9-3 (6-2), 2nd Big Ten
10-2 (7-2), 1st Pacific-10
January 1, 4:30pm, ABC
Two seasons ago the Illinois football program hit rock bottom. In 2005 they won two games all year and went winless in the Big Ten, but two years later, Ron Zook has them playing in the Granddaddy of them all. The USC Trojans had high hopes for this season. I think you would be hard pressed to find a publication that did not have the Trojans playing in the national title game. But a shocking loss to Stanford and later to Oregon derailed those thoughts. Now the Trojans are healthy, and looking to show that they are the best team in the country.
Illinois is a very young team that runs the spread offense. Their quarterback, Juice Williams, has had some tough times during the year but he had a breakout game in the win at Columbus against Ohio State. Williams threw for over 1400 yards with 13 touchdowns, but he made some mental mistakes which cost his team as he threw 10 interceptions. He is a threat running the ball too, gaining 774 yards on the ground, scoring 7 touchdowns that way. The leading rusher for the Illini and the Big Ten is Rashard Mendenhall who ran for over 1500 yards and 16 touchdowns. Freshman Arrelious Benn is their top receiver and a threat in the return game that the Trojans have to account for. On defense, the Illini have the 23rd ranked rushing defense and 73rd ranked passing defense. The passing defense is going to have their hands full with the Trojans, and the plethora of quality receivers.
The Trojans had a rough year, with most of their offensive players at one time or another missed games due to injuries. In 9 games John David Booty threw for 2100 yards and 20 touchdowns. The receivers I was referring to are Fred Davis, Patrick Turner, and Vidal Hazelton who have combined for 1900 yards and 14 touchdowns. On the ground, the Trojans have not been that effective, as their leading rusher,Chauncey Washington, only has 894 yards. The strength of USC's defense is how they play the run, and they are going to be going up against the 5th ranked rushing offense. The Trojans are 4th in rushing defense only giving up 79 yards per game, 2nd in total defense, and 3rd in scoring defense only giving up 15 points per game.
I expect Ron Zook to really play the no respect card. No one thinks that Illinois has a shot in the game, and really who can blame them. Yes, they did beat Ohio State, but they did not look that spectacular throughout most of the season. This team is young and has never been in a game of this magnitude before. Watching USC's last two games against Arizona State and UCLA, you saw a team that was healthy and determined to show the country how good they really are. Illinois will put out a good effort against the Trojans, better than Michigan did last year, but USC is just too talented and experienced for the Illini to over come. USC 31 Illinois 16
Picking Illinois to Win
Picking USC to Win
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