For the first time ever, Illinois and Maryland will play each other with both teams looking to take a step closer to bowl eligibility. The Terrapins (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) come in a game better than the Fighting Illini (3-4, 1-3) but both teams sit in third place in their respective divisions.
Maryland is seeking a third bowl appearance since joining the Big Ten in 2014. Illinois is looking for its first winning season since that same year. The Illini have lost back-to-back games to Purdue and Wisconsin in which they gave up a combined 95 points and 1,156 yards of offense. The Terrapins are coming off of a 23-0 loss at Iowa and aren't exactly the same kind of offensive force as the Boilermakers and Badgers. Both teams are looking for momentum as they enter the closing stretch of the regular season.
Illinois at Maryland
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Maryland -18
Three Things to Watch
1. Another quarterback carousel at Illinois
As the Illini offense has struggled over these last two weeks, they’ve gone through a rotation of quarterbacks in the process. In the last two games combined, senior A.J. Bush and freshmen M.J. Rivers and Matt Robinson collectively completed 24-of-50 passes for 271 yards, no touchdowns, four interceptions, and a combined passer rating of 60. They also picked up 62 combined rushing yards along the way. Maryland should study film on all three players to be fully prepared.
2. The run game could be the difference
Not only have both teams' defenses been dominated on the ground in recent weeks, but they’ve also put up some decent rushing numbers in that same time frame. While Illinois gave up a combined total of 584 yards and four touchdowns to Purdue and Wisconsin, they also ran for 276 yards and three scores in the two games. Maryland put up a solid 358 yards and a touchdown in their recent games with Rutgers and Iowa but also surrendered 395 yards and a score to those two teams. Expect both teams to lean on their rushing attacks not only as the source of their offense, but also because it’s been their opponent's weakness as of late.
3. Maryland can take advantage of interceptions
In their last three games, the Terps have picked off a total of seven passes. This should be alarming for an Illinois offense that has thrown four picks during this two-game skid. If Maryland can grab a few more, they’ll put themselves in position to win. The Illini need to be careful with the ball on Saturday.
This will be the first time that these two programs have met on the football field. Illinois bounced back from its last losing streak with a 22-point win over Rutgers three weeks ago. The Terps have yet to lose back-to-back games this season, they're 3-1 at home and they’ve outscored visiting teams 124-84 this year,. Meanwhile, the Illini are 1-2 away from home have been outscored 91-77 when traveling (including neutral sites). The ground games keep this one close, but Maryland prevails on its home field.
Prediction: Maryland 20, Illinois 17
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.