In the eighth game of their season, the Illinois Fighting Illini will be facing off against a Big Ten team that surprised a ton of people last season after getting hit with a death sentence from the NCAA. The Penn State Nittany Lions might not be going to the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game this season, but that doesn’t mean head coach Bill O’Brien won’t be motivating his guys to play hard in 2013. Let’s take a look at how the Fighting Illini will match-up against the Nittany Lions this season.
2012 Record: 8-4 (6-2 in the Big Ten)
Key Losses: QB Matthew McGloin, LB Gerald Hodges, LB Michael Mauti, DL Jordan Hill
Key Returners: RB Zach Zwinak, WR Allen Robinson, LB Glenn Carson, DE Deion Barnes, S Adrian Amos
Players to Watch: QBs Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg
Earlier this week, PSU head coach Bill O’Brien told the media during a conference call that the Nittany Lions’ quarterback race is “very even” between sophomore Tyler Ferguson and freshman Christian Hackenberg. Although O’Brien said that both will play this season, Matt De Bear of VictoryBellRings.com expects Hackenberg to be PSU’s starter. No matter who starts or even plays, Penn State will need good quarterback play if they want to be successful in 2013. If either Ferguson and Hackenberg both struggle, it will be interesting to see how important running back Zach Zwinak and the run game will be for the Nittany Lions this season.
Prediction: Illinois 21 – Penn State 14
Most might see this as a pipe dream. You might be saying, “Really Ricky? Illinois is going to beat PSU?” But, hear me out. Last season, the Nittany Lions beat Illinois because of how great Matthew McGloin played and how often Nathan Scheelhaase turned over the football. That might be the complete opposite in 2013 as McGloin is no longer at Penn State and Bill Cubit’s offensive system is built on not turning over the football. If you look at last year’s game, both teams could have been tied at 21 if Scheelhaase didn’t turn the ball over twice. Penn State might not be the same team they were a year ago because of the losses they have experienced this offseason. One example of this is that Michael Mauti, who intercepted Scheelhaase twice in 2012, is no longer at PSU. It might be a pipe dream to predict Illinois as the winner of this game, but fans can expect at least a closer game in 2013.
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