Wisconsin continues to quietly remain on the College Football Playoff radar on the strength of their running game, defense, and a favorable schedule, but these Badgers are a true Big Ten contender. This week, Wisconsin hits the road for a game against a constantly struggling Illinois program in yet another favorable matchup for the Badgers. There may not be a more favorable matchup for Wisconsin all year.
Where Wisconsin has been a model of consistency over the past decade within the Big Ten, Illinois has been in an annual uphill battle. Lovie Smith's Illini are on the brink of being eliminated from postseason eligibility for a third straight year, which would keep Illinois out of a bowl game in five of the past six seasons between three different head coaches. The Badgers have won three straight bowl games and made multiple appearances in the Big Ten Championship Game in that span, and Wisconsin is aiming at a second straight season ending in the AP top 10.
These two division foes could not be in much different spots right now, and they will come together on Saturday afternoon.
Wisconsin at Illinois
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 28 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Wisconsin -26
Three Things to Watch
1. Jonathan Taylor vs. Big Ten's worst rushing defense
There may not be more of a mismatch seen in the Big Ten this season than what will be seen with the Big Ten's leading rusher going up against the Big Ten's worst run defense. Taylor, just a freshman, is averaging a Big Ten-leading 158.86 yards per game on the ground with 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Illinois is allowing a Big Ten-worst 210.71 rushing yards per game this season. Rutgers and Minnesota each rushed for more than 270 yards against the Illini the past two weeks, with Rutgers scoring five rushing touchdowns in the game.
2. Wisconsin's dominant winning streak vs. Illini
Wisconsin and Illinois have been playing ion different playing fields in the Big Ten for a while now, and the head-to-head results reflect that in a big way. Wisconsin has won seven straight games in the series starting in 2008 and running annually from '11 through last season. In that winning streak, Wisconsin has won by no fewer than 10 points in each game and by an average of 18.3 points per game. That trend looks likely to continue this week.
3. Ball-hawking Badgers
No team in the Big Ten has come up with more interceptions than Wisconsin. The Badgers have picked off 10 passes this season, and four of those have been returned for a touchdown (which also leads the Big Big Ten by at least two). Don't look now, but Illinois passers have been picked off more than anyone else in the Big Ten, with 12 interceptions thrown by three different quarterbacks. All three quarterbacks (Jeff George Jr., Chayce Crouch and Cam Thomas) have more interceptions thrown than touchdowns.
Wisconsin's march to a potential 12-0 season should see little interference on the road against Illinois. Lovie Smith continues to have a massive rebuilding job on his hands and there are far too many moments of frustration to take away from any mild signs of optimism. The Illini are a young team, and they are playing like one most of the time. Against a well-oiled machine like Wisconsin, this one could turn ugly in a hurry, although Wisconsin is no stranger to getting off to a slow start. On the road, that could be the case, but the Wisconsin running game will get rolling at some point and never look back.
Prediction: Wisconsin 38, 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.