While first-year Indiana coach Tom Allen can take a certain amount of comfort in how relatively competitive his team has been during Big Ten play, second-year coach Lovie Smith’s young Illinois squad has given him little reason to believe it can stop its long conference losing streak. The only two Big Ten teams still looking for their first win in league action face each other Saturday when the Hoosiers visit the Fighting Illini.
Indiana may be in the midst of a four-game losing streak, but the first three setbacks during that stretch came by a combined 18 points - including a seven-point defeat against No. 22 Michigan and an eight-point loss at No. 16 Michigan State. The Hoosiers were at it again for a while last weekend, trailing third-ranked Wisconsin by seven early in the fourth quarter before the Badgers rolled off 21 unanswered points over the final 10:15 to pull away 45-17. Illinois, which has started a FBS-high and school-record 16 true freshmen this season, has failed to score more than 17 points in all but one conference game thus far and has dropped nine straight Big Ten battles dating back to last season. The Illini suffered their seventh straight loss overall this season in a 29-10 decision at Purdue last weekend - their sixth double-digit defeat over that span.
TV: Noon ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Indiana -9.
ABOUT INDIANA (3-6, 0-6 Big Ten): Richard Lagow, who started the first four games of the season, got the start last week after freshman Peyton Ramsey (leg) was injured two games ago and is expected to keep the job versus Illinois after throwing for 226 yards and two touchdowns versus the Badgers. Simmie Cobbs Jr. is tied for first in the conference with 59 receptions and tied for seventh with six touchdown catches, while fellow junior wideout Luke Timian ranks third in the Big Ten with 54 receptions. Safety Chase Dutra recorded 10 or more stops for the third time in four weeks with a career-high 15 against Wisconsin, while Allen applauded the effort of linebackers Tegray Scales (12 tackles) and Chris Covington (nine) - each of whom played all 80 defensive snaps.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (2-7, 0-6): Cam Thomas saw his first extended action under center in place of Jeff George Jr. last week, finishing 10-of-20 for 159 yards while rushing 14 times for 30 yards en route to becoming only the fourth Illinois true freshman to start a game at quarterback in program history. Ricky Smalling extended his streak of hauling in at least one 20-yard reception to five straight games and leads the team with 415 yards receiving; his 16.6 yards per catch is the second-best mark among FBS true freshmen. With leading rusher Mike Epstein (foot) likely done for the season and second-leading rusher Ra’Von Bonner (concussion) missing the last two games, Kendrick Foster has amassed 139 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries against Wisconsin and Purdue.
1. Indiana is the only FBS program that has faced three top-five opponents and one of two teams to face five ranked foes this season.
2. The Illini are tied for first in the country with 14 forced fumbles and rank eighth in FBS with three blocked kicks.
3. Cobbs (T-13th) and Timian (26th) are one of four sets of teammates to rank inside the top 30 in receptions nationally.
PREDICTION: Indiana 27, Illinois 17