Last weekend, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs pummeled the Illini 52-24 at Memorial Stadium. This week, they’ll have a chance to defend Memorial against a conference opponent, Penn State. Although the Nittany Lions are not eligible for postseason competition, reports from earlier this year stated that they would be allowed to win the division trophy.
Coach Bill O’Brien says that definitely has had an impact on influencing his players, but that they play hard no matter what. There has also been talk surrounding the fact that Coach Tim Beckman sent eight coaches to State College this summer once the NCAA ruled that Penn State players could transfer with immediate eligibility. Both coaches have alluded to the fact that this is a non-issue, but something like this doesn’t just float away.
Last year the Illini lost on a field goal attempt by Derek Dimke that dinked off the post in Joe Paterno’s last game ever. The Nittany Lions are coming off of a two-game win streak while the Illini have lost two of their last three. Right now the odds makers have Illinois favored by a lonely point. There isn’t much justification for this spread other than the fact that Penn State does not run a spread offense (the offense that has dominated the Illini as of late).
Penn State has wins over Temple and Navy, which aren’t much to boast about, but they have yet to be blown out like the Illini have been…twice.
Surprisingly, Beckman has finally taken a firm stance on the team’s quarterback issue. After last week’s embarrassment, Beckman said, “we’re going to keep competing” at the quarterback position and they will put out “the one that performs the best throughout the week.” Many took this as Beckman expressing the vacancy of the job.
Beckman came out this week and said that Scheelhaase is the team’s leader and starter on the football field. He took a step back saying that he would monitor their progress in practice, but if Nathan is “prepared and ready” he will get the nod.
Most critics, writers, and analysts will continue to hype the extra curricular activities from this summer, but at the end of the day football must be played. Right now, the Illini have a lot to prove to themselves, their fans, and the conference. They have a clean slate going into conference play and it looks like they are finally getting healthy. This is now their chance to show the nation what they are made of. If they can’t it’s going to be a long season playing in front of less than 40,000 fans.
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