Remember way back in Week 2 when Illinois netted a solid upset over a good Western Kentucky team to start the year 2-0? My, how things have changed since then. The Fighting Illini (2-7, 0-6 Big Ten) are now in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and probably just looking for the season to end at this point with little to play for other than pride.
Indiana (3-6, 0-6) on the other hand, does have something to play for as it needs to win out to become bowl eligible. And the Hoosiers have a very good chance to do so, as they close the year with Illinois, Rutgers and Purdue. Winning all three is very attainable, but that has to start this week.
Indiana at Illinois
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Indiana -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Who starts at QB for Indiana?
Senior Richard Lagow got the start last week in for the injured Peyton Ramsey and played relatively well with 226 passing yards and two touchdowns. The turnover bug bit him yet again — Lagow had two interceptions — but the downfield passing attack is more potent with the senior under center. With Ramsey close to returning, the question remains: Who gets the nod if both players are healthy? “I don’t know yet," head coach Tom Allen said. “That will continue to progress. We would love to be able to get him physically ready to go. We’ll know more as the week unfolds.” Sounds like it will be a game-time decision as to who gets the start on Saturday.
2. The future
It is really all about 2018 at this point for the Fighting Illini, so getting some of the younger players on the roster valuable experience in these final weeks should be the primary goal for Lovie Smith and the coaching staff. Not that it hasn’t been happening already for the better part of the year, as Illinois is the youngest team in the FBS, starting 16 true freshmen at some point this season. The offensive side of the ball is littered with young talent, as the team’s leading rusher and receiver are both true freshmen, as are four of the five starters along the offensive line. While the Illini may finish in last place, the future outlook is at least starting to find its shape.
3. Who starts at QB for Illinois?
Sophomore Jeff George Jr. (above, right) has gotten the nod at quarterback the previous five weeks, but it was true freshman Cam Thomas who received the majority of the playing time against Purdue, finishing with 159 passing yards and 30 rushing yards in the loss. While not an overwhelming talent, Thomas can provide a much-needed spark to the offense with his dual-threat abilities, as the passing game has yet to work in 2017 no matter who is under center. Look for the true freshman to get the start against the Hoosiers.
Should be pretty simple here — Indiana is the more talented team and has all the motivation to win this game. Illinois cannot seem to generate any semblance of an offense and will struggle once again to score, even against a mediocre Hoosiers defense. Indiana wins comfortably.
Prediction: Indiana 27, Illinois 16
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.