Is this the last time Penn State gets to go up against a Tim Beckman-coached Illinois squad? Despite getting the second(!!) Big Ten win of his tenure this year against Minnesota, Beckman and his 4-6 team will once again miss out on postseason play if they don't win out. Penn State, on the other hand, clinched bowl eligibility last week with a spectacular second-half performance against Temple. Can they improve bowl placement with a win against the Illini and another season-ending upset next week, this time against Michigan State? That's a prediction for another post. Let's get to the staff's predictions for this week's game:
Nick Page: I feel like I say the same thing every time, but...Penn State defense is good enough to win the game with very little help from the offense. Yet another low-scoring game, though I believe the offense may move a little better now that the run game has some confidence. Nothing will shock with me, good or bad, with this offense, though.
Penn State 19-14
Ryan: I'm not ready to declare the Penn State offense has arrived after a tremendous running game against Temple, but Illinois doesn't put up much of a better fight. James Franklin might not have any hatred toward Tim Beckman, but you know the Michael Mauti intensity from '12 will be alive and well this weekend. Illinois freshman receiver Mikey Dudek may be the best skill player that doesn't get talked about in the conference and he'll have his hands full going up against a secondary with a lot of momentum behind them.
Penn State 24-10
bscaff: Illinois is an outstanding academic school, rich with athletic tradition. They claim 5 national championships, 14 Big Ten titles, and 3 Rose Bowl victories. Red Grange and Dick Butkus are Illini.
That Ronald Zook clearly stands as Illinois' most successful coach of the last two decades is stunning. Swimming in a giant river of Big Ten cash, the Illini produced just 1 season with 10 wins since 1995, while giving way to 9 seasons with three or fewer wins, including a 0-11 turd from Ronald Turner. Zook guided Illinois to a Rose Bowl (thanks Rowl Bowl selection committee), back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1989/90, and developed 5 NFL first round draft picks, along with another handful of top 100 selections. That's what Ron Zook accomplished, and Illinois fired him to make Tim Beckman head coach.
Beckman's been lucky to have won two conference games in three years. The roster's almost completely devoid of young talent, save for a small, white wide receiver named Dudek. A once proud defensive tradition has been reduced to a truncated rotation of marginally athletic 2-star leftover recruits up front. And Illinois' offensive line - a position group which produced 8 NFL draft picks in the 10 years before Beckman - is a complete sieve. Why anyone on the planet would pay Tim Beckman anything above the Federal minimum wage to perform any task at all is completely incomprehensible. Yet, there Beckman will be on the sideline Saturday, pulling down a cool $1.6M, as the highest paid employee of the State of Illinois.
Huh? The game? Oh right - the game. I think Penn State will be able to run the ball a bit, and sneak out of Champaign with a seventh win. But even if our Lions struggle on offense, would you bet on Tim Beckman?
Penn State 19-3
Matt: No, the Penn State offense is not 100% healthy after last week's game, but it is certainly off of life support. I don't want to downplay the return of Donovan Smith, but there does seem to be at least some confidence on the line with the return of Miles Dieffenbach. Everyone is back in their most comfortable position, and there's a 5th year senior that has seen it all to point them in the right direction. Next step: Get that Hackenberg guy some confidence.
If you had a pick a Big 10 defense to try an get right against, Illinois is probably at the top of the list. They quite simply can't stop anyone, whether by land or by air. On the other side, the Illini do have some weapons, notably Mikey Dudek, and Wes Lunt's return should give you at least a cursory glance. PSU will force a mistake or two from Lunt, and probably another couple from 7th year senior Reily O'Toole. Those lead to short fields, and points. I'll give the hosts a token touchdown. Sort of a going away gift for Coach Beckman.
Penn State 23-10
Tim A: For all the praise and yearning for Bill O'Brien's offense that PSU fans have been clamoring for all season long, it's easy for them to forget that last year under BOB, PSU jumped out to an early 14-0 lead in the 1st quarter, scoring touchdowns on their first two drives, before gradually blowing that lead by allowing the Illini to rattle off 17 consecutive points before a shakier Sam Ficken barely nailed the field goal that sent the game into overtime where PSU ultimately won. Even though the offense has taken a step back this season, it appears to finally be showing some signs of life over the past couple of weeks. Couple that with the fact that this team is much better defensively than they were a year ago, the Tim Beckman Factor (both his own coaching incompetency and the fact that the seniors on this team clearly remember his shady player poaching tactics), and the chance to ensure another winning record in spite of crippling sanctions, and it's hard not to feel confident in the good guys taking this one. Given that Beckman might have a sliver of hope at saving his job by beating PSU followed by their bitter rival Northwestern the following week to reach six wins and a bowl berth, I'd look for Illinois to pull out all the stops play-calling wise. They very well could keep this close enough where it's not a comfortable win, but it will be hard to feel like they are truly threatening to pull out the win.
Penn State 24-14
Nick Blonde: Wes Lunt and Mike Dudek have some potential between them, but the rest of the Illini? Not so much. That being said, Penn State's anemic offense has managed to keep plenty of less than good teams in games this season and even let them steal some wins along the way. Penn State's defense adds a score just to make sure this week.
Penn State 16-6
Dan: Wes Lunt is a good quarterback. It's a shame he ended up at Illinois when he decided to leave Oklahoma State and a bigger shame that he's had to face injuries this season. But, Wes Lunt won't be enough to save the Illini offense from Bob Shoop's dominant defense. The offense will continue to evolve with the return of Miles Dieffenbach and the emergence of a running game. Sam Ficken will kick a couple more FGs to pad those Groza stats. We'll grab another defensive touchdown. Penn State comes away with a seventh win and the possibility to get an eighth and a Florida bowl when they play Sparty next week.
(Fun stat: Illinois kickers are a combined 2/6 on field goals this year with a long of 23.)
Penn State 30-7
FROM THE PREVIEW:
Jared: Penn State 20-10
FROM THE PODCAST:
Bill: Penn State 27-7
Cari: Penn State 21-10
Adam: Penn State 23-6