The facts: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network, 560-AM.
The records: Illinois 3-7, 0-6 Big Ten; Purdue 1-9, 0-6.
The story line: Once upon a time, Tim Beckman and Darrell Hazell had the coziest of jobs. They were assistants together at Ohio State — Beckman coaching the defensive backs, Hazell the wide receivers — during a real heyday for the Buckeyes under Jim Tressel. Pressure? Sure, in coaching there’s always pressure. But compared to now, there was almost none.
Here Beckman and Hazell are, the head coaches at Illinois and Purdue, neither of them with a single Big Ten victory to his credit. Beckman, in his second season, has a head start on infamy; he’s 0-14 thus far, to Hazell’s 0-6.
Beckman likely is in greater need of a victory, but he appears to be in slightly better position to get one. The Illini have been more competitive of late than the Boilermakers.
“They’re similar to us,” said Illini defensive coordinator Tim Banks. “I think they’re better than their record shows.
A look at performances against common opponents favors Illinois. In the last three weeks, Purdue has lost at home to Ohio State by 56 and fallen at Penn State by 24. During the same period, the Illini lost at home to Ohio State by 25 and went down in overtime at Penn State. Early this season, Illinois walloped a Cincinnati team that was coming off a blowout of the Boilermakers.
The line: Illinois by 6½.
1. Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase needs to average 299 total yards over the team’s final two games to eclipse Juice Williams’ school career-record total of 10,594. The senior has averaged 395 total yards over his last three games, and Purdue — ranked 101st nationally in total defense — sure doesn’t seem to be a team that can shut him down. Scheelhaase should pile up enough yardage to coast to the record next weekend against Northwestern.
2. The Illini have exactly one 100-yard rushing game all season — by Josh Ferguson, who had 114 at Nebraska. It’s time for another. Ferguson will get there.
3. A true freshman quarterback who completes barely half of his passes will not have a career type of game against Illinois, no matter how poorly the Illini defense has performed. This is a chance for coordinator Tim Banks to turn up some heat and see if his guys can get home on blitzes. Banks hasn’t had the luxury of doing that because of his painfully young secondary, but now is the time. Illinois’ 1.2 sacks per game is one of the lowest averages in the country, but watch Danny Etling get dropped at least twice. No, make that thrice.
4. There will be fewer than 1,000 Illini fans in the stands at Ross-Ade Stadium, and by that we might mean fewer than a couple hundred. Although West Lafayette is within easy driving distance and tickets to this game are almost free on the secondary market, let’s face it: Illini types don’t travel for football. If only they did, they could make a difference amongst a truly apathetic Purdue crowd.
5.Both teams have kickoff return men who’ve proven they can take it all the way. If Purdue’s Raheem Mostert outperforms Illinois’ V’Angelo Bentley, the Boilermakers certainly can win this game. For depth reasons, several Illini defensive starters have appeared on kick coverage teams — and fared well. If they hem in Mostert, this should be that long-awaited Big Ten W for Beckman.
Greenberg’s pick: Illinois, 34-20.
SEASON, STRAIGHT UP: 10-0.
SEASON, AGAINST THE SPREAD: 4-5-1.