CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Illinois looks to take a big step towards bowl eligibility when it hosts Rutgers on Saturday in Big Ten play. The Fighting Illini rode the wave of momentum from their thrilling 24-23 upset win over No. 17 Wisconsin on Oct. 19 to a 24-6 road victory against Purdue in Week 9 to climb back to .500, and they hope to move on the cusp of earning a bowl bid by posting their first three-game winning streak since 2011.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Illinois - 20.5
"To put two Big Ten games together like that is big for our program," Illinois coach Lovie Smith told reporters. "We've been talking about making improvements and seeing signs of a good football team." Rutgers stepped out of conference and ended a six-game losing skid by knocking off Liberty 44-34. The Scarlet Knights, who were seven-point underdogs to the FBS newcomers after being outscored 237-30 during their losing streak, set a new season high for points against the Flames, and hope to take another step in the right direction by claiming their first Big Ten road victory since Oct. 14, 2017. "I was really happy to see them have the opportunity to go out and celebrate and enjoy a win," Rutgers interim coach Nunzio Campanile told reporters. "Now we're getting ready to play a pretty good Illinois team that seems to be on a roll and getting better."
ABOUT RUTGERS (2-6, 0-5 Big Ten)
Johnny Langan was named the Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week after throwing for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns while rushing for 118 to become the first Scarlet Knights quarterback to top the century mark on the ground since Sam Mudie in 1961. Isaih Pacheco added 107 rushing yards and two touchdowns while Eddie Lewis and Isaiah Washington each caught the first touchdown passes of their college careers. Rutgers posted season highs in first downs (25), rushing yards (271), offensive plays (76) and sacks (three) in the win over the Flames.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (4-4, 2-3)
Brandon Peters was limited to 26 yards on 3-of-6 passing in rainy conditions in West Lafayette, but the Fighting Illini racked up a season-high 242 rushing yards, including a career-best 131 from senior Dre Brown. Reggie Corbin added 47 yards and a touchdown to overtake Keith Jones (2,194) for 12th place on the program’s all-time rushing yards list with 2,212 as Illinois registered their first conference road win in over a year. Jamal Woods is questionable after suffering an unspecified injury against Purdue while fellow defensive lineman Oluwole Betiku Jr. could return to the lineup after sitting out a game with an ankle issue.
1. Illinois leads the nation in fumble recoveries (13).
2. Rutgers has lost 17 consecutive Big Ten games.
3. Fighting Illini LB Dele Harding is ranked fifth nationally in tackles per game (11.8).
PREDICTION: Illinois 35, Rutgers 16