Head coach Bill Lynch is in his second year at the helm. He was riding high after a 7-6 record and bowl game in his first season. An unusual 8 home game schedule and the return of several bonafide stars gave IU visions of grandeur for 2008. But such was not to be the case.
Indiana has defeated Illinois 3 of the last 5 years, and last year's game in Bloomington came down to the final minutes. Their four losses this year have come from teams with a collective record of 23-5, which helps them maintain confidence levels. If Illinois isn't at the top of its game, the Hoosiers could pull off an upset.
The obvious star for Indiana is Kellen Lewis (6'-1", 185). He injured his ankle last week and is questionable for Saturday. But if he can be in there, he will. Now a senior, Kellen is a threat both running and passing. He is second only to the sensational Antwaan Randle El in career total offense for Indiana. And he is the all-time leader in career touchdown passes and pass completions.
Lewis is also a tremendous threat on the ground when his ankle is sound. Teams who don't respect his speed get burned on scrambles and planned draws and rollouts. He has over 1600 yards rushing the ball in his four seasons.
If Lewis can't go, or even if he can, redshirt sophomore Ben Chappell (6'-3", 229) will see action at quarterback. Indiana has used both simultaneously, moving Lewis to flanker where he can catch passes or run reverses. Chappell has good arm strength and accuracy, so Indiana may not miss alot if Lewis is unavailable.
Senior running back Marcus Thigpen (5'-9", 193) killed Illinois two years ago in Memorial Stadium with 311 all-purpose yards. The track star has blazing speed. Thigpen has three of Indiana's last four touchdowns with a 78 yard rush, a 79 yard reception from Lewis and a 77 yard catch from Chappell. Has over 1000 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning for a career, which is 1st in school history.
IU averages 190 yards on ground, a 5.1 yard average per carry. This ranks them 4th in the Big Ten. Besides Thigpen, Bryan Payton (5'-9", 205), Demetrius McCray (5'-11", 208), and Zach Davis-Walker (5'-8", 185) all have carried the ball this year.
An amazing 17 receivers have caught passes so far. Junior Andrew Means (6'--0", 210), a professional baseball player in the summer, has accumulated 21 receptions for 266 yards; Thigpen has 9 for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns. Junior Ray Fisher (5'-9", 172) has 23 for 179 yards and 3 touchdowns. True freshman Damarlo Belcher (6'-5", 203) has 10 grabs for 173 yards and a touchdown. And starter Terrance Turner (6'-3", 203) has 16 catches for 157 yards.
IU's offensive line has undergone some shuffling due to injuries this year, but four of their starters for the Illinois game are part of the "Seven Blocks Of Limestone" recruited three years ago. They are experienced and accustomed to playing together.
The starting linemen include left tackle Rodger Saffold (6'-5", 306), left guard Andrew McDonald (6'-5", 285), center Pete Saxon (6'-6", 310), right guard Cody Faulkner (6'-5", 312), and right tackle Mike Stark (6'-7", 300). Tight ends Troy Wagner (6'-5", 261) and Max Dedmond (6'-5", 236) are used more for blocking than receiving.
The Indiana defense has some top performers also. Junior defensive ends Greg Middleton (6'-3", 260) and Jammie Kirlew (6'-3", 264) are the bulwark of the defensive line. Middleton was All-Big Ten last year as he terrorized opposing quarterbacks to the tune of 16 sacks. And Kirlew is second in the Big Ten this season with 6 sacks and fourth nationally with 11 tackles for loss.
Senior defensive tackle Greg Brown (6'-2", 304) has started 32 games in his career. He is joined on the inside by Deonte Mack (6'-3", 281). The linebackers are a team strength. Weakside linebacker Will Patterson (6'-1", 235), MIKE Matt Mayberry (6'-2", 238) and strongeside backer Geno Johnson (6'-2", 230) are all among the tackle leaders.
Free safety Nick Polk (6'-0", 218) has caused two fumbles, has one interception and one fumble recovery in 6 games. His fellow safety Austin Thomas (6'-2", 222) is also a good one. They are joined in the defensive backfield by cornerbacks Richard Council (6'-1", 189) and Chris Adkins (6'-1", 185).
Special teams are also a strength for Indiana. Place kicker Austin Starr was All-Big Ten last year and can win games by himself. Redshirt freshman Chris Hagerup is 2nd in the Big Ten with a punt average of 43.1 yards. It would be even higher if his first two games were excluded. His foot is quite a weapon for gaining field position.When Indiana plays its best, it can compete favorably with most teams on its schedule.