21 October 2006

Illinois vs. Penn State

The Fighting Illini visit Penn State today at noon for the Nittany Lions' homecoming game. It also marks the beginning of "the rest of the season." Penn State plays only one ranked opponent (and at #21 Wisconsin is barely ranked) and should finish off the season with 5 straight wins (9-3) or at the worst 8-4. A 9-3 season would likely put us into the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. Not too much to complain about given the struggles so far this season.

This year's Penn State team is not as good as last year's, but Illinois is arguably worse. Last year Penn State won 63-10 in a laugher in Champaign, and this year, while maybe not on that scale, should not be close either.

Let's take our obligatory look at the statistics: Penn State is struggling to put points on the board (23.6 points per game is 9th in the conference), but Illinois is worse (1oth at 20.3 points per game). Illinois can run the ball (second in the conference in rushing yards per game), but Penn State isn't too far behind. Penn State has the edge passing the ball, and overall Penn State has a small edge in total yards per game.

The defensive statistics are much the same; the Nittany Lions end up with a small advantage in yards per game and points per game.

But here is where the statistics lie. Penn State has played three top five opponents (Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan, and two of those on the road), while Illinois has only played one ranked team (then #14 Iowa). Their two wins are against Eastern Illinois and Michigan State. They've lost to Rutgers, Syracuse, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio (not Ohio State...Ohio). The schedule thus far has been pathetic, so any statistical comparisons are a joke.

Even given the red zone ineptness of the Nittany Lions all season long, the iffy kicking game, and the unrealized opportunities, this game should not be close. Penn State's offense shouldn't have any trouble moving the ball; I expect the coordinators to keep it relatively simple given last week's mess. The Nittany Lion defense will do what it does best: stuff the run and force Illinois to pass the ball. Anymore than two scores for Illinois is too much. Penn State 35, Illinois 10.
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