CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois football will once again go with John Paddock as QB1 heading into the regular season finale against Northwestern. The Illini (5-6, 3-5 B1G) need a win over the Wildcats (6-5, 4-4) to become bowl eligible for a second-straight season, something hasn’t happened since 2010-11. A victory won’t come easy though over a resurgent rival, with Northwestern far exceeding expectations under first-year head coach David Braun, who had the interim tag removed last week, after taking over the program following Pat Fitzgerald’s departure amidst hazing allegations.

“You know we’re a 5-6 team that is trying to get to 6-6 and you get on rolls,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said on Monday. “It sounds silly right but it’s easier to keep winning in certain regards once you’re there. To reverse the trend and be more consistent, it takes guys realizing that every play matters.”

The Illini came up just a few plays short at Iowa, with the Hawkeyes scoring the go-ahead and game-winning touchdown on Kaleb Johnson’s 30-yard touchdown with 4:43 remaining. Paddock nearly guided the Illini to a win, with the offense driving with a chance to close out the game before ultimately coming up just short in the 15-13 loss at Kinnick Stadium. The sixth-year senior will make his third consecutive start against the Cats, after leading the team to an overtime win over Indiana two weeks ago. Against the Hawkeyes, the Ball State transfer went 22-for-47, throwing for 215 yards. Getting the opportunity to compete at the highest level against the Big Ten West champs is something the walk-on says he’s grateful for.

“Goes to show that sometimes we live in such an instant gratification society that the delayed gratification of working hard and being a back-up for four years and coming here and walking on,” Paddock said. “It was a really cool week and so thankful to my coaches and praise God for the opportunity.”

“John’s given us a spark down the stretch, I thought he competed really had the other day during the game against an incredibly good defense and gave us a chance to win,” Illinois offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. said. “As always there’s some plays you want back but we want him to go out the right way with a W and that’s going to be a great challenge.”

Illinois and Northwestern kickoff at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon in a game broadcast on BTN.