Ohio State-Illinois: Game Won't Be a Buckeyes Blowout

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Ohio State-Illinois: Game Won't Be a Buckeyes Blowout
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Saturday, the No. 2 team in the country travels to Champaign, IL to take on the Fighting Illini.

Ohio State is a 17-point favorite on the road, but that does not mean it is going to be a cakewalk.

The Buckeyes are definitely the better team, but the game against Illinois may be a little closer than people think, for a few reasons.

 

RIVALRY

For starters, the annual matchup between Ohio State and Illinois is a rivalry game. The winner receives the Illibuck, a trophy dating back to 1925.

The Illibuck is the second oldest trophy in the Big Ten. Only the Little Brown Jug, awarded to the winner of the annual Michigan-Minnesota game, is older.

Ohio State leads the all-time series with Illinois 62-30-4, and in games for the Illibuck, they are 58-23-2.

The Buckeyes have won six of the last eight meetings, but in four of the six wins they won by 10 points or less. All four came on the road, in Champaign.

 

FIRST ROAD TEST

Jim Tressel’s squad has had the luxury of playing its first four games, including a Top 15 matchup with Miami, in Ohio Stadium. The Bucks' trip to Memorial Stadium will be their first road game of the year.

Under Tressel, Ohio State is just 5-4 in its first road game of the season and 6-3 in Big Ten road openers.

 

ZOOK ON THE HOT SEAT

Illinois head coach Ron Zook is on the hot seat as he begins his sixth season of Big Ten play.

After a trip to the Rose Bowl in 2007, the Illini have had back-to-back losing seasons and are 5-11 in the Big Ten during those seasons.

Zook is 23-40 at Illinois and cannot afford another losing season. A win over the No. 2 team in the country would not only help his cause in returning to the sideline next year, the Illini could also use the win as a springboard for the rest of the season and make a run at a New Year's Day bowl game.

Zook will have his team ready to go, especially with an extra week to prepare, knowing that his job could be on the line.

 

2007

Coming into the 2007 matchup with Illinois, the Buckeyes were 10-0 and the No. 1 team in the country and controlled their own destiny. They had to get by an unranked Fighting Illini team and Michigan to secure their spot in the BCS National Championship Game.

Upset-minded Illinois entered Ohio Stadium on Nov. 10, 2007 with a chip on their shoulder. No one was giving them a chance to knock off the No. 1 team in the country.

The Fighting Illini shocked the college football world behind the stellar play of sophomore quarterback Juice Williams, beating the Buckeyes 28-21 in Ohio Stadium. Williams threw for four touchdowns and had 70 yards rushing, including numerous timely third-down runs.

This year’s Illinois team faces a similar situation. Ohio State controls its own destiny (albeit it’s early in the season, but it does), and no one is giving the Illini a chance. The only difference is this time they get the Buckeyes at home.

Freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been spectacular at times this season and been so-so at other times, similar to Juice Williams.

Scheelhaase has run for 204 yards in three games, and only Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is averaging more rushing yards per game in the Big Ten from the quarterback position.

The 2007 upset is proof that Illinois and Ron Zook have it in them to pull the shocker this season and that the Buckeyes should be warier of them than they were in 2007.

 

In the end, Ohio State is too much for Illinois. Tressel remembers the 2007 loss and will have his team prepared and focused. The Fighting Illini will hang around and make the Scarlet and Gray faithful a little nervous, but they will run out of gas.

Final score: Ohio State 24, Illinois 14

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