For Northwestern, it's a chance to wrap up the regular season with a seven-game winning streak and position itself for a nice bowl bid.
For Illinois, it is a chance to avoid a 10-loss season and go into the offseason with something positive.
The in-state Big Ten Conference rivals meet Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., and the direction each is headed couldn't be more opposite.
At one point in the third quarter, the Illini had one first down to the Buckeyes' 24. A late surge offensively enabled Illinois to finish the rainy day with 105 total yards.
"You want to see your team keep fighting," second-year Illini coach Lovie Smith said. "You want to see big steps, but we've taken small steps throughout. It all comes out to this game. There's one more, no tomorrow."
Illinois hasn't scored more than 24 points in a game this year, largely because Smith has gone all-in and then some on a youth movement. The Illini have started 16 freshmen, including four at times on the offensive line, which many coaches believe is the toughest play for a frosh to step in and play right away.
Mix in a revolving door at quarterback -- three different starters, four different players have taken snaps this year -- and injuries that have taken the team's top rushing and receiving threats out of the lineup, and what you have is an offense that does well to get first downs.
"You see a lot of young talent, and you see a lot of seniors and older guys playing hard," Fitzgerald said. "There's just a lot of new faces out there every game. I thought they've have an opportunity to win games, they've just fallen on the short end."
Smith is hopeful that he could get freshman Cam Thomas (ankle/head) and sophomore Jeff George, Jr. (hand) back at quarterback for the season finale. Chayce Crouch, who started the first four games before moving to tight end when it became apparent he couldn't throw the ball well enough to handle the position, had to move back under center last week at Ohio State.
While the Illini are just trying to piece things together play-by-play to finish out a dreadful year, the Wildcats have found their identity. Offensively, they use the tough running of Justin Jackson to set up Clayton Thorsen's passing, and their defense revolves around stopping the run.
In last week's 39-0 rout of Minnesota, Jackson pounded out 166 yards on 31 carries, enabling him to join Wisconsin's Ron Dayne as the only players in Big Ten history with four straight 1,000-yard seasons. Thorsen didn't throw much because of snowy conditions and the one-sided score, but was efficient, throwing for 86 yards and three touchdowns.
"I think we dominated both sides of the line of scrimmages as well as we have maybe in any game in a long time," Fitzgerald said. "I thought that guys prepared the right way and then obviously started the game the way we needed to."
Thorsen has completed 60.5 percent of his passes this year for 2,669 yards, spreading the wealth. Five players have caught between 32 and 42 balls for Northwestern, while three others have hauled in at least 10 passes.
The Wildcats are yielding just over 112 yards per game on the ground. Illinois is barely gaining more than 100 per game, and that's only gone downhill as the team has lost confidence and manpower. The season-ending injury in early October to freshman Mike Epstein has affected the Illini's ability to sustain drives.
But with just one game left and nothing to save, expect Illinois to save nothing. That could be an interesting X factor, especially if it can give itself the proverbial puncher's chance.
VDB Free Betting Prediction: Northwestern 35, Illinois 13
Northwestern Wildcats vs Illinois Fighting Illini VDB Sport Betting Odds and Matchup Report
Northwestern Wildcats vs Illinois Fighting Illini VDB Betting Odds
|Northwestern Wildcats||-16½ (-110)||-800||46 (-110)o|
|Illinois Fighting Illini||+16½ (-110)||+500||46 (-110)u|
|Name||Record||Home||Away||ATS||ATS Home||ATS Away||Offense||Defense||Diff|
|Name||Record||Home||Away||ATS||ATS Home||ATS Away||Offense||Defense||Diff|
Betting Odds Trends
|Northwestern is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games|
|Northwestern is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games|
|Northwestern is 7-2 ATS in its last 9 games on the road|
|The total has gone OVER in 7 of Northwestern's last 10 games on the road|
|Northwestern is 12-5 ATS in its last 17 games when playing Illinois|
|Northwestern is 4-1 SU in its last 5 games when playing Illinois|
|The total has gone OVER in 6 of Northwestern's last 7 games when playing Illinois|
|Northwestern is 6-2 ATS in its last 8 games when playing on the road against Illinois|
|Northwestern is 5-2 SU in its last 7 games when playing on the road against Illinois|
|Illinois is 4-10 ATS in its last 14 games|
|Illinois is 0-5 SU in its last 5 games|
|The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Illinois's last 5 games|
|Illinois is 3-9 ATS in its last 12 games at home|
|Illinois is 1-4 SU in its last 5 games at home|
|The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Illinois's last 7 games at home|
|Illinois is 5-12 ATS in its last 17 games when playing Northwestern|
|Illinois is 1-4 SU in its last 5 games when playing Northwestern|
|The total has gone OVER in 6 of Illinois's last 7 games when playing Northwestern|
|Illinois is 2-6 ATS in its last 8 games when playing at home against Northwestern|
|Illinois is 2-5 SU in its last 7 games when playing at home against Northwestern|
|Jalen Brown||WR||Out indefinitely - Lower Body - 11/5/17||Brown has been sidelined by an unknown issue and there is no known timetable for his return to the field.|
|Brian Bullock||DB||out for season - Leg - 9/18/17||Bullock has a season-ending leg injury.|
|Keith Watkins II||CB||out for season - Knee - 9/3/17||Watkins suffered a season-ending knee injury.|
|Roderick Campbell||DB||out for season - Shoulder - 11/21/17||Campbell suffered a shoulder injury, ending his season.|
|Xavier Washington||DE||Out indefinitely - Suspension - 8/31/17||Washington has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of NCAA rules and it is unclear how much time he is expected to miss.|
|Cam Thomas||QB||Prob Sat - Ankle - 11/21/17||Thomas missed the last game with an ankle injury but is expected to be available for Saturday's contest against Northwestern.|
|Jeff George Jr.||QB||Ques Sat - Undisclosed - 11/20/17||George Jr. was held out of the previous game due to an unspecified injury and it is uncertain if he will be available against Northwestern on Saturday.|
|Malik Turner||WR||Ques Sat - Undisclosed - 11/20/17||Turner missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury and his availability for Saturday's matchup against Northwestern is up in the air.|
|Ra'Von Bonner||RB||Ques Sat - Head - 11/20/17||Bonner has missed the last four games due to a head injury and it is unclear if he will return Saturday against Northwestern.|
|Mike Dudek||WR||out for season - Undisclosed - 11/15/17||Dudek will miss the rest of the season due to an undisclosed internal injury.|
|Mike Epstein||RB||out for season - Foot - 10/14/17||Epstein will likely be forced to sit out the rest of the year due to a foot injury.|
|Tony Adams||DB||out for season - Shoulder - 10/18/17||Adams had season-ending surgery to repair a shoulder injury.|
|Nathan Echard||TE||out for season - Knee - 11/11/17||Echard is expected to sit out the remainder of the 2017 campaign due to a knee injury.|
|Jake Hansen||LB||out for season - Knee - 9/16/17||Hansen will likely miss the entire season due to a knee injury.|
|11/26/16||ILL 21||NW 42||-16.5/48.5||W/O||35||-221||256|
|11/28/15||NW 24||ILL 14||2/42||L/U||-31||-126||95|
|11/29/14||ILL 47||NW 33||-7.5/52||L/O||66||137||-71|
|11/30/13||NW 37||ILL 34||4/59.5||W/O||-68||39||-107|
|11/24/12||ILL 14||NW 50||-19/50||W/O||-208||-212||4|
|10/1/11||NW 35||ILL 38||-9.5/53.5||L/O||144||-87||231|
|11/20/10||ILL 48||NW 27||7.5/49||L/O||241||336||-95|
|11/14/09||NW 21||ILL 16||-6/50||L/U||-70||73||-143|
|11/22/08||ILL 10||NW 27||3/55.5||W/U||-4||14||-18|
|11/17/07||NW 22||ILL 41||-14/57.5||W/O||162||252||-90|
Northwestern Last 10
|11/4/17||@ NEB||W 31-24||-2.5/55||W/P||138||120||18|
|10/14/17||@ MD||W 37-21||-2.5/50.5||W/O||191||153||38|
|9/30/17||@ WIS||L 24-33||16.5/51||W/O||-62||-84||22|
|9/9/17||@ DUKE||L 17-41||-2/54||L/O||-347||-211||-136|
Illinois Last 10
|11/18/17||@ OSU||L 14-52||41/54||W/O||-438||-236||-202|
|11/4/17||@ PUR||L 10-29||14/49.5||L/U||-185||-129||-56|
|10/21/17||@ MINN||L 17-24||14.5/49||W/U||-57||-171||114|
|10/7/17||@ IOWA||L 16-45||16/42.5||L/O||5||9||-4|
|9/15/17||@ USF||L 23-47||16.5/55||L/O||-326||-309||-17|