It's a tough way to start the Big Ten season: traveling to Beaver Stadium and Michigan Stadium in consecutive weeks where raucous fans are aplenty and not many visitors walk out victorious.
Well, fair or not, that's where the Orange and Blue are at this junction in the season, heading in the Big House with an 0-1 record in the conference after a two-touchdown loss to Penn State at Happy Valley last weekend. And this game is being earmarked by a must-win by most coaches, players and fans after last week's defeat.
Senior linebacker Brit Miller points out that while many "experts" are picking the Illini to come out with a win Saturday, the Illini need to play like they're facing the top-ranked team every week.
"When you play like you should beat (a team), you don't normally play those guys with as much intensity as you do as the guys that you want to beat," Miller said. "And now we have the motto that you've got to beat everyone every week. You have to prove it."
The Illini will look to prove themselves when the ball is on the tee at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is at 2:30 CST.
First time for everything
This group of Illini players and coaches have never played actually played a game in the Big House. The last time the Illini made the trek up to Ann Arbor they were clobbered 56-14, which is really no different than the all-time series between the Illini and Wolverines.
The Orange and Blue have racked up an abysmal 9-28-1 record in Michigan Stadium, and some of the players are looking forward to turning that around. Some others though, are just looking forward to being in that big-time environment.
Senior linebacker Brit Miller: "In big time environments you need to make big time plays. And we were right there (at Penn State) ... and that just proves that the game is a game of inches."
Freshman running back Mikel Leshoure: "It seems not that long ago that we were just watching (these games on television). So playing games at these stadiums is really exciting. You get nervous but once the game starts all that's gone."
Senior defensive end Will Davis: "A lot of the freshmen had said they had never seen a place like (Beaver Stadium) and never played in front of that many people. And I'm glad it happened now so they're getting used to it and getting used to playing in big games."
Note: Alex Symonds is a journalism student at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.