COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS' ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
"Once you get to the final regular season game, it's just a special time for the 17 seniors who have meant so much to our program. Your last time to play at your home stadium is a different feeling. A lot of things flash by in your mind that you've gone through to get to this point, and that's definitely the case for or guys. We have one senior captain, Dele Harding, who has meant so much to our team. I could talk about each one of them… but it's a special time for them. We want to send them off, regular-season wise, on a high note, and it's our rival, too. It's a little bit more incentive to play your best football. We haven't beaten them since I've been here, but we're a better football team. I know what their record is. I know it's rivalry week a lot of places, and a lot of the same comments are being made. It doesn't matter what your record is when you play a rival. That's definitely the case. Any team coached by Pat Fizgerald, you know how they're going to play – 60 minutes, clean football all the way. But we're going to be doing the same thing, so we're excited about that. We've kind of moved on. There was disappointment. We're disappointed in how we played our last game. Didn't make enough plays to win. But we're ready to go this week."
On this year's senior class buying into the coaching staff's vision for the program
"It says a lot when you have a choice, and a lot of times when you have a coaching change, guys leave and want to try something different. As a new staff coming in, we let everyone know how we would run our program and what would be expected. And these guys that stayed all got on board and saw it the same way. So even though we didn't recruit them, they've been as much a part of us as any of the guys that we recruited. So it just feels like this is one of our classes that's leaving. There was a lot of disappointment. There's no other way to look at it, three years, haven't been to a bowl game. So for those guys to get a chance to leave here with a good feeling, a good taste in their mouths, it's pretty important."
On how the seniors have helped establish the team culture
"There's a lot of people who have a say in how a program goes, but if you're a senior, you've been around here the longest. So everything that we're doing right now, the position we've gotten our program in has as much to do with them as anyone. And they realize that. When you struggle and go through the hard times and put so much into it, you know what you've done. We've had some classes that have left here that have done an awful lot, but they didn't really feel as good about what happened during their time. But for this senior group, you look at them – the first senior class to move into the building, the first class in a long period of time to go to a bowl game. So there's an awful lot. Hopefully the first University of Illinois team to beat our rival in a few years. So these guys will leave here hopefully with a good taste in their mouth."
On a role reversal with Northwestern
"I think last year, all we were trying to do was win a football game and get a bad taste out of our mouths. Northwestern had a good season going. It was no more than that. I thought that was the time, the last quarter of that game I saw our football team take a step… Whenever you play a game, you're just trying to win a game. It comes down to one game. You have one game to play your best ball and leave, and in this case, for them to finish on a high note. I don't know what their motivation is. I just know what ours is. It's to have an opportunity to win seven games, to beat our rival… and to get another streak going