Penn State and Illinois – it’s difficult to remember these two teams ever generating so much anticipation before they played.
Sure, there have been memorable moments in the series. The 1994 comeback win by the Nittany Lions was a classic and will never be forgotten by Penn State fans that saw it. The Lavar Leap came against Illinois. And, of course, there was last year’s kick clanking off the goal post in Joe Paterno’s last game ever.
Those are all significant and memorable. But those memories were generated during or after the games.
This one has had Penn State fans licking their chops since eight Illinois coaches packed up their tents and left State College in early August.
Both teams enter the game with 2-2 records. Penn State, though, is on a two game win streak after beginning the season with difficult losses to Ohio and Virginia.
Illinois has collected wins over Western Michigan and Charleston Southern. The Illini were also hammered 45-14 by Arizona State and are coming off a 52-24 drubbing by Louisiana Tech.
It seems difficult to believe but the quality wins over Western Michigan and Charleston Southern were enough to make Illinois the favorite in this game.
The guess here is that the loss last week was so bad, many experts expect Illinois to come up with an outstanding effort Saturday against Penn State.
If that’s not the reasoning, then I’m not sure what is because, right now, Penn State is clearly playing better than Illinois.
Sure, Penn State’s wins over Navy and Temple are less than impressive – but they are both better than Western Michigan and Charleston Southern. More importantly, though, the Lions haven’t been blown out like Illinois has – twice.
In addition, even though it’s been downplayed all week, there is still that sticky situation of Illinois sending eight coaches to State College to try and recruit Penn State players after the NCAA handed down its sanctions.
The move didn’t sit well with Penn State coaches, players and fans. Illinois coach Tim Beckman has done little to diffuse the situation.
Penn State doesn’t run a spread, which has been successful against the Illini this season, but Matt McGloin has been efficient all season and has improved in all four games. Bill Belton will be back at running back and I would expect the offense to score points.
The defense has played well all season and there’s no reason to expect any less this week.
Opening the conference schedule with a win at Illinois would be significant for Bill O’Brien and this team.
If it has hopes for a winning record, winning Saturday is a must.
It would also put the Lions above .500 for the first time this season. And, without question, a win would generate a lot of added satisfaction because of the summer antics of Illinois.
These are the reasons that Penn State fans are looking forward to the game and these are the intangibles that swing the game in Penn State’s favor – no matter what the oddsmakers think.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Illinois 13.