Saturday's Big Ten matchup with Penn State could very well be the final home game for embattled Illinois head coach Tim Beckman. His Illini opened as 6.5-point underdogs with a total of 44 points.
Lame-Duck Illini Coach
Beckman, who was quite successful at Toledo, is in his third season at Illinois and has a less-than-sterling record of 10-24. This is important to note before placing your College Football picks as he might need to get to a bowl game in order to keep his job, meaning Illinois (4-6) would have to win its final two regular-season games. The coach has two more years on his contract after this one, not that it matters much. Beckman meets weekly with athletic director Mike Thomas, who apparently have given Beckman no indication that he will be canned. Beckman actually believes his team can get to seven victories this year -- including winning a bowl game -- and then win eight games in 2015. Yeah, I don't think so. Illinois hasn’t won eight games since winning nine in 2007 when it played in the Rose Bowl.
The Illini enter on a two-game skid. They were pummeled on Nov. 1 at Ohio State, to no surprise, and then lost last Saturday off their bye week, 30-14 at home to Iowa. The Hawkeyes gashed Illinois for a season-high 304 yards rushing. It was only 9-7 in favor of Iowa at the half. Starting quarterback Wes Lunt played for Illinois for the first time since breaking his leg on Oct. 4. He was 14 of 25 for 102 yards and a touchdown. Illinois had only 88 yards rushing on 25 carries. Illini receiver Mike Dudek was a lone bright spot with six catches for 80 yards and both TDs. Dudek has 787 receiving yards on 51 catches this season, breaking the school record for receiving yards by a freshman. Dudek is tied for the FBS lead with 14 plays of at least 15 yards after halftime of games this year.
Illinois is 3-7 against the spread at sportsbooks this season and 5-5 'over/under' on College Football odds.
Lions Are Bowling!
Penn State (6-4) got bowl eligible -- remember, the NCAA lifted the Lions' bowl sanctions earlier this season -- with a 30-13 win over Temple on Saturday, PSU's second straight win after a four-game losing streak. Penn State's defense held Temple to eight first downs, the fewest by an opponent in three years. Coach James Franklin, by the way, earned a cool $200,000 bonus for getting his team into a bowl.
The Nittany Lions rushed for a season-high 254 yards against the Owls. Backup running back Akeel Lynch had 130 of those and a touchdown on 18 carries. Sophomore QB Christian Hackenberg continued his struggling season by completing just 12 of 26 passes for 112 yards with two interceptions. Hackenberg's passing yards have dropped for three consecutive games and his completion percentage has been better than 50 percent once in the past four. He has thrown 14 interceptions this season, two shy of the school record.
Penn State actually is one of the worst rushing teams in the nation, ranking No. 119 by averaging 103.3 yards per game. The offensive line had been a problem but for the first time this season veteran left tackle Donovan Smith and guard Miles Dieffenbach lined up next to one another in the Temple game, and it made a big difference. Dieffenbach tore his ACL in March and was originally feared out for the season. He made his debut the week prior against Indiana but only played a few snaps. Smith missed the previous two games with his own injury.
The Nittany Lions are 5-4-1 ATS on NCAA football odds this season and 4-6 'over/under.'
Penn State leads 17-4 and is 8-3 in Champaign. Last year in Happy Valley, Penn State won 24-17 in overtime. Hackenberg was 20 of 32 for 240 yards and a touchdown. Bill Belton, the Lions' top runner this season, rushed for 201 yards, the first Nittany Lion to hit the 200-yard mark since Larry Johnson in 2002. Penn State's Sam Ficken kicked a 35-yard field goal with 41 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime. Hackenberg hit Kyle Carter with a 15-yard touchdown pass in OT and Ryan Keiser sealed the victory with an end zone interception
Penn State is a solid 3-1 away from home this season and that loss was a close one at Michigan that might have been a win if not for a lousy call by officials on a late onside kick that Penn State had recovered but was wiped out. When Illinois loses, it's not close. The six defeats have come by an average of 22.3 points. The Nittany Lions have covered the NCAA football spread in six of their past trips to Illinois. The 'under' is 5-1 in PSU's past six Big Ten games.
Free College Football Pick: Give the points and go 'under' at a sportsbook like BookMaker