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Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Preview and Prediction

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott

Just when the college football world believes Ohio State has turned the corner, the Buckeyes turn in an underwhelming performance in their 28-14 victory over Minnesota. Cardale Jones did not throw any interceptions, suffered four sacks, threw one touchdown, and ran for the decisive touchdown, but did not have the type of showing that would cause Ohio State fans to believe Jones had reclaimed the starting quarterback position from suspended teammate J.T. Barrett.

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The Ohio State defense had a solid game, limiting Minnesota to 33 yards rushing, while also capitalizing on a turnover that was turned into a score by Ohio State safety Vonn Bell. I received this comment about Ohio State's victory over Minnesota that seems to summarize the overall impression of the Buckeye victory ~ "Not sure what to expect from this team any more, but all they keep doing is win while others around them get tripped up..."

Illinois rebounded nicely from a three-game losing streak, decisively winning on the road at Purdue 48-14, to set up their 2015 record at 5-4. Needing one more victory for bowl eligibility, Illinois will welcome Ohio State back to Memorial Stadium, hoping to solidify interim Fighting Illini head coach Bill Cubit's quest to gain the full-time position.

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On paper, Ohio State is the strong favorite, and the college football world may be surprised if traditional Ohio State fans tell these individuals the cautionary tales of seasons past when Illinois troubled, or upset, the Buckeyes in Memorial Stadium. Nearly derailing the 2002 national championship season, Ohio State escaped Illinois with a 23-16 overtime victory. The 2006 Fighting Illini, who finished 2-10, gave Ohio State all the Buckeyes could handle, until Ohio State prevailed 17-10. Other close calls in Memorial Stadium for Ohio State took place in 2008 (Ohio State 30, Illinois 20), 2010 (Ohio State 24, Illinois 13), and 2011 (Ohio State 17, Illinois 7), before Urban Meyer was named Ohio State's head coach in '12. In 2013, Ohio State led Illinois 28-0, but Illinois clawed back to make it interesting, until Ohio State won 60-35.

Ohio State at Illinois

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)

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TV: ABC

Spread: Ohio State -16.5

Three Things To Watch

1. The Return Of J.T. Barrett As Ohio State's Quarterback

While Urban Meyer has not yet announced Barrett will regain the starting quarterback position, most believe Barrett will play predominantly at the quarterback position for the Buckeyes. Barrett's skill with the read option provides the Ohio State offense an added dimension within the running game, and could force the Fighting Illini from stacking the line of scrimmage to stop Ezekiel Elliott.

2. Ohio State's Rush Defense Against The Fighting Illini Rush Offense

Josh Ferguson returned to play after a month away, teaming with KeShawn Vaughn to pace a running game that put 382 yards on the ground against Purdue. Ohio State's front seven, led by defensive end Joey Bosa and linebacker Joshua Perry, has been playing well against the run in its last two contests, with stifling performances against Rutgers and Minnesota. Something has to give here.

3. Illinois Special Teams Units

See the below posted tweet. Anyone think Urban Meyer will bring this up repeatedly in preparations this week?

Final Analysis

Ohio State may have demolished Illinois 55-14 in Ohio Stadium last season, but the Fighting Illini always play Ohio State tough in Memorial Stadium. With the probability of swirling winds wreaking havoc in Memorial Stadium, Ohio State will try to win the game on the ground with Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett. Illinois will keep it interesting for the first three quarters, but look for the Buckeyes to pull away in the fourth quarter.

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Prediction: Ohio State 35, Illinois 21

— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Minnich also writes and podcasts for menofthescarletandgray.com, a site dedicated to Ohio sports with a special emphasis on the Buckeyes. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.