Ohio State is trying for the Big Ten record for consecutive conference wins, and while they should certainly win this game, covering four touchdowns vs. Illinois is another matter.
The humongous underdog has a chance to stay inside the number Saturday night in Big Ten action when the Illinois Fighting Illini (4-4, 3-5 ATS) pay a visit to the Ohio State Buckeyes (6-1, 5-2 ATS) at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, OH, affectionately known as “The Giant Horseshoe”, at 8:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ABC.
The posted line at Pinnacle Sports for this contest is Illinois +28½ at current odds of -104.
Chance to Tie Own Big Ten Mark
The Buckeyes have won 19 consecutive conference games and they looking to tie their own conference mark here of 20 straight Big Ten college football pick wins, a streak that spanned from 2005 through 2007. With that being said, they were finally challenged last week and taken to overtime by Penn State, winning 31-24 in a game that was 17-17 at the end of regulation, snapping a string of four straight games where Ohio State scored at least 50 points.
Illinois has exceeded some expectations by being 4-4 overall at this point, and although they are just 1-3 inside the conference, they have been competitive vs. Big Ten foes with only one of those losses being a blowout 45-14 at Nebraska. The Illini can pass the football, ranking 31st in the country in passing offense at 284.0 yards per game, and that is despite their starting quarterback at the beginning of the year Wes Lunt being out with a broken leg.
Just 17th in Playoff Rankings
Perhaps that close call vs. the Nittany Lions swayed the College Football Playoff committee as the Buckeyes are ranked just 17th in their initial ranking that came out this week, so they have an uphill climb to make the Playoff. Then again they have only themselves to blame as their early season loss to what looks like a bad Virginia Tech team, and at home no less, coupled with the Big Ten underachieving in early non-conference play being their downfall.
Keep in mind, this is a team that dominated opponents in all of its wins before the Penn State game, making the Va. Tech loss that much more shocking, but the big Ohio State wins came vs. dubious competition so being taken to overtime by probably the best team they have faced could be another black eye.
Nonetheless, we are not suggesting that Ohio State will lose this game as Illinois is not much better than the teams that the Buckeyes destroyed earlier. However, morale may be a bit low after the disappointing ranking and the Buckeyes may not win by more then four touchdowns, especially with the Big Ten title in all likelihood being on the line at Michigan State next Saturday!
Nice Upset of Minnesota
And looking past this Illinois team could be more dangerous this year than it was in past seasons. Remember that the Fighting Illini opened conference play 0-3, but they gave the Wisconsin Badgers all that they can handle on the road before losing 38-28 at Madison two games ago as 27-point underdogs, and they followed that up with their first Big Ten win, an upset of what had been a good Minnesota team 28-24 last week.
Also the strength of the Illinois offense the passing game could produce some points here vs. an Ohio State defense that allowed 224 passing yards to Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg with most of those yards coming in the second half as Ohio State blew a 17-0 halftime lead.
On the other side, the Illinois defense has actually defended the pass reasonably well allowing just 216.6 yards per game through the air, but the Illini have been torched on the ground to the tune of an atrocious 258.6 yards per contest. So the strength of the Ohio State offense, the running game, matches up great with that Illinois weakness but the difference is that the Buckeyes will probably take longer to score, which is not desirable giving this many points.
Allowed 60 But Covered Last Year
Finally, the bad new about last season’s meeting in Champaign was that the Illinois defense was torched for 60 points, although that was vs. a more balanced Ohio State offense that had Braxton Miller passing the ball effectively. The good news was that Illinois scored 35 points on offense with that final 25-point losing margin being good enough to cover the spread.
Look for a similar scenario here except for this margin being just a tad smaller, with Illinois again covering the spread at Ohio State on Saturday.
College Football Pick: Illinois +28½ (-104)