Illinois will beat Penn State this season. Or haven't you heard?
Nearly everyone seems to think so. The Nittany Lions' visit to Champaign in week five is THE trap game of the season, the game media and fans alike are calling the most dangerous on the schedule.
The Mirror polled 19 members of the PSU beat during media day, and Illinois was the fad pick of the bunch to upset the Lions.
Why are so many people on the Illini bandwagon? They went 5-7 last season, they have a great recruiter but poor game coach in Ron Zook and they are a consensus pick to finish fifth in the Big Ten.
This is not a great team.
OK, but neither is Penn State.
Don't underestimate Juice's passing skills
Illinois QB Juice Williams threw for 3,173 yards last season. By comparison, the PSU single-season record set by Kerry Collins in 1994 is just 2,679 yards.
Then again, Williams did have 16 interceptions to 22 TD passes, not exactly a great ratio.
I'm picking the Lions to go 11-1 during the regular season, in large part because of the weak schedule. The lone loss will come to Illinois, and here's why:
* Juice Williams: He can be the best player on the field or the worst at any given point, making great throws and runs or turning the ball over with stupid decisions and poor execution.
When Williams is on he can be very good. He, unlike Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, has proven he can move an offense with his arm, and he may light up Penn State's soft, inexperienced secondary.
Williams threw for 451 yards and five TDs in a shootout loss to Missouri last year. The senior has a funky delivery and makes numerous bad throws, but consider this: His 3,173 passing yards in 12 games last season blew away Daryll Clark's 2,592 yards in 13 games for Penn State.
Williams is the primary reason for picking Illinois to win, but he's also capable of giving PSU the game through a bunch of turnovers. He is, without a doubt, the biggest risk/reward player in college football.
* It's not rocket science: Zook makes a lot of questionable decisions on the sidelines, but even he must realize the best way to beat Penn State is by throwing the ball. A lot.
* The Iowa factor: The Lions play three cupcakes to open the season, then face a tough Iowa team in week four. The Hawkeyes are always one of the most physical squads in the Big Ten, and there's a chance the game will leave some PSU players battered and bruised heading into Champaign.
Then again, Illinois plays at Ohio State the week before, so the Illini may be banged up, as well.
* Road weary: The Illinois game will be PSU's first on the road, and the Lions have had major problems away from home for years.
This game very well may knock Penn State out of national championship contention. However, if the Lions win, it should be relatively smooth sailing to the week 10 showdown against the Buckeyes.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.