Fresh off their bye week, Rutgers (1-4; 0-2) travels to take on Illinois (2-3; 0-2) in what is both team’s best chance at a Big Ten win this season. The Illini are currently favored by 2.5 points, but the outcome of this game can clearly go either way. While Chris Ash hasn’t announced a starting quarterback yet, the odds of Kyle Bolin starting are slim. Illinois is bad in defending the run and Rutgers will likely look to exploit that weakness. How the Rutgers secondary holds up against the pass happy Illini, who will likely be without leading rusher Mike Epstein, will be another key factor.
Our staff got together once again to give their takes on what will happen in Saturday’s game. Will Rutgers end a 16 game losing streak in Big Ten play, or will the misery continue? Let’s kick things off!
Bob Cancro: Aaargh! Do I have to? I know what I want to say, I think I know what is possible. But I wince and get a headache every time I have to think about the myriad possibilities of what could (or might not be) accomplished by both teams. A friend sent a message on Facebook saying he smells a Scarlet Knight victory....and he’s a Seton Hall guy! The closed team meeting the other day might mean something (or it might not). But I think it does; it says something about the leadership on the team. It says something that a Kyle Bolin - who might not even play this weekend! - was among those leading it. I think my friend is right; Illinois isn’t Ohio State or Washington. Hell, they’re not even Eastern Michigan. I think the playbook gets simplified, someone goes out as the QB, and Janarion Grant gets to play. It might be the ugliest game you’ll ever watch at the D1 level (although I did watch enough of Terry Shea leading RU and that was ugly!). We break the streak; Rutgers wins. Thu-u-u-u-u-u-h Knights. Win. Rutgers 21 Illinois 13
David Anderson: Prediction for the fight? Pain. Both programs are rebuilding and their fan bases circled this as a must win. Well it still is a must win, so Mr. T’s prediction will hold true in a major way for at least one fan base Saturday afternoon. The Illini defense is simply porous, but the best cure for that is a Rutgers offense that has been one of the worst in the nation dating back to last year. Illinois played Iowa tough on the road before fading in a major way after struggling at home against Nebraska. Rutgers in their one away game looked better than at home. For struggling teams with empty seats, being away from home might actually be a significant advantage. Illinois beat Rutgers in Piscataway last year as they drew first blood with big plays in the run game. This game comes down to the same thing, which team will be able to get momentum on the ground. I think Illinois might come in with a false sense of confidence while Rutgers will not be flat after the bye week. If they are, a quarterback switch will happen quickly even if it goes to a healthy Janarion Grant in wildcat. It’s hard to peg Rutgers for any win, but they just have to get one, right? Rutgers 13, Illinois 12
Dave White: Man, do I wish this game was at HPSS. Illinois plays a ton of freshmen and is a year behind Rutgers in the building process. Gio Rescingo almost flipped the script on them last year at home to find a win. The problem is Rutgers is a team in transition and without a solution quiet yet. Will Bolin play? Lewis? GIO?? I don't know--at least not while I'm writing this. And I hate heading into enemy territory. Both teams are going to be hungry for a win, but only one will get it. Illinois 24 Rutgers 21 in overtime
Mike Voza: The Scarlet Knights travel to the Land of Lincoln this week following a much needed week off. The Chris Ash's gridiron squad had an extra week to prepare and Lovie Smith's squad suffered a 45 - 16 set back at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Rutgers practice was very competitive as starting positions were up for grads based on practice performances.
I am hoping that the very talented but very inexperience Freshman signal caller Johnathan Lewis gets the starting nod under center ( more like in the gun ). There will be growing pains but if you are ever going to go to the Rookie this season perhaps an extra week of preparation will be the best time to do it.
Rutgers dropped a home game to Illinois last season 24 - 7 but I feel Rutgers has the ability to turn the tables on the Illini. Illinois has not been competitive in back to back Big Ten games following victories over Ball State and Western Kentucky to open the season followed by a loss to South Florida. Illinois QB's Jeff George Jr. and Chayce Crouch have yet to throw a TD in conference play and the Illini are ranked dead last in the conference in Offense. RU gets a Big Ten Victory this week! Rutgers 20 Illinois 17.
David Brown: My first article for On the Banks was my bowl prediction. I really thought that Rutgers accumulated enough talent and cohesion to win between 5-6 games. I didn’t think it would be farfetched for Rutgers to reach this goal. However, I was wrong and first one to admit that I overestimated this team’s talent and expectations. Rutgers is in a bad spot right now. Though the defense improved to 50th overall in the country, their offense is still stagnant and uncreative. The Scarlet Knights’ 122nd ranked offense is uninspiring and lack any sign of a spark for excitement. Is it Jerry Kill’s offense or the players? Is it the talent or the play calling? We can debate this issue until the end of time but what ended for me is Rutgers winning another game from this point on. I think this will be their last chance to win a B1G game in 2017. A win will lift this team’s morale for the rest of the season and galvanizing the fans to have some ray of hope.
However, I don’t think Rutgers will win this game. The depleted defense and losing Blessaun Austin will be a factor. The flip-flopping of QBs will cause more harm than good for the offense. Chris Ash says he had a QB competition in the middle of the season which is red flag in my eyes. The inconsistent play on all three phases of the game have been a big concern and the limited action of Janarion Grant puts a damper on special teams. I think Rutgers will be competitive against the Fighting Illini but this will be a close lost like the other games. I see Rutgers losing. Both teams may not have much talent but I just don’t see Rutgers winning another game. As I always end my predictions with a loss, I hope the Scarlet Knights prove me wrong but I want them to prove me wrong this time. Illinois 21 Rutgers 17
T.J. Jurkiewicz: It’s time to find out just which team is the actual worst in the entire Big Ten as the East’s Rutgers Scarlet Knights travel to take on the West’s Illinois Fighting Illini. This is like the reverse version of the Big Ten Championship game and I’ll be watching it on my phone while sitting in Lincoln Financial Field visiting my brother at Temple and watching them take on UConn. Puke. Illinois actually looked ok last week versus Iowa before the wheels fell off in the second half as the Illini outgained Iowa 446-441 on offense. The weakness for Illinois lies in their defense where they have given up 47, 28, and 45 in their past three games. Rutgers is fresh off of a bye and boast only a win versus Morgan State so this is by far our best chance at grabbing a Big Ten win. Rutgers will have the better defense here but a QB must emerge and take reigns of this offense to put some points on the board. The good news is that Janarion Grant is back which opens up the door for Jawuan Harris to defense to help out a depleted secondary unit. This game feels like a coin flip and if the line hits Rutgers +3 or better, I will probably be betting my own money on it. For the purposes of this article I will take the Scarlet Knights and the under small. Rutgers 23 Illinois 21
Aaron Breitman: This should be a hard fought game between two teams that face each other's best chance for a win in conference play this season. I think it really comes down to whether Rutgers can stop the Illinois passing attack and conversely, are the Illini able to stop the running game of the Scarlet Knights. Obviously, both teams have made their fair share of mistakes this season, so the team that plays the cleanest will have a big advantage. Rutgers will want to grind things out on the ground and control time of possession. I think they will have some success there and I believe the difference maker in this game will be Janarion Grant, who Illinois didn't face last season and will be the best player on the field Saturday, in my humble opinion. What I really want to see from this team though is some fight and passion. They’ve been getting beat up for a long time and this is a golden opportunity to break through with a win. They need to show that desire from the opening kick and refuse to lose in this game and get some form of payback for falling to Illinois last season. I think this team will show some heart and coming in rested after the bye week will help in the late stages of the game. Rutgers 27 Illinois 24
Jim Hoffman: This season we have seen “The War Before the Shore,” and will next month have “Battle in the Bronx.” I am terming this game versus Illinois as “The Battle for the Basement.” The loser of this game will be able to carry the mantle of “The Worst Football Team in the Big Ten.” That said, I am an inveterate homer for Rutgers, and absolutely do not want them to win that title. Even #13 is better than the absolute bottom of the barrel. And, being the rose-colored-glasses Rutgers guy, I honestly believe they will win on Saturday out in Champaign. Not by a lot, but they will win. With Grant back in the lineup, the QB starting position back in play, Kiy Hester back in at safety, they will play better, too. I absolutely heard Coach Ash when he said practice last Thursday prior to the game-week press conference was the best practice he had seen. There are good players on this team, and I’m sure they are upset at the team’s performance this (not to mention last) season, and I hope they are getting good and angry. Every player on both teams know the loser of this game will be The Weakest Link. This may be the only saving grace of the 2017 season. As a result, I think Rutgers will pull out a close one in Champaign. Rutgers 30 Illinois 28
Patrick Mella: Illinois played tough for three quarters in a harsh road environment at Iowa last week but ultimately ran out of gas by the fourth quarter. And although their quarterback Jeff George Jr. looked shaky throwing three interceptions, they did run the ball surprisingly well against Iowa totaling 200 yards. Keep in mind they also ran for 251 yards last year against Rutgers, ultimately getting the win 24-7. Don’t get me wrong this is by no means an explosive offense as they rank dead last in total offense as well as scoring offense in the Big Ten. But this is a team Rutgers shouldn’t take lightly, especially on the road. Not all is bad though.
The offense should get a spark with the return of Janarion Grant, who did not play in last season’s loss, and the possibility of improvement at the quarterback position with Giovanni Rescigno or Johnathan Lewis taking over. But my hesitation to pick Rutgers this week is, quite frankly because they don’t do a lot of things well. The running game has struggled, they have not been able to pass the ball effectively, the wide receivers have struggled getting separation and the defense, once thought of as the strength of the team is very banged up.
Illinois have their own issues. George has a propensity for turning the ball over with five total interceptions in just two games. My hope is that the defense can capitalize on this and a new face at quarterback coupled with the return of Janarion Grant will spark the offense not just this week but for the rest of the season. But these round table discussions are about what we think will happen, not what we hope will happen. I need to see change before I can start predicting different results than we’ve seen. Like many of you I’ll be hoping that I’m wrong. Illinois 24 Rutgers 17
RutgersNation: I was pretty close with my prediction last week, hopefully I can make it two weeks in a row! Rutgers fans have no fear, this is the week we turn things around and grab that elusive Big Ten win we have been clamoring for. Both teams are rebuilding, but Rutgers has superior talent on both sides of the ball. The defense has played well all season, despite being put in very tough spots by the offense. Thankfully Kiy Hester returns which will bring some stability and leadership to the secondary, something the defense needs after losing top corner Blessuan Austin. Illinois does not have a potent offense, ranking last in the Big Ten in total offense, and I think the defense will come ready to play. We have left a lot to be desired on offense, but with a likely quarterback change and the return of Janarion Grant, the offense will finally get things going. Rutgers 21 Illinois 10
Out of ten predictions, seven of our contributors picked a Rutgers victory. For what it’s worth, three ESPN writers who cover the Big Ten all chose Rutgers to win as well. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing. What do you think will happen? Let us know in the comment section.