum swing plays away from taking the lead in the second quarter. Then the Trojans just blew them to smithereens the rest of the way.


Fun fact: Illinois and Iowa ended the BCS era with the same number of appearances: 2.

2010 Texas Bowl, Baylor, W, 38-14

Mirrors the ’99 Micron Bowl in that Illinois dominates a better opponent in a fourth tier bowl. Remember, BU quarterback Robert Griffin III would go on to win the Heisman Trophy the next season.

2011 Fight Hunger Bowl, UCLA, W, 20-14

Another dull Illini-UCLA rock fight, this one between two teams that had already fired their coaches, a rarity in bowl games.


2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl, Louisiana Tech, L, 18-35

Bizarre game capping a weird season in which Illinois somehow became bowl eligible despite finishing alarmingly behind their opponents in yardage and point differential. The Tim Beckman era has few high points, but this was certainly one.

2019 Redbox Bowl, California, L, 20-35

As the third quarter winded down, the Illini found themselves pretty much dead even with Cal in all the major statistical categories- time of possession, total yardage, turnover margin, first downs, third down conversion percentage, honestly it was astonishing because…they were trailing 28-13 at the time!

Then Cal pulled away- why? Well, the SEC officials were not good at their jobs, and the staff got out-coached and out game-planned. Illinois had so many starters injured by this point of the season that springing an upset was going to to be difficult to say the least.

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram


  1. Artafia Hassan says

    Illinois Fighting Illini gave me the best birthday gift ever

    Thank you and Congratulation to
    ” De’ le Harding” #9 Defense

    Love Aunt Artafia “Brigitte”


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