Top-flying No. 14 Illinois hosts struggling Michigan State

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Illinois’ Chase Brown, left, jumps off the arms of Nebraska’s Marques Buford Jr. during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday Oct. 29, 2022 in Lincoln, Neb. Illinois defeated Nebraska 26-9. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

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Michigan State (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) at No. 14 Illinois (7-1, 4-1, No. 16 CFP), Saturday, 3:30 a.m. ET (Big Ten Network)

Line: Illinois by 17 1/2 points, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: Michigan State leads, 26-19-2.

WHAT IS AT STAKE?

Illinois is within reach of its first-ever Big Ten West title after finishing its first October unbeaten since 2001. It beat opponents 175-43 on a six-game winning streak. Michigan State arrives in Champaign after a humiliating 29-7 loss to arch-rival Michigan, which turned into a national storyline after Spartan players got into a postgame fight with Wolverine players in the tunnel of the Michigan stadium.

KEY MATCH

Illini RB Chase Brown against the Spartans point defense. The national media begins to capture the year of Brown’s breakout after much spotlight from his coaching staff and athletic department. The Canadian product could lick their chops thinking about this Spartan defense. The only Illinois opponent worse against the run than Michigan State’s No. 97 defense (168.6 yards per game) is Nebraska (190.1 yards per game).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Michigan State: QB Payton Thorne. The fourth-year quarterback knows he has a big role to play in reviving a struggling offense, but also keeping a struggling and controversial Spartans team going. Thorne will need to improve his accuracy after completing 17 of 30 passes for 215 yards, a touchdown and an interception at Michigan, but he has solid options in wide outings in Keon Coleman (548 yards, six touchdowns) and fellow Naperville graduate Central Jayden Roseau.

Illinois: CB Devon Witherspoon. Since the start of the season, Witherspoon has gone from being a respected Big Ten cornerback to a first-round prospect in the NFL Draft. He limited Nebraska star receiver Trey Palmer to one yard on a catch last week.

FACTS AND FIGURES

Illinois is on the verge of selling out and awaiting its biggest crowd since a 2016 game against North Carolina drew 60,670 fans to Memorial Stadium. … Michigan State has won 12 of 15 meetings, but Illinois has won the last two in 2016 and 2019. … Tommy DeVito’s 90.9 percent completion rate at Nebraska broke the record for Illinois by 83.9% and also set a Cornhuskers stadium record. … Former Illini TE Daniel Barker had 14 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown after being traded to Michigan State. Barker caught a late touchdown to lead the Illini to a dramatic win at East Lansing in 2019.

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This story was originally published November 3, 2022 1:21 p.m.

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