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How and what to watch for Illinois vs. Penn State

Less than a week after firing head coach Lovie Smith, the Illinois Fighting Illini will close the Big Ten season against the talented but underachieving Penn State Nittany Lions.

Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford runs with the ball during the first quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Beaver Stadium. Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Less than a week after firing head coach Lovie Smith, the Illinois Fighting Illini will close the Big Ten season against the talented but underachieving Penn State Nittany Lions.

Illinois entered 2020 with modest expectations following its six-win season under Smith’s watch. The team responded by losing its first three games — two by 27 or more points — and barely knocking off the Rutgers Scarlet Knights despite a 3-1 turnover advantage. The Illini went on to blow a two-touchdown lead against the Iowa Hawkeyes and suffer an embarrassing 28-10 loss to their in-state rival Northwestern Wildcats, cementing Smith’s fate last Sunday.

While Penn State hasn’t dealt with as many issues, the program fell far short of expectation in 2020. The Nittany Lions lost their first five games —three by double digits — and only look moderately competent against an even more disappointing Michigan Wolverines squad and an undermanned Rutgers team in recent weeks. All the while, junior quarterback Sean Clifford has not looked like the quality starter of previous seasons, tossing 14 touchdowns against nine interceptions.

Still, while the Nittany Lions continue to put out fires, it has significantly more talent than the visiting Illini. Unless Illinois decides to hand the reins to sophomore quarterback Isaiah Williams, the offense will struggle to put many points on a quality Penn State defense (No. 24 nationally in Football Outsiders’ F+ metric).

Game Time/TV Channel/Streaming

You can watch Illinois versus Penn State on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 5:30 p.m. ET on FS1, or you can stream it via the Fox Sports Go app with a cable or streaming service login.

Point Spread, Totals, Odds, Trends

Point spread: Illinois vs. Penn State -15.5
Point Total: 52
Money line: Illinois +500, Penn State -715

  • Since 2019, Illinois has a road record of 5-4-0 against the spread (5-3-0 as the road underdog).
  • Also during that period, the Illini have an over record of 3-6-0 on the road (3-5-0 as the road underdog).
  • Penn State has home record of 3-8-0 against the spread since 2019 (3-6-0 as the home favorite).
  • During the same stretch, the Nittany Lions have an over record of 6-4-1 at home (5-4-0 as the home favorite).

Betting splits

Illinois: (25% of handle, 45% percent of bets)
Penn State: (75% of handle, 55% percent of bets)

The Best Bet

Maybe Illinois gets the dead-cat bounce from firing its head coach, but Penn State still has more working in its favor.

Pick: Penn State -15.5

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