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Staff Predictions: Michigan vs. Illinois

We are one day away from Senior Day in Ann Arbor.

Michigan v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

We are just one week away from the best rivalry in college football, the Michigan Wolverines vs. the Ohio State Buckeyes. But before we get there, we have to get through this week’s game against Illinois first.

The Maize n Brew staff got together to put some predictions out there and answer some questions about Illinois, Senior Day and more on this week’s roundtable.

After blowing out Nebraska last week, Michigan now hosts Illinois, a team that has lost two straight games and completely blown a comfortable lead in the Big Ten West. Who do you think eventually takes the crown on that side of the conference?

Von Lozon: The easy answer is Purdue. The Boilermakers face Northwestern at home and Indiana on the road to close out the regular season. All they really need to do is go 2-0 and they should be in. That win last weekend for them in Champaign was absolutely huge and will help propel them to Indianapolis should things go right the next couple weeks for them.

Kellen Voss: I think whoever wins the Minnesota/Iowa game this week will take home the crown. That division is the NFC South of college football but to me, those two teams have been a little more consistent than the rest of the conference.

Zach Breininger: The Purdue Boilermakers are the most likely to go 2-0 in the final weeks, so they’ve got my pick. They have the tiebreaker over everyone in the running except for Iowa. The Hawkeyes are the second mostly likely to make it to Indy because if they win against Minnesota — which I’m not banking on — they have the tiebreaker over Purdue and have a very winnable matchup against Nebraska to close out the season on Black Friday.

Andrew Bailey: Every team seems reluctant to claim the crown and head to Indianapolis, so surprisingly, I am going to pick the Iowa Hawkeyes. I favor a team that is 1) Healthy, and 2) Has an identity. Iowa remains one of the best defenses in college football and while the forward pass is still a struggle, it at least dabbles in success from time to time with it now.

Scotty White: I think it’s going to be Purdue. They played well last week to take down Illinois on the road and its final two games are easier than anyone else’s.

The Illini are incredibly stout on defense, as they have the No. 5 pass defense (161 yards per game) and No. 7 rush defense (85.9 yards per game). What is the key to offensive success on Saturday for Michigan?

Von Lozon: Own the line of scrimmage. It all starts up front with the Bullies of the Big Ten — Ryan Hayes, Trevor Keegan, Olu Oluwatimi, Zak Zinter and Trente Jones/Karsen Barnhart. They have been paving the way for Blake Corum and company all season long and the way they play on Saturday will be crucial once again, especially against a strong rush defending team like Illinois.

Kellen Voss: It’s a boring answer but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Michigan has found success running the ball and dominating the point of attack at the line of scrimmage while crushing opponents in time of possession. Michigan should let its Heisman candidate running back carry it to a win in this one.

Zach Breininger: Do what we do. I’m sorry, but a team that outgains the Spartans by a wide margin but manages to lose doesn’t exactly strike fear in my heart. I had a feeling they were frauds heading into that game, and Michigan State did what Michigan State does best: expose mediocre teams. Plus, Harbaugh is going to want to keep his cards close to the vest. I could easily foresee Michigan scoring five or six rushing touchdowns.

Andrew Bailey: Illinois has been the most physical team in every game it has played this season, even the losses, which are all by one score. Michigan must firstly impose its will at the line of scrimmage. This matchup is exciting because it is two heavyweight bullies who excel at similar things. Defensively, Michigan must force Tommy DeVito to beat them. Eliminate Chase Brown and make the Illini one dimensional. Offensively, stretch the Illini horizontally and then pound Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards inside.

Scotty White: Michigan’s passing game is going to need to be better. If the offense gets one dimensional on a defense of this caliber, I think things could tricky on Saturday. The Wolverines have to keep Illinois honest when it comes to the pass defense.

This Saturday’s game will be the final one at the Big House for this senior class. Which senior player will you miss the most and why?

Von Lozon: Man, I am really going to miss the contributions and leadership of Ronnie Bell. That dude is the epitome of hard work, determination, all that good stuff. He has been with the program through good times, bad times and great times. He is a leader on and off the field and it’ll be strange to not see him in the Maize and Blue next season.

Kellen Voss: Probably Mazi Smith. He’s just so dominant upfront and has been a key leader for this defense. He’ll be a hard player to replace.

Zach Breininger: Although he’s not technically a senior, it has to be Ronnie Bell. He’s carrying the wideout corps this year and I’ve always admired his heart.

Andrew Bailey: Wide receiver Ronnie Bell. From the criticism he received for being a three-star freshman earning playing time, to the dropped pass against Penn State in 2019, to being the team’s leading receiver, to the injury last year, and the resolve he showed to lead this team from the sidelines. Bell has been through it all at Michigan and has come out the other side with a decent shot at playing in the NFL. Bell’s perseverance and leadership will be missed, but man, it’s been fun watching that kid grow up before our eyes and endure the lowest of lows and the highest of highs during his time in Ann Arbor.

Scotty White: Maybe not as popular of a pick as most but mine is Caden Kolesar. I’ve always really liked his game. Really hard worker and has a good back story of getting to Michigan. It sucks that he got injured this season.

Give me one bold prediction for the game.

Von Lozon: Blake Corum doubles what Illinois gives up per game on the ground (172) and further cements himself as a Heisman finalist.

Kellen Voss: Michigan will be winning at the half, 21-3, with Blake Corum scoring two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown.

Zach Breininger: Blake Corum runs for three touchdowns. Conventional wisdom says you do everything to keep your stars healthy before a monumental showdown, but Harbaugh couldn’t give a care about what we all think.

Andrew Bailey: Michigan’s defense stifles Illinois running back Chase Brown, and Blake Corum is able to surpass him as the nation’s leading rusher. Corum is currently in third, trailing the first place Brown by 93 yards.

Scotty White: I think Illinois keeps it much closer than most think and Michigan wins by only a possession.

The final score will be...

Von Lozon: I’ve got Michigan winning, 31-14, and heading to Columbus with an unblemished 11-0 record and the Big Ten East on the line.

Kellen Voss: Michigan avoids the let-down spot of a trap game and dominate Illinois, 31-10.

Zach Breininger: 42-14, Michigan. This may turn out to be the quickest game of the season. Both teams love to run the rock.

Andrew Bailey: Similar to last week, dull dominance. Michigan takes this one 31-6.

Scotty White: Michigan wins, 24-17.