The no. 23 Wisconsin Badgers will try to recover from last week’s loss when they stay home this week to host the Illinois Fighting Illini. Game time is set for noon EST on Saturday, October 20, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. The game can be seen nationally on FS1.
The Badgers opened the week as 27-point favorites, although that line has come down slightly so that Wisconsin is now favored by 26 points. Click here to see a full list of the college football odds for this week’s game.
Wisconsin had their lunch handed to them last week against Michigan, losing 38-13. It was their second loss of the season, dropping them to 4-2 overall. In fact, it was almost bad enough to knock the Badgers out of the top-25, although they are still clinging to the no. 23 spot in the polls.
The good news is that Wisconsin is still in control of their own destiny inside the Big Ten West division. A spot in the College Football Playoff is off the table, but the Badgers can still chase a conference championship. If Wisconsin can win the rest of their games, there’s nothing that can keep the Badgers out of the Big Ten Championship Game. However, Wisconsin’s schedule includes road trips to Northwestern and Penn State, and so they surely can’t afford to stumble at home against Illinois.
Meanwhile, the Illini are also hoping to recover from a lopsided last week loss last week. Illinois fell to Purdue 46-7 in front of their home fans. However, the Fighting Illini are still 3-3 at the midway point in the season, so there is plenty of time for Lovie Smith and company to finish strong and perhaps get to a bowl game. Of course, with four of their final six games away from home, Illinois is facing an uphill battle.
The Illini are also fighting an eight-game losing streak against Wisconsin. Illinois hasn’t beaten the Badgers since 2007. They also lost 48-3 during their last trip to Madison in 2016, so a win on Saturday would be a huge turnaround from recent history in this series.
To be honest, I’m a little reluctant to trust Wisconsin to cover a spread of nearly four touchdowns. But this pick is more of an indictment of Illinois. They were a mess last week in a game that should have been at least a little more competitive. I don’t see how things can possibly get better for the Fighting Illini at Camp Randall this weekend. I’ll swallow the points and look for the Badgers to cover.
The biggest problem for Illinois is their complete inability to stop the run. They have no seniors on the defensive line. As a result, they are too young, inexperienced, and light to hold their own in the trenches against Big Ten teams. Even though Purdue did most of their damage through the air last week, they still had an easy time running for over 200 yards. When Illinois played Penn State earlier this year, the Nittany Lions had close to 400 yards rushing, averaging an incredible 7.6 yards per carry.
Based on that history, I have to think that the Badgers will have an easy time running against the Illinois defense. Wisconsin is sixth nationally in rushing, averaging just under 270 yards per game. Jonathan Taylor has quietly rushed for 950 yards in six games, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. He’s also rushed for over 100 yards in every game this season, even doing so last week against Michigan’s defense. I just don’t see any way that Illinois will have an answer for the Wisconsin rushing attack. If quarterback Alex Hornibrook has a good game as well, the Fighting Illini could really be in trouble.
The only hope for the Illini could be scoring enough points to keep pace with Wisconsin. Unfortunately for Illinois, scoring has not been their forte this season. Against bad teams, they’ve done fine, but they’re averaging less than 17 points per game in their games against South Florida, Penn State, and Purdue, all of which they lost. With all due to respect to Purdue, the Boilermakers are not the kind of defensive powerhouse that should have been able to limit Illinois to just seven points. That points to something being wrong with the offense.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, does have the kind of defense that should be able to keep the Illinois offense under wraps. Last week’s loss to Michigan notwithstanding, the Badgers have given up no more than 24 points in a game this year. More importantly, Illinois may be the worst offensive team the Badgers have faced since giving up three points to Western Kentucky in their season opener.
After last week’s embarrassing loss, I expect the Badgers to be at their best this week and looking to take out some frustration on a helpless Illinois team. Wisconsin should know that they can’t take any team lightly from here on out, so I’m expecting a dominating rushing attack and an aggressive defense. Even with a spread of nearly four touchdowns, I’ll lean toward Wisconsin to cover.