No Love From Vegas

Illini open as 33-point underdogs to Ohio State...

CHAMPAIGN – Illinois isn't getting much love from anybody these days, especially not from Vegas.

According to the line posted by the MGM Mirage, the Illini opened as 32-point underdogs for this weekend's home game against No. 3 Ohio State.

Talk about no respect. For comparison's sake, No. 1 Alabama opened as a 25-point favorite on the road versus Mississippi State (the lowly Bulldogs are 4-5).

The Illini's current 19-game conference losing streak surely had a lot to do with the lop-sided line. It couldn't have helped that Ohio State is next up for a spot in the national title game and needs to take care of business from here on out.

Despite the mounting odds and lack of credibility from outside the program, Coach Tim Beckman says he sees his team making strides.

"I think we have improved," Beckman said. "That's the first thing. I think we are a better football team than we were last year at this time. I would say that."

Beckman pointed to the revamped offense under first-year coordinator Bill Cubit as proof of improvement. Speaking about the defense, the unit that allowed Indiana to pile up 650 yards of offense and 52 points, Beckman didn't have much in the way of explanations. The answer to those problems, he said, must be solved on the recruiting trail.

"These players that we're playing with now have to continue to mature, but it goes through continued recruiting," Beckman said. "I think our coaching staff does a good job with that. I think the University of Illinois is a great sell because of academics, it's as good as there is in the Big Ten. We'll continue to strive on the points that we think are necessary to make this program better."

Recruits can't help against Ohio State. The Buckeyes enter riding the longest winning steak in the nation with 21 straight victories. Going by the numbers, the Buckeyes are as good as Illinois will see this season, leading the conference in total offense (482 yards), points (48.2) and rushing yards allowed (88.2).

Quarterback Braxton Miller leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency with a 175.9 rating and tailback Carlos Hyde is second best in the conference with an average of 132 yards per game.

Its no wonder Vegas hates the Illini.

WHAT: Illinois (3-6, 0-5) vs. Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) – Champaign, Ill. – Memorial Stadium.

WHEN: Nov. 16 – 11:01 a.m. kickoff – ESPN

WHO TO WATCH: Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller. The junior is a dangerous dual threat. He has 1316 yards passing, 410 rushing and 17 total touchdowns to only three interceptions. How do you defend a player like that?

"Oh man, that's a good question," Illini defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "I tell you what, he's dynamic."

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. The senior has enjoyed a resurgent season under offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten in passing yards (268) and completions (22.1) per game and is coming off the best performance of his career, passing for 450 yards against Indiana.

"I think the dedication he's shown through the summer of building his arm strength continues to impress me with what he's doing for us, out there throwing the football," Beckman said. "Schemes help, we can all see that and there's no question about that, but some of the credit has to go to Nathan and what Nathan's been doing personally."

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