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Northwestern will try to maintain its recent dominance over host Illinois when the two teams meet in their Big Ten season finale Saturday afternoon in Champaign, Ill.

The in-state rivals will compete for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which is awarded annually to the winner of the game. Northwestern has brought home the trophy every year since 2015 and is looking for its seventh consecutive triumph.

Another victory would provide a positive ending to a sour season for Northwestern (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten), which has lost five games in a row. The Wildcats are coming off a 32-14 loss against Purdue.

“A rival is a rival,” Wildcats running back Andrew Clair said when asked about the upcoming game against Illinois. “You have to approach that game differently no matter where you are (in the standings) or how you’re playing. This is like our bowl game.”

Meanwhile, Illinois (4-7, 3-5) is looking to bounce back from a 33-23 loss against Iowa last week. The Fighting Illini expect to welcome back coach Bret Bielema, who was forced to miss the Iowa game because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Bielema says he feels fine.

He described the Northwestern rivalry as “a game of respect” as he prepares to experience it for the first time on the Illinois sideline.

“Offensively, the No. 1 thing is consistency,” Bielema said. “That’s our job as coaches: to hold them to that standard.”

With a win this weekend, Illinois could earn a bowl berth with a 5-7 record. That depends on whether 82 other teams get to six victories — and, if not, whether Illinois would be one of the five-win teams to earn a bowl invite.

Northwestern hopes to spoil any kind of bowl scenario for the Fighting Illini.

“This is rivalry week, so nothing else matters,” Wildcats defensive back Coco Azema said. “The season might not have gone the way we wanted, but it’s rivalry week, so we have to beat Illinois.”

–Field Level Media