One of the happiest guys in college football this season has to be head coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini, Lovie Smith. The former Chicago Bear bench boss was in desperate need of a solid season at Illinois. Expecting Illinois to compete for the Big Ten Championship was unrealistic goals, but playing well and winning enough games to go bowling were reasonable goals. In three seasons at Illinois, Lovie has never been to a bowl game. The Illini are on pace to get there in his fourth year.
His best season was a 4-8 campaign last year. Their last appearance in a bowl game was the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2014, which resulted in a loss. We need to go back to 2011 and the Fight Hunger Bowl to locate their most recent bowl win. An appearance in the Rose Bowl back in 2007 was their greatest accomplishment in the last 20 years. Illinois had a fairly enjoyable team to watch when they had Juice Williams at quarterback. But that was a while ago and many at Illinois are sick of losing for over ten years.
For the first time in a long time, there has been a sense of confidence and swagger in their steps. The defense has improved tenfold, as they look like a team who belongs in the Big Ten and not the MAC. Illinois enter Week 10 against Rutgers with a record of 4-4 and conference record of 2-3. Obviously, that isn’t stellar by any means, but for a team that has been getting embarrassed in recent memory, two games away from a bowl in early November is a step in the right direction.
Illinois also have a signature win on their resume. They knocked off Wisconsin a couple of games ago by a score of 24-23. Don’t come to play against Illinois and there is a good chance they’ll surprise the opposition. Another impressive feat was their follow-up to that game. Instead of having a letdown, Illinois went on the road and put on an impressive show against Purdue with a 24-6 win. They will have to keep their focus again this week with Michigan State on the horizon. Rutgers are coming off a rare win, but it was against Liberty. Their only wins have been against UMass and Liberty this season, their two most beatable opponents. Head below for our free Rutgers vs. Illinois pick.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. Illinois Fighting Illini NCAAF Week 10 Betting Odds:
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Rutgers vs. Illinois Pick:
Rutgers were handed a gift in their season opener against the UMass Minutemen. It was a nice warm up game against a bad team to get their feet underneath them. The Scarlet Knights ultimately took care of business en route to a 48-21 win. A month later Rutgers were still looking for their second win and head coach Chris Ash was fired. Ash was on borrowed time going into this season. The school probably should have fired Ash at the end of last season, but the next best time to fire him was then.
Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter retired from football in-season after suffering a concussion against Iowa in Week 2. Carter was playing reasonably well, or at least, a major step up from Artur Sitkowski. Sitkowski benched himself going into the Maryland game a few weeks ago, leaving the job to freshman Johnny Langan at quarterback. That’s probably for the better, but Langan is only a freshman playing on a bad team. One of the best weapons Rutgers had, Raheem Blackshear, took a redshirt so he isn’t in the backfield to help take pressure off him.
Langan had his best game a week ago, as he threw for 2 touchdowns with 192 yards against Liberty. Overall, though, he’s looked as we’d expect on this team. Langan has passed for 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions on 54.4% completions. Against any real team, Langan has been off with 5 interceptions and no touchdowns.
The Illinois defense keep gaining more confidence, and after holding Wisconsin to 23 points, they’ve looked much better. Of course, allowing 40+ points to Michigan and Minnesota is still a sign that there is room for improvement next season. However, Langan is likely going to be an easy target for the Illinois defense. Other than UMass and Liberty, the Scarlet Knights haven’t scored more than 16 points against any team.
It should also give the Illini offense a chance to rack up plenty of points. Rutgers have been embarrassingly terrible defensively, with 444.6 yards and 36.5 points allowed per game. They’re ability, or lack thereof, to stop the run will be on full display Saturday. Rutgers have allowed around 200 yards a game against the run. Meanwhile, Illinois have been respectable running the ball, as they’ve averaged 157.9 yards per game. The Fighting Illini have been waiting a long time for a team to beat up on in the Big Ten. Rutgers affords them that chance, and I see them doing it while covering the spread on Saturday afternoon.