People who pay attention to college football are turning back the clock quite frequently this week, trotting out these anecdotes from the history books.
Illinois has not beat Ohio State in Champaign since 1991.
Ohio State has not lost three games in a row since 2004.
And the list goes on and on. Score tallies going back decades. Win loss records from the Carter Administration.
Put down your history books, children. None of that matters.
Prognosticators are calling for a close game this Saturday when the Buckeyes come to Champaign: Illinois is a 4 point favorite. That’s a scant margin, considering the popular wisdom that teams get 3 points for playing at home. Call me a homer, but I don’t see it that way.
I really believe that the prognosticators and the bettors have had their analysis clouded with memories of Ohio State teams of yore. Remembering the halcyon days of sweater vests and double-digit win tallies, many refuse to believe that Ohio State will lose to Illinois, even though they are playing an unbeaten, ranked team on the road. Sorry to quibble, Mr. Dylan: it’s not that the times are a-changin’. The change has already come. The pernicious belief that past events affect future events is well documented, and they don’t call it the gamblers fallacy for nothing.
Setting aside the past and focusing only on this year, I don’t see Illinois as a slightly better team than Ohio State. I see a significantly better team than Ohio State, and one that will match their strengths well to the weaknesses of Ohio State.
So let’s look at this year. Nebraska embarrassed the Ohio State defense last week. There are good reasons to believe Illinois can do the same. The Cornhuskers are averaging 419 total yards per game this year. Illinois averages 447.
Illinois’ defense, especially Tavon Wilson and Whitney Mercilus, have come on strong. Ohio state is averaging just 146 passing yards per game, putting them towards the bottom of the NCAA ranks. Braxton Miller, the OSU QB, is returning off a sprained right ankle suffered in the game against Nebraska.
The Buckeye offense is not explosive, averaging just 24.3 points per game. Illinois averages 34.7. The OSU defense is giving up 17.8 points per game on average, tied with Illinois. The Ohio State number is driven down by a 10-7 loss to Michigan State, and a 42-0 season opener against Akron. They have given up 22 points to Toledo, and 34 points to Nebraska, a team that most pollsters are putting neck and neck with Illinois, both in the Big Ten and nationally.
Call me myopic, but by focusing on this year (not last, not 1987) I see the pieces lining up in favor of Illinois all around. Ask yourself: How confident would you feel with a QB that depends on mobility coming off a sprained ankle to play against a team that is among the nation’s elite in sacking quarterbacks? 4 points?
This has been a much anticipated game, though not necessarily for football reasons. Ohio State’s woes have been manifold, so much so that the constant stream of suspensions has probably turned to background noise for many, obscuring the depth of the problem. You may hear that a player was suspended for five games and think “that’s old news, I already heard that.” Yes and no. The Buckeye’s leading receiver, DeVier Posey, has been suspended for five games for being overpaid at his summer job working for a Buckeye booster. That’s his second five game suspension. This year. That pretty much sums up the Ohio State situation, as the Buckeyes have had 15 different players suspended or held out of games for team, legal, or NCAA violations.
However, Ohio State’s leading rusher, Dan Herron, returns to play against Illinois. He was suspended for last week’s against Nebraska for being overpaid this summer. Having served his five game suspension from the beginning of the season, he’s cleared to play now, making his season debut in the season’s 7th game.
And yet, that wasn’t the end of the news from the suspension wire for the week. Cornerback Dominic Clarke is suspended for discharging a BB gun on campus, resulting in a disorderly conduct arrest. As teams struggle to shut down the Nathan Scheelhaase/A.J. Jenkins tandem threat, the defensive secondary is not where Ohio State can afford to lose players to the criminal justice system. And yet, a remaining defensive back, Bradley Roby, thought it was a good idea to tell reporters that he rated A.J. Jenkins as “decent” and “nothing special really.”
What is going on in Columbus? It didn’t use to be like this. And that’s precisely the point.
Don’t forget to check your ticket and dress accordingly: Saturday is Stripe the Stadium day read all about it here: http://www.fightingillini.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/100411aaf.html), and there will be a high definition recording of your failure if you muff the wardrobe choice.
No matter what you may read, don’t forget: when the teams take the field on Saturday, no one will get any bonus points for past performance. The scoreboard will read 0-0.