Week 5 – Penn State at Illinois

Posted Sep 27, 2012

Week 5 CFN Fearless Prediction – Penn State at Illinois

Penn State (2-2) at Illinois (2-2) Sept. 29, 12:00, ESPN

Here's The Deal: Illinois is at a crossroads. After getting its doors blown off at home by Louisiana Tech, and with the 45-14 loss to Arizona State still fresh, this becomes the moment that the Illini can use to define what the rest of the season might be like. The Leaders is there for the taking with Wisconsin struggling so badly and with Purdue coming to Champaign, but first is the date with a resurgent Penn State team that rebounded from a tough 0-2 start with two very nice, very sound wins over Navy and Temple. There's nothing to play for, but the team continues to play hard and now gets to try to play the spoiler role with Northwestern up next. The defense has been solid, the passing game shockingly decent, and the overall play good enough that the team should be 4-0 instead of 2-2. But the Nittany Lions do have two losses, and with a slew of tough games still to deal with, a winning record isn't guaranteed – at least it's not without a win this week. Illinois was the last game before the situation blew up, and it was also the last time Joe Paterno was the head coach with Penn State not winning 10-7, at least according to the NCAA.

Why Penn State Might Win: Apparently, you and a few close friends can throw at will on the Illinois defense lately. Shockingly, Western Michigan and star quarterback Alex Carder struggled a bit in the opener with 265 yards and three picks, but Arizona State threw at will and Louisiana Tech did pretty much whatever it wanted. The bigger problem for the Illini has been an offense that can't seem to stop giving the ball away, losing five fumbles against the Bulldogs last week and throwing three picks against Arizona State. Since the loss to Ohio, Penn State has turned the ball over just once.

Why Illinois Might Win: Who has Penn State faced that can throw? Ohio's Tyler Tettleton threw for 324 yards and two scores – and won. Virginia's Michael Rocco threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns – and won. Nathan Scheelhaase is supposedly still the main man after coming off his ankle injury, completing 8-of-11 passes for 85 yards and a score with a pick before getting benched for Reilly O'Toole. Whoever is in should be able to throw just enough to keep the Penn State secondary guessing. Defensively, for all the problems the Illini have had, they're going to be helped out by a strong punting game that's among the best in the country. Penn State is last in the Big Ten averaging a pathetic 31 yards per punt while Justin DuVernois and the Illini are averaging 41 yards per kick. The Nittany Lions can't do much with too many long fields.

What To Watch Out For: Matt McGloin is playing well. The Penn State senior quarterback was considered a liability coming into the year, but under head coach Bill O'Brien he has been steady and effective throwing for 318 yards and a score against Temple and lighting up Navy for 231 yards and four scores. He's making the easy midrange throws and isn't forcing anything that's not there. After a disastrous 9-of-24, 98-yard, one pick day against the Illini last year, this is his chance to make amends. Right now he's carrying the offense and he needs to without any options behind him. Backup Paul Jones went from backup quarterback to tight end to leaving the team.

What Will Happen: The return of Derek Day and Bill Belton from injuries will give Penn State a bit of an offensive balance to take the heat off McGloin. If Illinois wins the turnover battle it'll win the game. It's not going to win the turnover battle.

CFN Prediction: Penn State 24 … Illinois 21
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Illinois -1.5 O/U: 42
Must Watch Rating (5 – Ryder Cup 2012, 1 – SNL Thursday Weekend Update): 3