PENN STATE (2-2) at ILLINOIS (2-2)
When: Noon, today Where: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
Series: Penn State leads 6-4 (nine Penn State wins vacated because of NCAA sanctions)
Last meeting: Penn State won 10-7 last year (win vacated because of NCAA sanctions)
Coaches: Penn State — Bill O’Brien, first season, 2-2; Illinois — Tim Beckman, first season, 2-2 (23-18 overall in four seasons)
TV: ESPN (Dave Pasch, Brian Griese)
Radio: WQWK 1450, WBUS 93.7 (Announcers: Steve Jones, Jack Ham)
The skinny: O’Brien’s already griping. No, he’s not complaining about Illinois trying to poach his players this past summer or the disadvantages created by NCAA sanctions. Midway through Tuesday’s news conference, O’Brien mentioned Penn State has opened 12 of its 20 Big Ten schedules with a road game. “I would like for someday that to even out and maybe get a home game here at Beaver Stadium to open the Big Ten season,” he said. At least the Nittany Lions are traveling to a tame place. Illinois is 142-151-7 against Big Ten teams at home. The Fighting Illini ranked eighth in the conference by averaging 49,548 fans per game. Beckman’s hiring has been greeted with a lukewarm response and today’s attendance might not exceed 50,000.
Nittany Lion to watch: Bill Belton — Penn State fans have heard plenty of good things about the sophomore running back. But they haven’t seen him since the third quarter of the season-opener against Ohio University because of an ankle injury. A healthy Belton could help Penn State expand the field horizontally.
Illinois player to watch: Terry Hawthorne — The 6-foot, 190-pound senior is better than any cover corner Penn State has seen through four games. Could he be the first player to stall Allen Robinson this season?
Key matchup: O’Brien vs. Beckman — O’Brien has never experienced a Big Ten game in his coaching career. Beckman’s overzealous recruiting this past summer adds spice to the game no matter what O’Brien and Penn State players are saying this week. Both coaches are off to slow starts. Penn State has defeated Navy and Temple. Neither team has defeated an FBS school. Illinois has defeated Western Michigan and Charleston Southern.
— By Guy Cipriano