Big Game Hunting: Illinois takes on Purdue in the game of the year in the Big Ten West
Broader implications aside, simply getting the better of the Boilermakers for a change would hit the spot. They’ve taken home the Cannon in five of the last six renditions of this rivalry series and have a five-game winning streak at Memorial Stadium, where they haven’t lost since 2010.
CHAMPAIGN — An email hit the inbox this week offering a list of odds to win the Big Ten championship. Ohio State and Michigan, tied atop the East, were at 1-to-4 and 13-to-4, respectively. Illinois, alone in first place in the West, was at 14-to-1 — a longshot figure that says it all about how vastly different the divisions are perceived to be.
Not many expect the West winner — whether it’s Illinois or one of the three teams that are a game behind in the standings — to put up a real fight Dec. 3 in the conference title game in Indianapolis, but isn’t getting there a big deal in itself? Of course it is. Purdue (+6½) at No. 21 Illinois (11 a.m., ESPN2, 890-AM) isn’t setting the world on fire like a potential clash of unbeaten mega-rivals would when Michigan visits Ohio State on Nov. 26, but it’s the game of the year in the West. Not a damn thing wrong with that.
The pathway to Indy is pretty straightforward for the Illini (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten). If they beat the Boilermakers, they’ll keep their division lead and — with two games to go — own tiebreakers over everybody on their heels. Another win at Michigan or at Northwestern might be necessary. The Boilermakers (5-4, 3-3) can grab the inside track, though, and have lightweights Northwestern and Indiana left to play.
“A lot of things to play for this week,” Illini coach Bret Bielema said.
Broader implications aside, simply getting the better of Purdue for a change would hit the spot. Purdue has taken home the Cannon in five of the last six renditions of this rivalry series and has a five-game winning streak at Memorial Stadium, where it hasn’t lost since 2010. For those of you scoring at home, that was four Illinois coaches ago.
Bielema’s second Illini squad boasts all kinds of gaudy stats. Running back Chase Brown leads the nation with 1,344 rushing yards; no other Power 5 back has even 1,200. Defensively, the Illini are No. 1 in the country against the pass and in total yards and points allowed. But the numbers paled in importance a week ago when run-of-the-mill Michigan State came to Champaign and won 23-15. The Illini looked like pretenders.
Purdue comes in with the Big Ten’s top-ranked passing attack, Aidan O’Connell the only quarterback averaging 300 yards through the air in league games. A former walk-on who played at Stevenson, O’Connell looks early and often to former Deerfield standout Charlie Jones, who’s averaging 9.2 catches per game and has nine touchdown grabs. Not so long ago, the childhood pals were teammates on the Buffalo Grove Bisons.
So, what happens? O’Connell and Jones aren’t in Buffalo Grove anymore. They’re up against a team trying to get to 4-0 against opponents it lost to in 2021, and it has a Cannon to steal. Illini, 27-20.
OTHER WEEK 11 PICKS
No. 20 Notre Dame (-15½) vs. Navy (11 a.m., Ch. 7, 780-AM): They meet in Baltimore for the first time since 2008, when the Irish won for the only time during an almost incomprehensible four-game stretch against the Middies. This Navy team is pretty hopeless against the pass, so Drew Pyne might actually throw the ball around a bit for a change. Irish in a mismatch, 38-14.
Northwestern (+17½) at Minnesota (2:30 p.m., BTN, 720-AM): The Wildcats are on an eight-game losing streak, their longest in 20 years. Does it even matter that Pat Fitzgerald is 8-6 against the Gophers? Or that the ’Cats were decent last weekend in a 21-7 loss to Ohio State? Gophs by 21.
Wisconsin (-1½) at Iowa (2:30 p.m., FS1): The Badgers have taken eight of the last 10 Heartland Trophy games, but Iowa’s 24-3 win at Purdue last weekend was an eye-opener. The Hawkeyes’ turnaround continues, 20-14.
No. 9 Alabama (-11½) at No. 11 Ole Miss (2:30 p.m., Ch. 2): Is this Crimson Tide team, led by Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young, really going to be Nick Saban’s first three-game loser since 2010? Put me down for a no. Tide, 31-21.
No. 1 Georgia (-16½) at Mississippi State (6 p.m., ESPN): The Bulldogs — Georgia’s — left a ridiculous number of points on the field last weekend against Tennessee and covered anyway. Get it cleaned up, and nobody can touch them. Bulldogs — Georgia’s — 38-17.
No. 4 TCU (+7) at No. 18 Texas (6:30 p.m., Ch. 7): Are the 9-0 Horned Frogs the class of the Big 12 or the worst unbeaten team in the country? One supposes it’s possible they’re both. They haven’t been confronted by an offense like Texas’, though. Longhorns in a fun one, 41-31.
My favorite favorite: No. 6 Oregon (-13½) vs. No. 25 Washington (6 p.m., Fox-32): Since getting obliterated by Georgia in their opener, the Ducks have popped off for at least 40 points in eight straight games. Make it nine.
My favorite underdog: No. 22 UCF (+1½) at No. 17 Tulane (2:30 p.m., ESPN2): Whether it’s John Rhys Plumlee or Mikey Keene at QB for the Knights, they have the Jimmys and Joes to get the job done.
Last week: 2-6 straight up, 2-6 vs. the spread. I ran stadium steps as penance, taking breaks only to flog myself with a wet newspaper.
Season to date: 51-34 straight up, 41-44 vs. the spread.