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Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Minnesota Gophers: Preview, predictions and prognostications

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When: Sat. Nov 21; Noon ET
Where: Minneapolis, MN; TCF Bank Stadium (50,720)
TV: ESPNews
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 35-29-3
Last Meeting: Illinois won 28-24 (Nov. 25, 2014)
Line: Minnesota -7

It’s that time of year when one game can make the difference between a good season and a disappointing one. Such is the case in Minneapolis where both teams are hovering around mediocre close to .500. Tracy Claeys is still looking for his first Big Ten victory since being named the full-time head man. His teams have played competitive against quality competition, but the Gophers have yet to break through.

For interim head man Bill Cubit, a win would move him closer to having the temporary tag removed from his name. His teams have played fairly well considering all the road construction signs in and around the program, but there’s a  lack of a statement win, and a loack of consistency. It’d be nice to makek progress towards that Saturday.

1 Burning Question: Bowling anyone?

Neither team has yet to qualify for a bowl, but both still can. Illinois can do so with a win today or next week, while the Gophers need to sweep their last two here and then next week against Wisconsin. There is an outside chance that a 5-7 team can get into a bowl, but that won’t be a measure of success for both programs looking to take a step forward.

2 Key Stats:

— 140.7. That’s the amount of yards rushing for Minnesota per game. While it doesn’t sound horrible, it’s not enough to control games like the Gopher teams of the past. There’s a lack of play-making ability on the outside, so it’s crucial for them to try to get some tough yards on the ground to try and move the chains.

— 131.9. That’s also the average yards rushing per game on the ground, but for Illinois. That number has been so much better with Josh Ferguson in the mix, so his presence needs to create that balance on the ground to loosen up a good Minnesota secondary.

3 Key Players:

Josh Ferguson, Illinois RB: He’s the engine that makes the Illini motor go. With him, Illinois has a game-breaker that can not only get yards on the ground, but who can be a matchup nightmare out in space. He could be the difference in this one.

Mitch Leidner, Minnesota QB: The numbers haven’t been great for Leidner, but he’s been improving over the last few weeks, creating some semblance of a passing game for a Gopher team that has had issues moving the ball. In a game that will likely be a gound affair, the quarterback that can have the most productive day through the air, might will his team to a win. Leidner has had the better go of it the last few weeks than his counterpart Wes Lunt.

K.J. Maye, Minnesota, WR: Part of the reason Leidner has experienced a bump in production is because of the emergence of K.J. Maye. If you watched the Minnesota/Michigan game, you saw what type of hands and play-making skills the former running back can display, and at crucial times. He might be big on third downs.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Josh Ferguson will go for over 100 yards on the ground, and over 50 receiving. He’s going to be featured big time in this one both swinging the ball out wide and taking handoffs to make plays and keep the chains moving. He’ll have a big day.

— It’ll be a low scoring affair. It’s late November in Minneapolis, so there’s no surprise that the weather is crisp. In November in the north, passing becomes much more difficult meaning both teams will likely keep it on the ground. Both offenses will be fairly predictable meaning real-estate will be tough to find. Scoring will be at a premium.

— We’ll see at least three interceptions in the game. Both teams will be forced to throw at times in third and long situations, and with the predictability and weather, some mistakes will be made.

— Special teams will win the game. This game will be close throughout with both teams looking to find lanes to run in a slug ’em out type of game. Field position will be huge to swing the balance in this one with little offense. A big return, a field goal, or a block in the kicking game will prove vital.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Minnesota 27-21 (78-20 overall; 46-51 ATS)
Dave: Minnesota 34-23 (81-17 overall; 51-45 ATS)
Greg: Minnesota 27-17 (74-26 overall; 54-42 ATS)
Matt: Minnesota 31-28 (79-19 overall; 56-40 ATS)
Phil: Minnesota 22-20 (33-12 overall; 15-27 ATS) *joined in Week 5

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Badgers football

Every Big Ten West division team’s biggest question following spring football

Spring camps are finished, what questions remain for teams in the Big Ten West division?

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Michigan has arrived back in Ann Arbor, meaning spring football is finally and officially done across the Big Ten. College football’s annual rite of passage is also done, and there is plenty of curiosity to go around.

That means it is time to take stock of where things sit heading in to the summer workout sessions and the season ahead. It is also the perfect time to really dive deep in to what we did and didn’t see this spring.

Let’s start with the Big Ten West division, which had two new head coaches and another head coach with his first real spring camp in the books. Minnesota got the P.J. Fleck era under way and Purdue welcomed Jeff Brohm’s high-flying offensive attack to the division. Meanwhile, Illinois’ Love Smith finally got to run a full spring practice without rushing things.

Which teams answered questions, which ones have big-time questions to answer this fall? Let us take a look at every Big Ten West division teams’ biggest question post-spring football.

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Badgers Basketball

2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special

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The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?

Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.

So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.

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Gophers Football

Minnesota Gophers at Illinois Fighting Illini: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

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When: Saturday, Oct. 29; noon ET
Where: Champaign, Ill.; Memorial Stadium (60,670)
TV: BTN
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 36-29-3
Last Meeting: Minnesota won 32-23 (2015)
Line: Minnesota (-5)

Nothing says Big Ten West like a supposedly sleepy late October matchup between the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Minnesota Gophers, huh?

Don’t let that perception fool you though, because this game is very important to the Gophers who are looking at bowl eligibility with a win. It also would keep their hopes in the Big Ten West division alive too.

As for the Illini, this game is as close to must-win as possible, especially if Lovie Smith wants to take anything positive from his crazy first season at the helm of this program. Can either side get what they want in this early matchup?

 

1 Burning Question: Who Will Play at QB for the Illini?

Wes Lunt appears healthy for the Illini, but the depth chart lists not one, but three potential starting quarterbacks for this matchup against the Gophers. Could it be sophomore Chayce Crouch or freshman Jeff George Jr.?

Let’s just say the only mystery here is just how healthy Lunt is, because Crouch and George have been downright awful behind center in their opportunities so far this season. George went just 4 of 15 for 95 yards and a touchdown against Michigan, while Crouch is just 18 of 32 for 249 yards and one touchdown to one interception.

Not exactly the stuff of confidence-building for a team needing a big shot in the arm on the offensive side of the football. So, if Lunt is even close to ready, you better believe he should be starting for the here and now.

2 Key Stats:

— 8. That is the number of fumble recoveries the Illini have in 2016. It also happens to lead the Big Ten and rank inside the top 10 nationally. Minnesota has had some issues with fumbling the football, coughing it up seven times but only losing three of them. If the Illini want to win, it has to find a way to make the Gophers turn the ball over and the stats suggest that is wholly possible.

—1. That is the number of first half touchdowns the Gophers have allowed in Big Ten play. If one is wondering how an offensively inconsistent team like Minnesota can still have five wins to its name, this would be one huge reason. Teams tend to dig themselves holes they can’t get out of by being shut out in the first half. In fact, the Gophers have allowed a grand total of 16 points to Big Ten teams in the first half all season long and just 44 points to all teams on the year. So, if Illinois wants to win…it better find a way to do something most teams haven’t been able to do — score in the first half.

3 Key Players:

Damarius Travis, Minnesota S: Few safeties have been as big of a ball hawk as Travis has in the back of the Gophers defense. However, he is also equally impressive against the run and that is where he may be needed most in this game. That’s because the Illini have some big play running backs in their backfield. Travis is going to likely need to be on his game in space, making one-on-one tackles for the Gophers to stay in this game. Opponents are rushing for just 3.7 yards per game against the Gophers, and Travis has been a help in that area.

Kendric Foster, Illinois RB: One way to combat the inability of opponents to score in the first half? Try a big play running back like Kendric Foster. The team has four runs of over 50 yards on the season and Foster had a pair of them against Murray State. He also is adept at not losing yards, only losing eight yards all season long and gaining 429 yards on 70 carries so far this season. While slugging it out on the ground could be to Minnesota’s advantage in terms of the tempo, Foster is the best weapon Illinois has and needs to test that Gophers rush defense.

Mitch Leidner, Minnesota QB: After sitting out the Maryland game, Leidner was back in against Rutgers last week. However, he wasn’t exactly a game-changer in terms of passing with just 11 completions (on 18 attempts) for 156 yards and an interception. For a senior, Leidner still struggles to get himself or his team going unless it’s a critical situation. He’s only passed for over 200 yards twice this season and has five touchdowns to five interceptions. Illinois defense has been prone to a few big plays in the passing game, but Leidner may be most useful in this game on the ground, where he has four touchdowns and 181 yards on 47 carries for the year.

4 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Minnesota 31-10
Dave: Minnesota 24-17
Phil H.: Minnesota 27-20
Philip R-R.: Minnesota 27-17
Zach: Minnesota 28-24

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Every Big Ten West team’s most important recruit in 2015 class

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National signing day is done and dusted, fax machines are back to collecting dust until next first Wednesday of February. We’ve already discussed the biggest recruits for every Big Ten team, but just because they were the biggest doesn’t make them the most important.

Sometimes it’s the 2-star guy who is a developmental project that can turn the class in to a winner. Other times it’s the 5-star stud that everyone was raving about, and there are players in between who become the most important member of a class. Heck, sometimes it just means there’s a massive need at a specific position.

With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the most important recruit for every Big Ten west team.

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