Betting line favors Illini against visiting Badgers



By Mike Theodore

The fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers, winners of their last 17 games – the longest active streak in the nation – are coming to Memorial Stadium this Saturday. And if the line holds, they’ll be playing as underdogs.

The oddsmakers have made the Illini, winners of four straight, the favorite.

“That favorite stuff, that’s got to be a Wisconsin guy trying to get them upset,” head coach Ron Zook said. “I don’t know how you could have a team that’s been 2-10 the last two years (favored) playing the number five team in the nation.”

Last week the Illini beat a ranked opponent for the first time in 19 attempts.

“All the hard work and all the things we’ve done, we have made progress, but we haven’t worked any harder than anybody else,” Zook said. “But you want (the team) to feel good about what they’ve accomplished but understand we haven’t really done anything yet.”

Wisconsin has trailed or been tied in the fourth quarter of three of its last games and has won all three of them.

Last week, the Badgers escaped at Camp Randall when Taylor Mehlhaff connected on a 22-yard late fourth quarter field goal to win an offense-driven game against Michigan State 37-34. Wisconsin is 2-0 in conference play but has not yet been tested on the road. The Badgers beat the Spartans and Hawkeyes by a combined seven points.

And if the Illini are to pull back-to-back upsets against ranked opponents, the Illinois defensive front will have to contain the Badger’s biggest offensive weapon.

Wisconsin sophomore running back P.J. Hill was named Co-Offensive Big Ten Player of the Week after rushing for 155 yards and two touchdowns last week. It was the 12th 100-yard rushing game of his career and his second time winning the award. Hill is averaging five yards per carry and is sixth in the nation with 133.4 yards per game.

The Illini defense is allowing 95.4 yards per game on the ground and has allowed more than 100 rushing yards twice – both in conference play.

Illinois counters with its own tailback workhorse. Rashard Mendenhall is averaging 122.4 yards and 10.8 points per game, which is ninth in the nation.

As for the Illini air attack, Zook said Juice Williams is still his quarterback despite pulling Williams and substituting Eddie McGee in last week’s win against Penn State.

“Juice did some really good things,” Zook said. “He did some awfully, awfully good things. It was a change that we made to give Juice a chance to settle down. It doesn’t mean we’re making a change. Juice is still our quarterback.”