Michigan Wolverines vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Michigan Wolverines (5-3 SU, 5-3 ATS) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (1-6 SU, 1-6 ATS), Saturday, October 31st, 3:30 p.m. Eastern, Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL; TV: ABC
By Oracle at Predictem.com

Point Spread: Michigan -7/Illinois +7
Over/Under: 53.5

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With some big expectations for this 2009 season, both Michigan and Illinois have somewhat disappointed. Neither team has a shot at the Big Ten championship (although mathematically they do) and only Michigan has a legit shot at a bowl game.

In fact, with a win against Illinois, Rich Rodriguez and crew will be bowl eligible - something they failed to accomplish in his first year as head coach in 2008.

As for Illinois, they haven’t gotten off the ground at all and their only win is against Illinois State that came in the second week of the year. Their offense has struggled all season, scoring 14 points in each of their last three games - all losses - and averaging 16 points per game (113th in the nation).

Although the Fighting Illini come into Saturday afternoon’s Big Ten match up against Michigan with a lot of troubles, they open up as dogs by only a touchdown. However, that has slowly moved, as some online sportsbooks have Michigan as favorites -8.5.

The over under has also opened up at 53.5.

Illinois has had problems both offensively and defensively. First off, the quarterback position, which coming into the year might have been the least of their worries, is in a quagmire.

Juice Williams returned, but has looked nothing like his old self. In fact, Ed McGee has found himself under center for a few reps with Williams struggling. Williams has completed 55% of his passes for just 963 yards - 6 yards per completion - and has thrown more picks (5) than touchdowns (4).

However, the good news for Illinois is that they may have finally found a running back. Mikel LeShoure has gotten the bulk of carries the last two games. The sophomore carried the ball 15 times for 122 yards in his team’s 24-14 loss to Purdue on Saturday. He has 200 yards in his last two games and now, besides Williams, has the most carries on the team.

It might be the saving grace Illinois needs, mainly because their defense is bad, no, not bad, awful. They give up 416 yards per game - near the bottom in the nation - and allow almost 28 points per contest. Opponents have scored at least 24 points in every game but one.

Michigan will look to feast upon the Illinois defense, as they’ve had their own struggles lately. T hey’ve lost three of their last four games - all Big Ten showdowns - with their only win in the span coming against Delaware State.

Penn State manhandled freshman quarterback Tate Forcier and his Wolverines, 35-10, just a week ago. After tearing it up early this year, Forcier hasn’t thrown a touchdown in the past three contests and has thrown two interceptions.

The Wolverines defense is nothing like it used to be either, but their stats are better overall than Illinois. They have the advantage in nearly every category including points allowed (23.5).

When these two teams met last year, it was Illinois with the dominating 45-20 win. However, keep in mind, most teams dominated Michigan in 2008.

Forcier wasn’t a part of that game, but Juice Williams was. Williams was huge, throwing for 310 yards and two touchdowns while amazingly running for 121 and two more scores. If they want to beat the Wolverines, Williams will have to put his struggles behind him and do the same.

They easily covered the spread of being 2-point dogs in that contest.

The two squads have only played twice in the past four seasons, so head-to-head trends are few and far between.

The over is the trendiest of all in this rivalry, coming in 5 of the last 7 games.

Michigan has done well lately when favored between 3.5 and 10 points. They’re 4-1 ATS in the last five contests. They have struggled in Big Ten play, though, going 1-5 ATS in their last six.

Illinois doesn’t have any positive trends heading into Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium. In fact, they haven’t covered in their last five home games and last seven games as a dog of 3.5 to 10 points.

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Something has to give for bettors in this game. Michigan, believe it or not, still has plenty to play for, including a bowl berth. Illinois, on the other hand, is just looking for something positive to happen.

Oracle’s Pick: The only thing they may keep Illinois in this game is the weather. If it rains, it may slow down Michigan a bit, but it looks as though chances are it won’t rain. The Wolverines may not win pretty in this one, but they will, and they’ll cover the spread as well. Take Michigan -7!