1) Our old friend Nathan Scheelhaase will be making his fourth and final career start vs. Ohio State in this one. What kind of season is the senior having?
Scheelhaase has enjoyed quite a turnaround under first-year offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. He's been healthy all season and Cubit's system has catered to Nathan's strengths.
He's leading the Big Ten in passing yards (268.9) and completions (22.9) per game and needs 338 yards to become the second player in school history to hit the 10,000 yard mark.
Last week he had a career high 450 yards passing and needs to average 311 per game to pass Juice Williams for the school record for total yards in a career.
2) What are the strengths of the Illini offense this season?
The passing game is the story under Cubit, who has led the offense to two 600-yard games. That feat happened only nine times previously in school history, so it's pretty clear Cubit was an exceptional hire.
Scheelhaase is working without one of his favorite targets in Ryan Lankford (out with a shoulder injury), but hasn't seen any drop off in production. Senior wideouts Steve Hull and Spencer Harris get the majority of the targets, with tight ends Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse adding versatility and good catching ability when their number is called.
There isn't much going with the running game, but tailback Josh Ferguson is a dual-threat. He can catch and run the ball and has proven to be one of the more exciting playmakers on the team. He ranks second in the country in receiving yards by a tailback, averaging over 50 a game.
3) OK, now the defense, which is coming off giving up 52 points against Indiana. Is there anything the Illini can hang its hat on on that side of the ball, and who are some of the standouts on that side of the ball?
Linebacker Jonathan Brown is a legit Big Ten player and one of the better defensive players in the country. He and sophomore Mason Monheim combine to form a pretty good duo in the middle.
Other than that, there's really no position that can be counted on. The Illini have had historic problems stopping the run. Four tailbacks have set their career highs against Illinois this season. And the secondary hasn't had much success against passes either.
The players continue to give good effort, all the coaches say that. It's just not good enough.
4) What can Illinois point to when it comes to things it needs to do to have a chance in this one?
Force turnovers and score touchdowns every time the Illini are within striking distance.
Ohio State is going to get its yards, that's a given. The Illini have to figure out a way to get the Buckeyes offense off the field before they hit the end zone, whether it be forcing turnovers or field goals.
Last week the unit won the turnover battle against Indiana, getting an interception and a fumble. But that was offset by allowing touchdown plays of 75, 64, 50 and 41 yards. The defense has to at least make Ohio State earn it.
Offensively, the unit has done pretty much all it can to give the team a shot. If a big play or red zone opportunity presents itself, Illinois has to make it. The margin for error is too small for second chances to be counted on.
5) Is there chance head coach Tim Beckman, former OSU assistant, gets another season? What's the vibe around the program given the 19-game Big Ten streak at the moment?
We're certainly not picking up good vibrations here in Champaign right now, that's for sure. The team has shown progress and did better against out of conference opponents, exceeding expectations by beating Cincinnati and hanging with Washington.
None of that matters now though, as fans are tired of losing in the Big Ten. Hey, the strides the team has made offensively have been impressive. The defense is just wretched. That's not going to change anytime soon. All Beckman can do is beat Purdue and make a run at Northwestern in the season finale.
Nobody wants to hear about subtle improvements, nor do they care about statistical enhancements either. Wins are all that matter.
Winning the last two games will definitely bring Beckman back for a third year. Winning one of the two should as well. While I don't think it's a definitely in this scenario, a loss to each gives athletic director Mike Thomas more than enough reason to cut and run early. This conference losing streak will be hard to stomach for another entire offseason.