Five games remain in the Illinois Fighting Illini's 2013 campaign, and they have a huge challenge ahead of them.
Following a 42-3 shellacking by Michigan State in their homecoming, the Illini suffered perhaps an even bigger loss—losing senior wide receiver Ryan Lankford "probably for the season," according to head coach Tim Beckman, per Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Following the blowout, the Illini head to Penn State. The Nittany Lions also had a rough Week 9, losing 63-14 to the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Illini stand at 3-4, which is already an improvement from last year's 2-10 season. Here we look at the best and worst scenarios for the Illini's remaining five games.
Illinois heads to Happy Valley to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions this coming week. Both teams are coming off big losses to Big Ten teams, as mentioned previously.
Illinois pulls off the upset.
The Nittany Lions have proven that they are not an elite Big Ten team. They won a wild 43-40 upset over Michigan, but lost to UCF and Indiana—both mediocre teams at best. If the Illini can contain Penn State's passing game (which is second in the Big Ten), they may have a chance.
Penn State and Illinois both have weak rushing games, averaging 151.9 and 139.4 yards per game, respectively.
The Illini's streak continues.
Illinois will be without Ray Lankford for the rest of the season. The team may also be without defensive back V'Angelo Bentley, who sat out the game versus Michigan State with a foot injury.
Only 197 total yards separate the two offenses, meaning the two teams may be a bit more evenly matched than the 10-point line separating them.
The Illinois offense matches the Indiana offense.
Indiana's offense has been stellar this year, and is second in total yards in the Big Ten. Both teams have a struggling rushing game, so it may be an aerial shootout.
The Illinois offense can't keep up with Indiana.
The Illini have scored more than 24 points in all but two of their games thus far, but they were held to only a field goal against Michigan State in their homecoming game.
Illinois scores more than three points.
The Illini were only able to put a touchdown on the board against Michigan State, who is No. 22 in the BCS rankings this week. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that No. 4 Ohio State will be an even bigger challenge for the Illini.
The expected happens.
Ohio State will be heavily favored, and justifiably so. The worst-case scenario is exactly what the college football nation is expecting...a huge rout by Ohio State.
Most Illini fans should be pleased with a close game, regardless of the outcome.
Purdue plays like Purdue.
Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, the "World's Largest Drum" may be the only thing that the school has to boast on the football field this year. Purdue is last in the Big Ten in many categories—a good sign for Illinois.
Worst case scenario
The Illini's injuries are too much for the team.
Illinois will find out soon how much of an effect Ryan Lankford's absence will have. If his absence drastically impedes the offense, the Illini may even have a tough time against Purdue.
The Wildcats continue to underwhelm.
Northwestern really isn't what people made them out to be at the beginning of the season. The Wildcats are yet to win a game in the Big Ten, though many had considered them to be one of the elite teams in the conference.
Northwestern plays like they were expected to at the beginning of the season.
With a 4-4 record so far and a difficult schedule remaining for the Wildcats (at Nebraska, vs. Michigan, vs. Michigan State, at Illinois), Chicago's self-proclaimed Big Ten team may find themselves seeking bowl eligibility on the final game of the season.