In what has become quite the entertaining three-way race for the Big Ten West, the University of Wisconsin football team looks to to to keep pace with the field as they defend Camp Randall from the University of Illinois Saturday.
Over the past decade, the conference rivalry between border states has been almost entirely one-sided in favor of the Badgers. Wisconsin is 10-1 against Illinois in its last 11 games, and they head into Saturday afternoon riding a current six-game win streak over the Illini.
After then-No. 10 University of Nebraska plummeted to a 62-3 loss at the hands of Ohio State University in Columbus last Saturday, the Big Ten landscape got interesting fast.
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With the loss, many predicted the fate of the West to lie solely in the hands of Wisconsin, given that all the Badgers have to do now is win all three of their last games to guarantee a spot in the Big Ten championship.
But UW’s border rival and division competitor, University of Minnesota, has quietly emerged in a lock with the Badgers atop the division standings. Perhaps most intriguing about this is the possibility of a Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe deciding the winner of the West in the final game of the season.
Yet, the last thing the Badgers need to do is get ahead of themselves. Illinois’ record may not shine on paper, but the Fighting Illini still have the kind of playmakers in senior quarterback Wes Lunt and standout wide receiver Malik Turner that can decide the outcome of a game.
While one quarterback has the No. 7 team in the nation and the other for a struggling 3-6 squad, guessing which team’s quarterback is having the better season statically might be tricky.
Through 21 fewer attempts, Illinois’ Lunt has thrown the same number of touchdowns (six) as Wisconsin starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook, but more importantly, Lunt has also thrown six fewer interceptions. Lunt also boasts the advantage in accuracy, with a 3 percent edge over the UW freshman.
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Malik Turner, Lunt’s favorite target, has already managed 35 receptions for 523 yards and four touchdowns. After Northwestern University’s star wide receiver Austin Carr managed 12 receptions, 132 yards and the Wildcats’ only touchdown last weekend in Evanston, it should be interesting to see how the UW secondary responds to handling Turner Saturday.
Hayes’ Prediction: Wisconsin 34, Illinois 14
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Badgers a 92.9 percent chance to walk away from Camp Randall with the win Saturday night, and I think that sounds about right.
Illinois has struggled to prevent its opponents from moving the ball this season. Allowing more than 407 yards per game and 5.5 yards per play thus far, Illinois is currently ranked 68th in total defense nationally.
The Badgers don’t score a ton of points on offense, and their offensive attack is about the farthest thing from explosive. If Illinois wants to steal one from the Badgers in Madison Saturday, they are going to need veterans Lunt and Turner to put on a show through the air. Unfortunately for Illinois, I find it highly unlikely that Lunt and the Illini will be able to edge one of the best defenses Wisconsin has seen in years, especially not at home.
Wisconsin vs. Illinois Cheat Sheet
Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
TV: ESPN2 (Channel 661 on UW Residence Hall Cable)
Radio: Badgers Sports Network
Series Record: 39-37-7 [Wisconsin]
Line: Wisconsin (-26.5)