2011 Wisconsin Badgerrs Football

Big Ten football fans

Wisconsin Badgers @ Illinois Fighting Illini Football Preview


Two full weeks ago, before the Penn State scandal broke; the Wisconsin Badgers were two full games out of the lead in their division and were looking at a bleak future. It’s remarkable how fortunes can change in such a short period of time.

Penn State lost its iconic coach (and a lot more off the field), its focus, and its leverage in the Big Ten race. The Nittany Lions fell to Nebraska on a day when it was hard to concentrate on football. Ohio State also suffered an important loss in overtime at Purdue, clearing the deck of a team that defeated Wisconsin earlier this season. As a result, what once seemed like a very hard road is now blessedly simple for Wisconsin. A team that needed a lot of help to get back in the Big Ten title chase has received exactly what it was hoping for. With a fresh outlook, a wobbly team can get back on the beam and reach the summit in its native habitat.

The Badgers will try to take another step toward the Big Ten Championship Game when they travel to Champaign, Illinois, to take on the Fighting Illini on Saturday. Wisconsin (8-2, 4-2) can bag the Big Ten Leaders Division title and reach the inaugural conference title clash with wins in its final two regular-season games.

Wisconsin has scored 104 points in its last two games. Last week, the Badgers hammered Minnesota 42-13 in Minneapolis. Wisconsin boasts the nation’s fourth-ranked scoring offense, and sixth-ranked scoring defense. Badgers running back Montee Ball has rushed for 1,242 yards and a conference-record 23 touchdowns. Quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown 25 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. He has completed 73 percent of his pass attempts.

Illinois (6-4, 2-4) has lost four games in a row after last week’s 31-14 home loss to Michigan. The Illini didn’t cross midfield until late in the third quarter. Illinois has been held to 14 points or fewer in each of its four losses. The Illini started the season 6-0, but have not won since Oct. 8. Head coach Ron Zook is under heavy scrutiny because of his team’s recent struggles.

The Illinois defense has been a bright spot this season, ranking 19th nationally allowing 19 points per game. However, with the offense in a state of freefall, the defense’s efforts have acquired less value as the season has progressed or, to be more precise, regressed for the Illini.

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase suffered an ankle sprain early in the loss to Michigan, but did not miss practice and will be at full speed Saturday. Linebacker Trulon Henry will miss the rest of the regular season after being shot in the hand during a fight at a party last Sunday morning. The unfortunate event undercuts Illinois, and it only adds to the sense of gloom surrounding a program that is cratering as it approaches the finish line in 2011.

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By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer