OSU Schedule Countdown: No. 9

With Ohio State's fall camp just weeks away, BuckeyeSports.com is ranking the most intriguing games on the schedule. Following a three-way tie at 10th between Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, Illinois is next up at No. 9.

Illinois could potentially be a bowl team for a second straight year, but that isn't exactly a world-beating accomplishment given its non-conference slate and its spot in the weaker West division. Even though the Illini have to host Ohio State, they miss out on facing Michigan State and Michigan this season.

Outside of linebacker Mason Monheim (who isn't even a slam-dunk himself), Illinois doesn't currently have anyone on its roster who could be construed as a first-team All-Big Ten talent. It's realistic to expect quarterback Wes Lunt to improve upon last year's solid showing (153-241 for 14 touchdowns and three interceptions), but the Illini aren't exactly teeming with talented wideouts for him to pair up with. Illinois could do well enough to save Tim Beckman's job yet again, but that will be more a reflection of who they play than who they are. At the end of the day, that's not enough to generate excitement over what should be yet another blowout win for the Buckeyes.

No. 9: Illinois
Nickname: Fighting Illini
Conference: Big Ten
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (60,670)
Head coach: Tim Beckman (fourth year, 12-25)
Record against Ohio State: 30-67-4
Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
2014 record: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten)
Scout.com recruiting rankings: No. 34 (2015), No. 71 (2014), No. 41 (2013), No. 68 (2012), No. 40 (2011)
Who to watch: P Ryan Frain

Why This Matchup Could Be Higher:
The best trophy in sports is awarded to the winner. Can't overlook that aspect.

Why This Matchup Could Be Lower:
Illinois isn't much better than teams like Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, so the upside that comes with the prestige of conference play could really be counterbalanced by the knowledge that it's kind of shameful a team with these resources could be so bad. On top of that, the games between these two teams have just been so bad lately. Last year's 8 p.m. kickoff in November for a 55-14 Ohio State win felt like the moment the night game obsession jumped the shark. Luckily the even later date this year should prevent anything later than 3:30 p.m., but there's probably no way to alter the competitive canyon between the two teams.

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