If you’re hoping for attractive Big Ten matchups to keep you entertained this upcoming weekend, you’ll probably be a little disappointed. Ohio State and Michigan State both have open weeks, so by default, Penn State and Illinois may be the most interesting game on the horizon.
The Nittany Lions (6-2) narrowly escaped Maryland to reach bowl eligibility with a 31-30 win this past weekend. Tight victories have been a theme so far for Penn State and head coach James Franklin doesn’t have a problem with it. His signature statement in his weekly press conference following a win is that “we were 1-0 this weekend.” It’s an interesting concept, but 12 grinding games in a college football season can wear on an amateur athlete.
The Illini (4-3) have played pretty well in a season surrounded by off-the-field distractions. Prior to the opening weekend, head coach Tim Beckman was relieved of his duties amidst an inquiry into his conduct. Beckman allegedly pressured players into playing injured and it cost him his job. Bill Cubit took over on an interim basis and his team jumped out to a great start. Illinois has a veteran roster led by quarterback Wes Lunt, and the team looked like a contender at one point. They’ve stumbled lately, though, dropping their last two.
Illinois receiver Geronimo Allison has been the conference’s biggest aerial threat behind only Michigan State‘s Aaron Burbridge this season, compiling 700 yards on 48 receptions. He’ll be the biggest challenge the Nittany Lions will face defensively. Penn State’s defense has been one of the nation’s top units so far this season, but their secondary is still improving and will have to continue to force turnovers like they did against the Terps.
The Illini staff will likely lose a lot of sleep this week preparing for Penn State’s defensive line. They’ve been the most dominant group led by defensive end Carl Nassib, who has registered a sack in every game and leads the country with 12.5 total sacks. The next closest is Wisconsin‘s Joe Schobert with 9.5.
It may be a lackluster weekend overall for the conference, but this should be a competitive matchup as it’s a very important game for both teams.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.