It is time to make the final push to the Big Ten Championship Game for Wisconsin, and the schedule could not be much more favorable for the Badgers on their quest to return to Indianapolis for the fourth time since the conference launched its championship game in 2011. To get back there again this season the Badgers may have to win their remaining three games to stay ahead in the Big Ten West, and that mission begins this week at home against Illinois.
Illinois at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Wisconsin -26.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Wisconsin controls fate of Big Ten West
With three games left to play in the regular season, Wisconsin has a bit of an inside track to the Big Ten Championship Game. The Badgers are tied with Nebraska and Minnesota for first place in the Big Ten West Division with an important head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cornhuskers and a home game still to play against the Gophers. Wisconsin also has games against Illinois and Purdue remaining, and the Badgers are a combined 21-0 against the Illini, Boilermakers and Gophers dating back to 2008.
2. Badgers' defense remains among most underrated defenses
Michigan and Ohio State may statistically have better total defenses this season, but the Badgers are not to be underestimated. As we have seen multiple times this season in games against LSU, Michigan and Ohio State, Wisconsin’s defense remains one of the best the Big Ten has to offer. The loss of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda (to LSU) was more than filled adequately by the addition of Justin Wilcox, who was fired by USC last season.
Wisconsin has held three straight opponents and all but one all season to fewer than 20 points in a game. Only Ohio State has managed to score more than 20 (30 in overtime) against the Badgers. For an Illinois team averaging 23.6 points per game, the Illini could have a difficult time putting points on the scoreboard.
3. Jeff George Jr. and Kendrick Foster look to follow up big game vs. Spartans
There is still room for improvement for freshman quarterback Jeff George Jr. after completing 13 of his 29 pass attempts against Michigan State last week, but he did toss two touchdowns without an interception in the win against the struggling Spartans. Kendrick Foster also had a fine afternoon against Sparty, rushing for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It was the junior’s third 100-yard game on the ground this season. It will be on the offensive line to create space to run and provide enough protection for the young quarterback to keep drives alive. That will not be easy.
Illinois should be overmatched in this week’s Big Ten West game as the Badgers are locking in to go on a dominant run to close out the regular season. With an outside shot at reaching the College Football Playoff at stake, Wisconsin knows what is on the line the rest of the way. Badgers running back Corey Clement should be a featured player after rushing for 100 yards in three of the last four games. The Illini have struggled to stop the run at times this season, and Wisconsin is built to take advantage in this particular area. Wisconsin will set the tone on the ground and take care of business from there.
Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Illinois 13
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.