OSU should handle Illinois


Jim Naveau

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The conventional wisdom going around this week is that something weird always happens when Ohio State plays Illinois in football.

The truth of the matter might be that the expected happens a lot more often than the unexpected lately.

That’s because the last seven times OSU has played Illinois before today’s game at Memorial Stadium the Buckeyes have won.

The last time Illinois beat Ohio State was when it nearly knocked the Buckeyes out of the national championship game in 2007. With quarterback Isiah “Juice” Willliams playing one of the best games of his career, the Illini upset OSU 28-21.

Most of the weirdness in the series, though, is Illinois coming close but falling short in the end. Especially in Champaign.

Ohio State’s 24-13 victory in 2010 would fall into that category. So would its 30-20 win in 2010, as would a 17-10 win in 2006 and a 23-16 overtime win during the 2002 national championship season.

Going way back, the 1968 national champion Buckeyes got one of their biggest scares at Illinois. After going up 24-0 at halftime, they watched Illinois tie the game at 24-24 before pulling out a 31-24 win.

Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) will see possibly the best Illinois team since a 7-6 team in Ron Zook’s last season as coach in 2011 today.

Illinois (5-4, 2-3) went 12-25 with only four Big Ten wins in three seasons for coach Tim Beckman before he was fired just before this season started and replaced by assistant coach Bill Cubit.

Allegations of mistreating players and trying to force them to practice and play while hurt led to Beckman’s firing. Earlier this week, athletic director Mike Thomas was also fired.

Illinois’ best wins this season are a 14-13 decision over Nebraska in its Big Ten opener and a 48-14 victory over Purdue. At the other end of the spectrum, the Illini were flattened 39-0 by Penn State and 48-14 by North Carolina.

Quarterback Wes Lunt has thrown for 2,000 yards. Ke’Shawn Vaughn (663 yards) and Josh Ferguson (514 yards) have been solid at running back and wide receiver Geronimo Allison has 56 catches.

But the biggest difference in this year’s Illini and Illinois’ teams of the recent past is that it can play a little defense. After giving up 35 points a game and 34 points a game the last two seasons, this year’s team has held opponents to 21.7 points a game.

That might be enough to make it a close game. But without a large dose of weirdness it shouldn’t be enough to stop Ohio State from going into its back-to-back showdowns with Michigan and Michigan State unbeaten.

The prediction: Ohio State 35, Illinois 14.

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