Staff Predictions: No. 10 Penn State vs. Illinois

No. 10 Penn State (3-0) will open Big Ten play on Friday after a (fairly) comfortable stretch of non-conference games.

The Nittany Lions are undefeated after victories over Appalachian State, Pitt, and Kent State — the last two of which were resounding blowouts. Our staff predicts more of the same this weekend in Champaign.

Matthew Fox (3-0): Penn State 45, Illinois 10

The Illini have gotten off to another mediocre start under head coach Lovie Smith. They went 2-1 in non-conference play against mediocre competition, including a tight 31-24 win over Kent State — the same team the Nittany Lions beat by 53 last week. Expect a comfortable win for Penn State in its last tune-up before next weekend’s White Out game.

Matt DiSanto (0-0): Penn State 48, Illinois 13

I can’t think of a better opponent to begin conference play with than Illinois. The Illini have allowed a whopping 1440 yards of offense in their first three games, 976 of which have come through the air. Trace McSorley is in line for a big day, while Penn State’s defense should have little trouble against an offense that barely scraped by Kent State three weeks ago. Should the Nittany Lions get off to a fast start, we could see an appearance by Sean Clifford or even Tommy Stevens.

Will Pegler (0-0): Penn State 51, Illinois 14

The last time these two teams played, Penn State won 39-0, and the Nittany Lions have only gotten better since then. Meanwhile the Fighting Illini, well, still have plenty of work to do. Expect Trace McSorley to continue to run the ball well in the red zone for easy scores against a questionable Illinois defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if Juwan Johnson begins to make more of an impact this week as well, as the Illinois passing defense specifically has struggled through these first three weeks. This would be perfect timing for the target receiver to get back in the groove of things just as conference play begins. Overall, we’ll likely see the offense have some fun and the defense continue to do its job on Friday night.

Steve Connelly (3-0): Penn State 49, Illinois 0

I’m all about Illinois, Illinois, Illinois, Illinois, Illinois……. but c’mon, let’s just get to the real games already.

For all the talk about the Illini’s winless streak, they didn’t get shut out last season in Big Ten play, so that would be a nice token for the Nittany Lions to take away from this game. Other than that, just stay injury-free and be ready for Ohio State next weekend.

Anthony Fiset (2-0): Penn State 69, Illinois 10

The Nittany Lions broke my heart last week, finishing a touchdown or two field goals away from my very nice score prediction last week. In the past two weeks, Penn State has inched closer and closer to the target score, with 51 against Pitt and 63 against Kent State. They’re progressing to finally put up 69 this week, in another favorable matchup against a punchless Fighting Illini team.

After non-conference play, Illinois is sitting at No. 115 in the NCAA in total yards allowed, as the Illini let Kent State, Western Illinois, and South Florida combine for 1440 yards. Miraculously, the Illini are only averaging 21 points against through those three contests, which is by far the lowest for any team that’s allowed more than 1400 yards.

I don’t think they’ll be so lucky against the Nittany Lions’ high octane offense, which will be able to cash-in on plenty of opportunities. Trace McSorley should be licking his chops when he lines up against Lovie Smith’s defense on Friday night, and KJ Hamler might be open on literally every play. This game truly rests on Sean Clifford’s shoulders. Sean, if you’re reading this, I need you to get to 69 points in garbage time. Don’t let up.

Ethan Kasales (3-0): Penn State 52, Illinois 17

Although the Friday night kickoff provides an interesting wrinkle, I don’t expect the Nittany Lions and their high-scoring offense to slow down in Champaign. I see Miles Sanders putting together the best performance of his Penn State career to date in the team’s Big Ten opener.

Derek Bannister (3-0): Penn State 66, Illinois 3

I see Penn State putting a similar performance against Illinois as it did against Maryland last year. In fact, I think the scoreline will be exactly the same. Illinois barely squeezed by a Kent State team that really isn’t very good at all. Trace McSorley will tear apart a conservative defense on the ground before taking some deep shots down the field. Then halftime will come and Tommy Stevens will make his triumphant return at some point in the third quarter, running the ball about 70 percent of the time. Stevens ran for three touchdowns against Maryland last year, and I see him doing something similar in Champaign.

Brian Bachman (1-0): Penn State 59, Illinois 13

Expect Penn State’s offense to continue full steam ahead against a poor Illinois defense in Friday night’s Big Ten opener. Trace McSorley should be able to carve up the Fighting Illini defense before handing the keys off to Tommy Stevens for his 2018 debut. Look out for Juwan Johnson, who has struggled heavily thus far and needs to step up for this team’s offense to take the next step.

Each week, we’ve seen a new batch of freshman step up and show they are ready, so I see a breakout game for Justin Shorter against the Illini. After spending much of camp banged-up, the five-star true freshman receiver has eased his way back in and should be in line for more snaps this week. Despite one less day to prepare, anticipate James Franklin’s team to come out and deliver a strong performance before returning home for next weekend’s match-up with Ohio State.

Mikey Mandarino (3-0): Penn State 55, Illinois 17

I had a weird feeling about this Friday game since it was announced on Penn State’s schedule, but Illinois’ perennial mediocrity and not-great pass defense makes me think that it will be business as usual for the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s offense will line up on the opposite side of a unit that’s allowed nearly 1,000 passing yards in three games this season. KJ Hamler might not get touched by an Illini corner or safety all game, and guys like Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins should also have big games. One player should be licking his chops ahead of a game like this: Juwan Johnson. There’s no better time for Johnson to have his best game of the season than right now.

Elissa Hill (3-0): Penn State 63, Illinois 17

I heard someone call Penn State vs. Illinois a trap game this week, and that’s just blatantly untrue. Iowa under the lights? That’s a trap game. Illinois under the lights? Not so much. Expect the Illini to keep low numbers across the board maintain their Big Ten losing streak without much of an issue for the Nittany Lions. Also expect us to tweet Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” at every possible interval. That’s what really matters tonight.

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