After picking up an important win last week, the no. 16 Michigan Wolverines will look for their third straight win when they visit the Illinois Fighting Illini this weekend. Game time is set for noon EST on Saturday, October 12 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. The game is being televised nationally on ABC.
According to the Week 7 college football odds, Michigan is favored by 21.5 points on the road. The over/under for the contest is set at 49 points.
Michigan’s lopsided loss to Wisconsin a few weeks ago is slowly becoming a distant memory. The Wolverines have done well to move on from that loss, beating Rutgers 52-0 and then taking out Iowa 10-3 last week. Those two wins have settled everyone down and kept Michigan in contention inside the Big Ten East and perhaps in the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The good news is that the Wolverines have a chance to play their way into the Big Ten title game and the CFP. The bad news is that they’ll have to win out against a difficult schedule. Michigan will play three of their next four games on the road, a stretch that includes a pair of top-10 teams in Penn State and Notre Dame. The Wolverines can make some noise with wins in those games, but they can’t afford to take teams like Illinois lightly. They need to win those kinds of games and do so convincingly.
As for the Illini, they are just hoping to reach a bowl game in 2019, something that head coach Lovie Smith may need to do in order to keep his job. Illinois got off to a promising start this season, beating Akron and UConn to get to 2-0. However, the Illini has suffered three straight losses to Eastern Michigan, Nebraska, and Minnesota to fall to 2-3 on the year.
That means Illinois has to win four of their last seven games to reach a bowl game. With three ranked teams left on their schedule, there isn’t much margin for error unless the Illini can pull off an upset. Hosting a Michigan team that could be looking past them could be their best chance to pull off a surprise win and turn their season around.
Of course, it’s been a full decade since the last time Illinois beat Michigan. The Illini surprised the Wolverines in both 2008 and 2009. But those are the only wins Illinois has over Michigan this century. The Wolverines have won the last four meetings with the Illini, including a 41-8 thumping in Ann Arbor the last time these teams got together in 2016.
Michigan hasn’t exactly earned my trust based on their play this season. But I don’t have much faith in Illinois after a dreadful performance last week. Talent-wise, the Wolverines should be able to win this game easily. I’ll give Michigan the benefit of the doubt and trust that they’ll take care of business without looking ahead, enabling them to cover the 21.5-point spread.
Illinois is hoping to have the services of Michigan transfer Brandon Peters at quarterback this week. Peters is questionable to play after getting knocked out of last week’s loss to Minnesota. If he doesn’t play, the Illini are in big trouble against the Michigan defense. But even if Peters does play, it may not matter. He was just 5 for 10 with an interception against Minnesota before leaving the game. Peters was also 9 for 22 for just 78 yards the previous week against Nebraska. It’s not all on him, but those numbers don’t inspire much confidence ahead of a game against Michigan.
The Illinois rushing attack has actually carried the offense for most of the season. Reggie Corbin has picked up where he left off after rushing for 1,000 yards last year. Dre Brown has also emerged as a solid backup. But the Fighting Illini may not be able to rely on running the ball against Michigan. After getting shredded on the ground against Wisconsin, the Wolverines have cleaned up their act in the front-7. A week ago against Iowa, the Wolverines allowed just one total rushing yard, helped along by eight sacks. I wouldn’t rule out a similar effort against Illinois this week.
Of course, the key to Michigan covering the spread in this game is their offense. Jim Harbaugh remains optimistic despite the Wolverines scoring just 10 points against Iowa last week. In fairness, the Michigan offense steamrolled Rutgers the previous week, putting 52 points on the scoreboard. I will concede that the Illinois defense is a little better than the Rutgers defense. The Illini will also have the home crowd behind them. However, Illinois has given up at least 40 points in their two Big Ten games, so it’s reasonable to think Michigan can post a similar amount.
In the end, I expect the Wolverines to push around Illinois as they did to Rutgers two weeks ago. It may not end up being quite as bad as 52-0. But the Illinois offense may not produce much, which makes me feel good about eating the 21.5 points and leaning toward Michigan to cover.