When you hear Illinois vs. Purdue, its sounds like a great Big Ten Tournament title game in Men’s basketball right? Well this Saturday the match on the gridiron, features two teams that will likely end up bowl eligible, so the winner likely gets a leg up in the bowl selection hierarchy come December.
Is Illinois the greatest 4-3 team in history? Maybe! They have faced the toughest schedule in the nation thus far according to the official NCAA schedule strength rankings. Illinois’ opponents have a combined record of 35-9 this season vs. Division I opponents (not counting their game vs. Illinois).
The three losses this season (Missouri, Ohio State and Michigan State) have a combined record of 22-1, with all three ranked in the top-11 of the current BCS standings. Illinois led two of the games at halftime and was on the verge of tying Ohio State late in the game before falling short in the red zone late in the fourth quarter.
By Paul M. Banks
Throughout the season, I’ll be bringing you these informative yet blunt game previews of every contest I cover and a second game that week that interests me. With a heavy focus on my three “home teams” Northwestern, Illinois, Notre Dame, and the Big Ten in general.
Illinois synopsis: The Illinois defense has made big strides this year under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. Illinois currently ranks 15th nationally in points allowed (17.7 ppg), 19th in rushing yards allowed (112.4 ypg) and 23rd in total defense (315.1 ypg). At the end of last season, the Orange and Blue ranked 96th in scoring defense (30.2 ppg), 76th in rushing defense (154.4 ypg) and 91st in total defense (403.3 ypg).
Illinois held the high-powered offenses of Missouri (23) and Michigan State (26) to season-low point totals and also held an Ohio State offense averaging 49.3 points per game to 24 points and an Indiana offense averaging 34.2 ppg to 13. They have allowed just eight touchdowns on 25 opponent red zone trips (32.0 percent) and ranks third in the nation in red zone touchdown percentage defense behind only Alabama (30.4 percent) and West Virginia (30.8 percent).
Purdue Synopsis: The Boilermakers have had a theme this season: injuries. Especially with the skill position guys. They seem to be down to their fourth and fifth QB now. However, their defensive line is certainly the strength of the team, and they open up plays for the back seven all day long. Purdue leads the Big Ten with 20 sacks and 53 tackles for loss. On a per-game level, the Boilers’ 2.9 sacks and 7.6 TFLs are also tops in the conference and rank 13th
and 12th nationally, respectively. Purdue has at least one sack and five tackles for loss in all seven games thus far, and Ryan Kerrigan looks like he may take home the Big Ten sack title. The Boilers posted a season-high five sacks against Northwestern on Oct. 9 and 10 tackles for loss against Western Illinois on Sept. 11
Guys you’ll see Saturday eventually playing on Sundays:
Mikel LeShoure is not Rashard Mendenhall yet. But he wears his #5 and could jump this year and be a late first round, early second round pick, just like Mendenhall did after his junior year. The last time we saw two great backs wear the same number back-to-back it was #44 in Syracuse with Jim Brown and Ernie Davis.
Tavon Wilson has NFL measurables and athleticism, but have not displayed the football resume and instincts of a prospect for “The Shield,” so far. But then again look at former Illini DT Josh “I’ve had a little bit too much, much” Brent. He made the Dallas Cowboys despite accomplishing nothing on the collegiate gridiron.
And Martez Wilson is having a breakout year. It’s time to talk about his next-level potential too. Also don’t rule otu Corey Liuget or Terry Hawthorne.
For the Boilers, DT supreme Ryan Kerrigan is a first round talent and performer.
Prediction to be taken with a grain of salt (actually make that a whole truckload of salt)
ILL 27, Pur 13 (Banks’ 2010 record 11-3)
These teams are actually pretty similar when you look at their respective strengths: running game and defensive front seven. They even share the same 4-3 record, but I still think Illinois is miles better. And they’ll likely finish 8-4, 9-3 if they get by Northwestern at Wrigley Field and Michigan. They’ve defied all the experts, but a winning season still tells us nothing new about the program and the Ron Zook regime.
The Illini have done this before, winning when no one expects anything (see 1999, 2007) but they haven’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 1992. We know they can win when no one thinks much of the Illini, but what can they do when people game plan for them?
I guess we’ll see in 2011.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He is also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank
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