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Illinois coach Beckman, Alvarez have losing streak in common

Illinois coach Tim Beckman said coaches are “trying express as much positiveness as we can” players. | AP

Illinois coach Tim Beckman said the coaches are “trying to express as much positiveness as we can” to the players. | AP

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SATURDAY

NO. 3 OHIO STATE
AT ILLINOIS

The facts: 11 a.m., ESPN, 560-AM.

The records: Ohio State 9-0, 5-0
Big Ten; Illinois 3-6, 0-5.

The line: Ohio State by 33.

Updated: December 17, 2013 6:11AM



CHAMPAIGN — Tim Beckman isn’t the first Big Ten football coach to inherit a rather small conference losing streak and have it grow into an albatross on his watch.

At Wisconsin, for example, there once was a coach who lost his first 14 Big Ten games, bringing his program’s league losing streak to 19. Two seasons after finally shedding the albatross, Barry Alvarez won his first of three Rose Bowls.

No one’s comparing Beckman to Alvarez, but the two are among the very few who know what it’s like to try to coach their way out of the rubble of a 19-game Big Ten losing streak. With another loss Saturday against No. 3 Ohio State, Illinois’ tragic number will move to 20, the first six of which happened before Ron Zook was jettisoned.

The Illini, 33-point underdogs against the Buckeyes, almost surely will leave Wisconsin, Minnesota (19 in a row from 1982 to ’84) and Indiana (19 in a row from 1959 to ’62) behind on the Big Ten’s all-time list of losers. If that happens — to their great displeasure — they’ll trail only Northwestern, which had an epic 38-game league losing streak from 1978 to ’82.

Not surprisingly, the streak isn’t one of Beckman’s favorite things to discuss with his players. He could hit them over the head with it, but how would that motivate them to do better? They’re suffering more than enough as it is.

“It being brought up is something I’d rather stay away from,” Beckman said. “We’re trying to express as much positiveness as we can.”

Beckman maintains the program is getting better, although the trends within the losing streak don’t really bear that out. In the six losses under Zook in 2011, the Illini were outscored by an average of 11.3 points. In 2012 under Beckman, the average blew up to 23.4. In five Big Ten losses this season, the number is 21.2 — and rising, if the point spread for Saturday is accurate.

Only twice in 14 Big Ten losses under Beckman have the Illini been outscored by fewer than 14 points — once in 2012, against Purdue, and earlier this month at Penn State.

Does it matter if the Illini are at home or away? It doesn’t seem to. The average score at Memorial Stadium during the streak: Bad Guys 30.8, Good Guys 13. On the road: 35.1 to 14.9.

Back to Alvarez: His second Wisconsin team finally won a Big Ten game in its next-to-last outing of the season, at Minnesota, and closed with a home victory over Northwestern. With remaining games at Purdue and at home against Northwestern after Saturday, Beckman at least can hope for a similar ending.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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