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Skidding Illini unfazed by being huge underdogs against Buckeyes

Nathan Scheelhaase

Nathan Scheelhaase

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The facts: 2:30, ESPN, 560-AM.

Updated: December 4, 2012 6:17AM

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer knows how to get under the skin of Illinois fans who aren’t thrilled with their new coach, Tim Beckman.

“I love Tim,’’ Meyer said of his Bowling Green defensive coordinator. “I have great respect for Tim, and there is no doubt he’ll get that thing turned.’’

That’s for down the road.

Expecting No. 6 Ohio State to beat Illinois in the Horseshoe on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPN) isn’t as sure a thing as expecting the sun to rise in the East. But it’s about as close as you’re likely to get when two Big Ten teams square off.

If you want the 9-0 Buckeyes in Las Vegas, you’ll have to spot Illinois four touchdowns. Illinois enters this game with a five-game losing streak this season, and a 10-game Big Ten losing streak.

And yet, it’s not gladiators in ancient Rome, where the losers ­literally might not live to fight ­another day.

So the Illini, for all their many troubles, seem to be going into this supposedly unfair fight with the right attitude.

“That’s why you come to a Big Ten school like Illinois,’’ quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said, “to play the Ohio States and Michigans, to go into tough environments. For sure, you’re not always going to be the favorite, but that’s why you play the game.

“That’s why they don’t say who wins or loses until after the game. Crazy things happen each and every year. We feel like there’s some things we could have done better last week and this season. Now we get another opportunity to prove that.’’

Illinois hasn’t been all that overwhelmed by the perils of playing in front of 100,000 rabid Buckeyes fans. It has won seven of its last 11 games at Ohio Stadium.

“I’ll bring that up,’’ Meyer said early in the week.

The most notable was its 28-21 upset of the unbeaten No. 1-ranked Buckeyes on Nov. 10, 2007. It was Ron Zook’s signature win at Illinois.

No one’s suggesting that these Illini, who lost at home to Indiana 31-17 last week, are capable of pulling off a similar surprise.

But Illinois isn’t cowering, ­either.

“It’s a great challenge,’’ defensive lineman Akeem Spence said. “They’re undefeated. We’re going to have to play our best game. We can’t make no stupid penalties, we can’t turn the ball over, and we cannot give up big plays.’’

That’s a long don’t-do list. But the Illini plan to take their shot at chasing around sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, who leads the Big Ten in rushing (121.4, 12 TDs) and is sixth in passing (169.7, 12 TDs).

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