Here we go- a match-up that may prove to be the Big Ten West division title game. The Illinois Fighting Illini are 5-1, riding a five-game home winning streak, and enter Saturday as the only Big Ten West team in the national rankings. The Illini boast the nation’s leading rusher, Chase Brown, and the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense (third in yardage allowed per game).
Minnesota, the best West division team not in the national rankings, counters with the nation’s top defense in yardage allowed per game (third in scoring defense) and a great running back in Mo Ibrahim.
#24 Illinois Fighting Illini vs Minnesota Golden Gophers FYIs
Kickoff: Memorial Stadium, Saturday, October 15 at 11 a.m. CT.
The Fighting Illini began the week +3.5, but now it’s up to +6.5. The money line moved from +148 to +210. You might want to take the under, which is 39.5.
Fighting Illini Bowl Projections: go here
Illinois Fighting Illini Preview
As we discussed yesterday, this is indeed a No Name Defense, where the best overall position group is the secondary. They have the most depth and talent and are the strongest portion of this team.
However, the best single position is D Tackle, where the Law Firm, of Newton & Randolph, reside. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better defensive tackle pairing in college football right now. This is the best defense Illinois has had since the Orange Crush unit of 1994.
That Liberty Bowl winning side boasted the most insanely good linebacking corps ever- with the #2 and #3 overall picks in the 1996 NFL Draft (Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice).
They also had two Butkus award (nation’s best linebacker) winners in Hardy and Dana Howard, and John Holecek was elite too. That team was coached by Lou Tepper, who was an elite defensive coordinator later elevated to head coach. He should have stayed a D Coordinator.
Last week’s pragmatic win over Iowa, 9-6, was very reminiscent of the Tepper era. This game, where one team is averaging 8.0 points per game is facing another that is surrendering 8.8 points per game, will likely be pragmatic.
QB1 Tommy DeVito was among a handful of starters who left injured against Iowa, and that list also includes the team’s best wide receiver, Isaiah Williams.
“Really all the guys that are injured, I don’t think any of them will be a season-ending [injury] or anything along that line,” Illini coach Bret Bielema said on Monday.
“I think we are fortunate this week, obviously with Minnesota, then have the bye week coming out of it.
“The majority of all those guys should be back in time [for Nebraska on Oct. 29]. But I don’t know how realistic it is for any of those four or five guys to be projected into being in this week’s plan.”
So while DeVito has not been ruled out entirely, it sounds like he most likely won’t be able to go. That’s disastrous for Illini fans, as Artur Sitkowski is a massive downgrade.
There is no way around it, and no sugarcoating it- he is just bad. Not as terrible as he was at Rutgers, but still not good. DeVito, when he’s in there, opens up so much more of the playbook. That’s why he’s thrown for 1,163 yards with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions this season.
With Sitkowski at the helm, the Illini offense gets significantly limited and becomes way more conservative.
Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview
Yes, Mo Ibrahim will play, and that’s a huge boost for the visitors, given that he had been a doubt. Tanner Morgan has not been the Gophers QB1 for 12 years, it just feels like it.
And he’s not 37-years-old, he just looks like it. The Gophers are just like their real-life namesake- making their living on/in the ground. They have a run-oriented offense, centered around a cadre of elite offensive linemen and talented tail backs.
In other words, they are kind of like the new Wisconsin, as the Badgers took a very slight downturn these past couple years. P.J. Fleck, a native of Sugar Grove, IL and a Northern Illinois alum, has brought a new level of stability to the UM program.
But they did suffer a bad upset loss at home to Illinois last season, and the Fighting Illini side they’ll face is much improved.
However, Minnesota is favored by close a touchdown because it really seems like Devito won’t play, and that’s a huge advantage for the Gophers defensive game-planning.
Prediction: Minnesota Golden Gophers 9, Illinois Fighting Illini 7
At least two underdog Minnesota teams have come into Zuppke Field and ruined Homecoming in recent years (1999, 2008), so Illini alums should really hate this scheduling. But then again, Goldy is favored here, so maybe that’s a good thing for the orange and blue.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and he co-hosts the After Extra Time podcast, part of Edge of the Crowd Network. Follow him and the website on Twitter and Instagram.Follow paulmbanks