Let’s get right down to brass tacks here. For Illinois Football to have a shot at a bowl game this season they are going to have to pull an upset or two.
Tom Dienhart assessed what he feels is every Big Ten teams best chance for an upset in an article on btn.com recently. In the case of Illinois, he chose the Illini’s November 22nd home match up with Penn State as their best shot at taking down a favored opponent.
Hey, it’s a long shot … but it could happen. But know this: PSU has won the last two meetings by a combined score of 59-24. Illinois came close to winning last year in State College, falling 24-17.
Provided the Illini offense takes a step forward, as many seem to believe will happen, this is as good of a guess as any that could be made. Penn state has a star QB in the making in Christian Hackenberg, but they lost playmaking superstar wideout Allen Robinson to the NFL draft so someone else is going to have to step up and fill his shoes.
With the tight score in Happy Valley a year ago, and this one being played at Memorial Stadium, there is a pretty good chance that this will be a game that Illinois should be more than capable of winning. However, I still believe there is another chance earlier on the schedule that could have even better odds.
So who exactly is my pick for the first Big Ten Illini upset this season, you ask? Look no further than the Homecoming match up with the Minnesota Golden Gophers on October 25th.
Yes, they are a solidly coached bunch, but their QB situation is in shambles right now. Reports following their spring game were less than ideal for returning 3rd year sophomore QB Mitch Leidner, and without solid quarterback play most teams don’t stand a chance if the game deteriorates into an offensive slugfest.
Until the defense proves to me otherwise, most every game Illinois plays this season should be an offensive shootout. Yes, Illinois will be starting a new QB, and yes they have to find out who is going to step up out of the receiving corps, but I think there is definite talent there despite being unproven at this level. By game #8 on the schedule, those receivers should have more than enough time to iron out any early season kinks they may encounter.
So, there’s my take on when I expect to see the first Big Ten upset for Illinois take place. What’s yours?