If You're Not Last...

The battle to avoid being the worst Big Ten football team is on this weekend in West Lafayette.

CHAMPAIGN – Talk about a swing in perspective.

Last week the Illinois football team was a 30-plus point underdog at home against the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes.

This weekend the Illini travel to West Lafayette, opening as 7-point favorites against a struggling 1-9 Purdue team in it's first season with Coach Darrell Hazel in charge.

Illinois covered against Ohio State, trailing by 12 in the fourth quarter before ultimately losing 60-35.

Carrying the nation's longest conference losing streak with 20 losses in a row, winning by any score Saturday will make Coach Tim Beckman happy.

"Our team has not experienced that yet and that's something that you, as a coach, continue to push on them," he said. "If we do what we can control we'll have a chance to win a football game."

Outsiders are giving Illinois the edge in a Big Ten game for the first time since October of last season, when the Illini were supposed to beat Indiana.

That didn't happen. But given that Purdue's only win this year came against Indiana State, many have long-since pointed to this game as the best bet for Beckman to taste his first conference win. That may be. But Beckman and his players aren't talking any differently than they did last week. The same answers are being provided because the expectations haven't changed.

"I feel like going into every game it should be our time," safety Zane Petty said. "I think going into every game we should have the same mindset, and I think we do."

This is the wiser way to go about it. With tickets going for less than $1 on StubHub, there's no need for hype or bulletin board material. Both teams need a win. The loser is assured of a last place finish in the Big Ten standings.

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase at least acknowledged that younger players on the roster might view this game differently. These players aren't robots after all. They know some opportunities are riper than others. But Scheelhaase cautions that he learned a long time ago that each game requires the same preparation and mentality.

"I think I've realized through the years playing in this conference you've got to go out there and play your best because each and every week there's teams that are able," he said. "We were in the game with Ohio State, the No. 3 team in the country, and nobody before that would have said we would have even had a chance. I know as well as anybody you've got to come ready to go in this conference because each week is going to be a battle and each team that you play is going to give it their all. That's kind of the mindset I have is that I'm going to prepare for the No. 3 team in the country as I will for Purdue and things won't change as far as my day to day, week to week stuff."

WHAT: Illinois (3-7, 0-6) at Purdue (1-9, 0-6) – West Lafayette, Ind. – Ross-Ade Stadium (62,500)

WHEN: Nov. 23 – 11 a.m. kickoff – Big Ten Network

WHO TO WATCH: Scheelhaase. The four-year starter needs 299 yards in each of the last two games to break Juice Williams school record of 10,594 total yards.

Purdue's Akeem Hunt. The junior running back wears No. 1 and he's been option No. 1 for the Boilermakers offense this season.

He has 36 catches and 99 rushes, totaling 690 yards and two touchdowns. For a unit struggling to score points going up against an Illini defense that has had a hard time stopping anybody, Hunt is the make or break guy in the matchup.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories