The Illinois Fighting Illini and Wisconsin Badgers have a lot in common in 2012 and it’s not a good thing. Most notably is the unexpected and disappointing starts for both teams. Neither team looked half-decent against non-conference foes and both lost their Big Ten openers.
The Illini’s new head coach Tim Beckman could already be on the hot-seat and the Wisconsin Badgers are without any kind of identity on the offensive side of the ball.
Let the battle of the Big Ten’s Legends Division begin.
Illinois Fighting Illini (2-3, 0-1) Analysis: To be fair, Illinois’ offense has been beat-up for most of the season. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was far from being healthy against Penn State and really is the most important piece in this team’s attack. Not only has Scheelhaase been less than 100 percent, the offensive line has been pretty lackluster. Last week, they were only able to rack up 74 rushing yards, 52 of them coming on one play. Unfortunately for the Fighting Illini, the Badgers are extremely stout against the run, particularly at Camp Randall.
In their three losses this season, the Illini are surrendering a crucial 44 points per game. Granted they’ve dealt with some nasty injuries with both starting safeties, their defensive front who’s supposed to have NFL talent can’t stop the run at all. One of the only bright spots on the defense this season has been freshman Mason Monhein who was named the Big Ten’s freshman of the week while recording a career-high 11 tackles and his second forced fumble in a loss to Penn State. The best bet for Illinois is for them to hope the Badgers can continue to struggle on their game-plans.
Wisconsin Badgers (3-2, 0-1) Analysis: Quite possibly the biggest story in Badgers camp this season has been the offense and how unstable the unit has been. Not only is coach Bret Bielema jumping back between quarterbacks Joel Stave and Danny O’Brien, the run game has been very erratic. Former Heisman-hopeful Montee Ball received a crazy 32 carries after coming off a concussion while the promising James White and Melvin Gordon received just three in the loss at Nebraska. Who knew the Badgers would rank 115th in the nation with a paltry 3.20 rushing average and rank dead-last in the Big Ten with 125.6 yards per game. The Badgers are only able to go as far as their offensive line will take them, a group of men who have struggled mightily to start the season.
Defensively, the Badgers have looked like a top-25 team. I’m not sure you can blame them for giving up 20 unanswered points to the Cornhuskers considering how bad the offense played. It was evident how tired they were by the end of the game, but regardless they need to find a way to play four quarters with maximum intensity. Look for the defensive line to receive a huge boost with starters Brendan Kelly and Pat Muldoon returning to the field this weekend.
Prediction: Wisconsin 33 Illinois 20
The key to this game will be for the Badgers to get pressure on the Illini’s Scheelhaase. His mobility has been very hampered by the injury, causing him to make critical mistakes out of the pocket. With David Gilbert and some guys returning from injury, I expect the defensive front to look better than they have all season. Plus, the offensive line of Illinois has been absolutely terrible. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Badgers will no longer be one of the two teams in the nation to not have an interception (the other? South Florida). On the offensive side, I expect the assumed starter, Stave, to continue his growth in the system and for the run-game to finally get going. Wisconsin by two scores.
TV Coverage: ABC/ESPN2 at 2:35 PM CT, Bob Wischusen (play-by-play) and Danny Kanell (Analyst) with Maria Taylor on the sidelines.
Betting Lines: Wisconsin favored by 14 points and over/under set at 47 points.
2012 Record straight up: 4-1
2012 Record against the spread: 1-3
2012 Record in over/under: 3-1
*No betting line for Badgers match-up with Northern Iowa
What do you think will be the keys to the game and do you agree with my prediction? Let me know by commenting below.
Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers. He also enjoys to share Fantasy Advice and pretend to be a Golf expert from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best. If social media is not your thing, shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Borland (zimbio.com)
Nathan Scheelhaase (sportspagemagazine.com)
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