Is Illinois going to win a Big Ten game this season?
The best remaining chance to avoid a winless conference slate came and went Saturday, the Fighting Illini losers against the visiting Indiana Hoosiers by a 24-14 score in Champaign.
Lovie Smith won just two league games last season, his first as the Illinois head football coach. And with two ranked teams the only foes left on this year’s schedule, it looks like he’ll be moving backward in Year 2.
The Illini were without the services of young quarterback Cam Thomas on Saturday, meaning Jeff George Jr. was pressed into full-time quarterbacking duties. He threw a pair of late interceptions in addition to two second-half touchdown passes. But Illinois was without a point at halftime, down two touchdowns after punting on all seven of its first-half possessions.
The Illini got within three points early in the fourth quarter, but after Indiana scored a touchdown to go up by 10 with six minutes remaining, Illinois turned the ball over there straight times, George fumbling and then throwing his two picks in a mad dash to make up that late deficit.
Illinois failed to gain 300 yards of offense and had a paltry 33 rushing yards.
And so now Smith’s team faces the very real possibility of an 0-9 conference record with Ohio State and Northwestern all that’s left on the schedule. The Buckeyes were smoked at Iowa last weekend but pulverized Michigan State on Saturday by a 48-3 score, making Urban Meyer’s squad a terrifying matchup once more. Meanwhile, the Wildcats entered the College Football Playoff rankings earlier this week and entered Saturday’s game against Purdue with three straight overtime victories.
Illinois has dropped eight straight games after starting the season with back-to-back non-conference wins over Ball State and Western Kentucky. The Illini head into the final two games of the season with a 2-8 overall record and an 0-7 mark in Big Ten play.