Juice, Illini Have Seen This Before

By Adam Caparell - January 01, 2008

Illinois has been in this situation before. Big underdog, in an environment that's going to be anything but friendly, against one the best defenses in the nation. And the last time Illinois found itself in a game like Tuesday's Rose Bowl they did the unthinkable.

Nov. 10, Ron Zook brought his team to Columbus, Ohio, and into one of the cathedrals of college football, and all they did was walk away with a huge win. Thanks to Juice Williams' game of a lifetime, Illinois knocked off the No. 1 team in the nation in stunning fashion and now everyone wants to know if they can do it again.

After all, the Illini are facing a USC team that is the No. 2 ranked defense in the country and was playing the best football in the country as the regular season came to a close.

Happy New Year, Juice.

"It's gonna be a similar environment to what it was in Columbus," Williams said earlier in December.

Illinois' hopes are going to rest largely - as usual - on the play of Williams. When he's good, they're good and when's he's bad they're bad.

Illinois knows that teams who have run the spread have done some damage against the Trojans this season - remember the Dennis Dixon led Ducks? - and when Williams is running for positive yard and not making mistakes with his throws he's tough to stop. He's not as well-rounded as Dixon, but he's very dangerous on his feet.

The only problem is he's facing that talented Trojans defense and throwing over the linebackers is going to be easier said than done. USC has considerable speed - even more so than Ohio State - and the Trojans can close up those spaces the spread offense was created to take advantage of.

"We're fast and physical and I think that we surprise people because they have the stigma of the West Coast that there's more offense than defense," USC defensive coordinator Nick Holt said.

And Illinois also has to contend with a much healthier Trojans squad. They were plagued by injuries on offense and defense - many of their top players spent time on the bench - throughout the season and the likes John David Booty and Brian Cushing are as healthy as can be expected at the end of the season.

So the bottom line is Illinois will have its hands full. And they know that better than anyone. Almost no one is giving them a chance as the deck seems stacked against Ron Zook. But Illinois can hang its hat knowing they were in the same situation just a month and a half ago. Can the Zooker work his magic one last time this season?

The Line: -13.5 USC
O/U: 49.5

If I Were A Betting Man: USC and the under. The Trojans won't score a ton of points against a good Illinois defense, but neither will the Illini. Juice Williams is no Dennis Dixon and it's nothing short of sacrilegious to mention Williams and Vince Young in the same breath. USC is just too good to lose to the Illini, a team that shouldn't be in the BCS if not for the snobs associated with the Rose Bowl (i.e. the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Rose Bowl officials).

As for the day's other five bowl games...

Outback Bowl - Tennessee vs. Wisconsin
The Line: -2 Tennessee
O/U: 58.5

If I Were A Betting Man: Tennessee and the under. Wisconsin defense was disappointing, to say the least, this season and Erik Ainge should be able to orchestrate the offense down the field against the Badgers. P.J. Hill is supposed to play in this one and that's where the Vols are vulnerable, against the run. Low scoring affair.

Cotton Bowl - Arkansas vs. Missouri
The Line: -3.5 Missouri
O/U: 68

If I Were A Betting Man: Arkansas and the over. I'm banking on a big Darren McFadden game in this one. Both defenses can give up points so this one will be high scoring. Missouri defense is respectable against the run, but they didn't face a team like Arkansas all season with its relentless rushing attack - Oklahoma can't compare. Only problem is you can't trust the Arkansas defense.

Gator Bowl - Virginia vs. Texas Tech
The Line: -6 Texas Tech
O/U: 59

If I Were A Betting Man: Texas Tech and the over. Virginia never faced an offense anything close to Mike Leach's attack. They're not a great team against the pass and Texas Tech has shown it can burn talented defenses. Cavs are going to need a big game out of Chris Long pass rushing Graham Harrell. But he better pace himself. Harrell's averaging 53 attempts per game.

Capital One Bowl - Florida vs. Michigan
The Line: -10.5 Florida
O/U: 59

If I Were A Betting Man: Florida and the under. Is anyone picking Michigan in this one? The Wolverines have a chance, albeit a slim one. Florida doesn't run the same kind of spread attack that Appalachian State or Oregon runs, but it's nonetheless effective and led by the best player in the country. Tebow's going to carry the ball a bunch of times in this one and send Lloyd Carr off to retirement with a loss. For the Wolverines sake, let's hope new coach Rich Rodriguez has given them a few pointers on how to stop the spread.

Sugar Bowl - Georgia vs. Hawaii
The Line: -7.5 Georgia
O/U: 68.5

If I Were A Betting Man: Hawaii and the under. I'm not picking Hawaii to win, but I think the Warriors make it close because the Bulldogs haven't seen an offense like this. As long as the Warriors protect Brennan they should be able to move the ball against a less than spectacular Georgia defense. The Bulldogs are going to give the Warriors a steady dose of Knowshon Moreno. If Hawaii doesn't somewhat contain him, then it's a blowout in the Bulldogs favor. But I'm banking on the opposite. Motivation's a big factor for both teams. Pride and prestige for Hawaii, national title contender status for Georgia in 2008.

Bowl Season: 7-14 ATS | 15-6 O/U. Tuesday's best bet: Rose Bowl.

Posted by Adam Caparell at 02:53 AM on January 01, 2008
Comments (1)


You are so correct! Fight on!

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