Although there is still a scenario that can get eighth-ranked Ohio State into the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes must first take care of their own business that starts with a home Big Ten battle against improving Illinois on Saturday afternoon. Ohio State, which is ninth in the CFP rankings, sandwiched big wins over Penn State and Michigan State with a damaging loss to Iowa and now must win out while hoping for help.
“Especially when you guys talk to the players,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer told reporters at his weekly press conference, “there will be zero conversation about what happened before and what’s going to happen in the future. Zero.” Ohio State’s quarterback J.T. Barrett, who boasts 99 career touchdown passes, will play his final home game after the senior’s Heisman Trophy hopes were dashed by six interceptions in the last two contests. Illinois has dropped eight straight contests, but gave unbeaten Wisconsin a tough game on Oct. 28 and were within three points late before Indiana secured a 24-14 victory last week. “I think it’s safe to say we’re trending up,” Illini coach Lovie Smith told reporters. “We’ve played a lot of young players that have gotten valuable time, but have improved as football players. I can’t wait for us to finish up the season the right way. We’ve taken steps and eventually we’re going to get over the hump.”
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Ohio State -41
ABOUT ILLINOIS (2-8, 0-7 Big Ten): Meyer told reporters the Illini’s defensive line “catches your attention” and senior James Crawford has put up the best numbers on that unit with four sacks and three forced fumbles while junior linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips tops the team with 72 tackles. Sophomore quarterback Jeff George Jr. is coming off one of his best games with 261 yards and a pair of touchdown passes versus Indiana. Freshman wideout Ricky Smalling (28 catches, 488 yards) and freshman tight end Louis Dorsey (18, 332) have stepped up after injuries gave them the spotlight.
ABOUT OHIO STATE (8-2, 6-1): Barrett has still had an outstanding senior season with 2,557 yards passing - moving within 62 of 9,000 in his career - and 30 touchdown passes along with seven scores on the ground. Freshman J.K. Dobbins has led the ground attack with 1,038 yards and five touchdowns while sophomore Mike Weber (437, seven) was named Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after gaining 162 on nine carries in the 48-3 win over Michigan State. The Buckeyes boast three players with 400 yards receiving, 10 with at least 100 and 11 with a TD reception.
1. Dobbins is the fourth Ohio State freshman to rush for 1,000 yards and needs 200 to pass Maurice Clarett for the top spot.
2. Illinois is 104th in the nation in rushing defense (199.1) and the Buckeyes’ ground attack is ranked 17th (245.3).
3. Ohio State has won the last eight meetings, including a 28-3 triumph in the last matchup in 2015.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 48, Illinois 10