Undefeated Buckeyes a big challenge for Illini football

By Peter Bailey-Wells, Sports editor

Insert cliché about off-the-field problems here. Insert second cliché about how “the Illinois football team has to go out and play a football game this week.”

But seriously, after Monday, this week has had all the practice and preparation of any normal football week in Champaign.

Except this week, Ohio State comes to town. No disrespect to the Illini, but it’ll take all they have and more to beat the Buckeyes. It would be a 2007-level upset if they could knock off the undefeated reigning national championsbr.

Illinois hasn’t beaten Ohio State since Juice Williams and J Leman stormed into Columbus and knocked off the No. 1 team in the countrybr. Since then, the Illibuck — which is a goofy name for a trophy — has resided with the Buckeyes.

So, hypothetically, how would Illinois go about taking down J.T. Barret, Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa and crewbr? Or, at least, how do the Illini give a good showing of themselves in a game that is likely to end in a Buckeye victory?

If the Illini win the turnover battle, that’s a good start. Lunt can’t throw any silly interceptions and the running backs need to hold onto the football. Josh Ferguson and Ke’Shawn Vaughn also need to be at their best like they were in last week’s win over Purduebr.

And what does Bill Cubit need to do? He needs to break out all of the tricks in his playbook. Do an onside kick to begin the second half. Go for it on fourth down in Ohio State territory. Call for a hyper-aggressive defense to throw Barrett off his game.

Much like Illinois’ game with Iowa, Cubit doesn’t stand to lose much if he loses this game. Everyone expects the Illini to lose — myself included — and if they drop to 5-5, no one will panic.

But if Illinois wins, Cubit might be able to strike interim from his job title.

The cheapest tickets on Stubhub for this game cost $40. Maybe it’s all the people in “Illinois Dad” sweatshirts coming to Champaign for the weekend who have bought up the tickets, but I think there’s a buzz around this game.

I don’t think the outcome is in doubt, but for Cubit, a man auditioning for the starring role during the opening night performance, a good showing against Urban Meyer could go a long waybr.

At the very worst, this game is a litmus test for the kind of players Illinois has going forward. Its recruiting class doesn’t compare to Ohio State’s, but college teams don’t play just freshmen — Saturday will be a test of the Illinois program’s depth and development.

If the Illini can win some individual battles, they might hang around for three quarters, and against Ohio State, that’s a respectable finish.

And OK, it is a cliché, but this Illinois team is resilient. Bill Cubit keeps saying it, and it’s true. They’re not going to be negatively affected by Monday’s change in leadership — I doubt most of them have ever met Paul Kowalcyzkbr — and they’ll play their butts off this weekend.

Against Ohio State, that’s all fans can ask for. There, I started with a cliché and ended with a cliché, kind of like this week at Illinois.

[email protected]

@pbaileywells