Sorry to say, but the Illini’s descent to the middle of the pack starts Saturday.

Actually, I’m a Northwestern fan, so I’m not sorry at all. But here’s the not-so-dispassionate truth: A year removed from its Rose Bowl run, Illinois came into this season expecting to compete for the Big Ten title. After a 2-1 start, it’s hard to see how they’re up to it. In their opening game they moved the ball and scored six touchdowns against a really good Missouri team, but they also surrendered 52 points. Their defense was a bit tougher against the slightly-less-mighty Eastern Illinois Panthers, but the whole team looked like it went home at halftime in a 20-17 win over Louisiana-Lafayette two weeks ago.

Now they get to take on scary looking Penn State. Granted, none of the Nittany Lions’ first four opponents has a winning record, but Joe Paterno’s squad didn’t even pretend to mess around with any of them for more than a few downs, and they won’t with the Illini Saturday night either. Illinois quarterback Juice Williams will make some plays, but I don’t see the Illinois defense finding ways to stuff the Penn State o-line—especially at Happy Valley. Penn State takes it by at least 10.

Last week I went a pretty average 6-2—Iowa fumbled away the upset at Pitt I’d anticipated, and while I saw Indiana having a little trouble with Ball State, I didn’t imagine the ass-kicking that ensued. It gets more interesting this Saturday with the start of conference play—the league looks pretty average, but no one’s awful, so over the next few weeks there’ll be lots of close games between teams fighting for the right to spend the holidays in Detroit.

The rest of this week’s lineup: 

  • Iowa scurries past Northwestern.
  • Michigan State flattens Indiana.
  • The Ohio State sticks it to Minnesota.
  • Purdue ekes one out over Notre Dame.
  • Wisconsin runs through Michigan.