Ohio State-Illinois positional comparison

h3. Quarterback

Which Braxton Miller will show up Saturday? The true freshman slogged through his first two starts as a Buckeye on 10-of-23 passing for 139 yards but then had Nebraska against the ropes in the third quarter of his third career start. UI’s Nathan Scheelhaase has been as consistent as any in the Big Ten.

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h3. Running Backs

Thousand–yard back Dan Herron makes his season debut for OSU following a pair of suspensions, but don’t expect the powerful yardage-grinder to make a splash right away. When asked how Herron will fit into the rotation of Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall, interim head coach Luke Fickell said Herron “will get some touches,” though he will be on some combination of special teams units. Meanwhile, UI boasts two backs who average more than 6.5 yards per carry.

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h3. Receivers

Until OSU develops any kind of a passing attack, this talent-rich Buckeye group will remain in second gear and off the highway. Currently, TE Jake Stoneburner leads OSU with just 11 catches to go with 133 yards and five TDs as the Miller/Joe Bauserman combination continues to flail. UI’s A.J. Jenkins needs Darius Millines back if he is to continue his torrid pace against top conference secondaries.

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h3. Offensive Line

The Buckeyes offensive line gave up two sacks in the first three games combined and then 13 in games four through six. Nevertheless, the OSU unit averages over 6-foot-6, 307 pounds, and four stars-plus on Rivals.com. Leading the group is the nation’s top center in Mike Brewster (42 career starts).

(Edge: *Ohio State*)

h3. Defensive Line

UI has gotten more production out of its ends (13 sacks) than any other team in the country. Akeem Spence and the interior line, including Glenn Foster, have struggled to produce in the box score but do a good job absorbing blockers. OSU boasts 335-pound sophomore Johnathan Hankins (4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks), tackle John Simon (three passes broken up) and Montini Catholic’s (Lombard, Ill.) own — nose tackle Garrett Goebel (2.5 tackles for loss). The hottest member of the unit is freshman tackle Michael Bennett, a gem of a recruit who had a career-high 2.5 tackles for a loss at Nebraska.

(Edge: *Tie*)

h3. Linebackers

UI and OSU each favor the nickel package. Getting Jonathan Brown back from suspension is huge for UI, which goes back to the young but productive rotation of Ian Thomas, Houston Bates (seven tackles last week), and Brown. OSU has a speedy group led by senior Andrew Sweat (43 tackles, five tackles for loss) and redshirt junior Etienne Sabino (4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks). True freshman Ryan Shazier has worked his way into the mix and will split time with Sweat.

(Edge: *Tie*)

h3. Defensive Backs

Corners Travis Howard and Bradley Roby and safety C.J. Barnett have been highly productive. Each has broken up at least two passes, and there is so much depth that the unit’s most experienced piece (Orhian Johnson) lost his starting spot to sophomore Christian Bryant.

(Edge: *Ohio State*)

h3. Special Teams

UI can’t get its act together, as evidenced by the 99-yard kickoff returned for a touchdown against the nation’s then 117th-ranked kick return unit in Indiana. Mr. Automatic, Derek Dimke, is the lone piece holding this phase of the game together. OSU has three top-notch returners in Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry and Chris Fields.

(Edge: *Ohio State*)

h3. Coaching

OSU’s Luke Fickell is learning the ups and downs of being a major college head coach. The former Buckeyes nose guard has too much talent to let this team run completely off the track, but in the meantime it continues to wobble. UI head coach Ron Zook drew flack for his two-point conversion call last week but coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning continue to draw significant praise.

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h3. X-Factor

If only striping the stadium alone could buoy a team. Count on UI to play up for this game, even if there will undoubtedly be some gut-checking going on; this is the most talented roster the Illini have faced this year. OSU has of course been hampered by suspensions left and right and the ultimate effort statistic, missed tackling, has been an issue too. The Buckeyes whiffed on 27 against Miami earlier this season.

(Edge: *Illinois*)