The three-game road swing to start Big Ten play was not kind to the Illinois soccer team.
Illini Week in Review
They knew it wouldn't be easy. After salvaging a tie at Iowa in the conference opener, the Illini had a challenging road swing through Columbus and State College against both reigning Big Ten co-champions. On Friday at Ohio State, Illinois outplayed OSU for much of the match, but they had no answer for the 5'10" Lauren Granberg. Buckeye head coach Lori Walker moved Granberg from her regular center back spot to a forward position, and the move paid off in a big way. Granberg gave the Buckeyes a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute. After the Illini tied it on a Janelle Flaws goal late in the first half, Granberg countered with the game-winning goal in the 57th minute, heading home a cross from Paige Maxwell. Although the Illini would outshoot Ohio State 11-0 after that goal, finishing with a 20-9 shot advantage, they couldn't get another one past OSU goalkeeper Katie Baumgardner, who finished with seven saves for the game.
It was on to State College for a Sunday matchup against Penn State. The Illini had never won a game at Jeffrey Field, and though they perhaps played as well as they ever had at that venue, the streak of futility would continue. The Nittany Lions got the lone goal of the match late in the first half from Ali Schaefer. Neither team was able to put many shots on goal in this game, as Illinois finished with three shots on frame, compared to two for Penn State. Overall, the shot count was 13-12 in favor of the Illini.
Illinois returns home this weekend for two games that the team really needs to put in the win column against Indiana and Purdue. The Illini are currently tied for 10th place in the Big Ten with an 0-2-1 record.
Big Ten Week in Review
Ohio State 2 Illinois 1
Penn State 1 Illinois 0
Big Ten Standings
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Wisconsin (1). The Badgers remain number one after going 1-0-1 on the road last week. A win against Michigan would have given them a first place all alone, but they'll settle for a share of the top spot with Ohio State.
2. Penn State (2). A perfect home weekend for the Nittany Lions, who had to battle to get past Illinois, but blasted Northwestern.
3. Ohio State (5). Lori Foster's decision to move Lauren Granberg to a forward spot couldn't have worked much better for OSU. The 5-10 junior notched two goals against the Illini in her first game at forward. They added a 2-0 decision over Northwestern on Sunday.
4. Michigan State (3). The home loss to Wisconsin drops them one spot this week. They rebounded very nicely on Sunday to dismantle Minnesota.
5. Iowa (8). Give the Hawkeyes credit for picking up four points on the road last week. Indiana and Purdue aren't world beaters, but the Hoosiers did knock off Nebraska on Sunday.
6. Illinois (4). Not too many teams will pick up wins at Ohio State and Penn State this season, but the Illini let one get away on Friday. They fought well on Sunday at Penn State, but couldn't finish.
7. Nebraska (6). Not really meaning to punish Nebraska for their loss on Sunday, but they drop a spot with Iowa moving up this week.
8. Minnesota (9). They move up by virtue of their road win at Michigan. Which means...
9. Michigan (7). Tying Wisconsin is nothing to sneeze at, but the home loss to Minnesota probably won't look very good come tournament time.
10. Indiana (11). The Hoosiers will give some teams problems, especially in Bloomington, as Nebraska learned on Sunday.
11. Purdue (10). They got a point against Iowa on Sunday, but it's looking like wins will be hard to come by for the Boilers.
12. Northwestern (12). Shut out twice last week, and their defense isn't keeping them in games.
To the Polls
Once again we start with the Top Drawer Tournament 64 rankings, which attempt to project which teams will make the NCAA Tournament field. The Big Ten would be thrilled to have seven teams make the field, which is what Top Drawer says this week. I'm not sure how realistic that is, but we'll see. Iowa joins the mix this week at #37. They're joined by Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois and Michigan.
In the NSCAA Top 25, Penn State re-enters the rankings at #24. The Nittany Lions are the only Big Ten team to be ranked here, while Wisconsin, Ohio State and Illinois receive votes this week.
Meanwhile, in the NSCAA Great Lakes regional rankings, Illinois takes a tumble all the way down to #7 this week. Penn State is the highest-ranked Big Ten team at #2, followed by Iowa (#3), Wisconsin (#5), Ohio State (#6), Michigan State (#8) and Michigan (#10).
Interestingly, the Soccer America Top 25 is very kind to Big Ten teams this week. Wisconsin leads the way at #17. They're joined by Penn State (#19) and Ohio State (#25).
The Soccer Times Top 25 isn't as kind, with Penn State re-entering the poll at #23, while Iowa and Ohio State are receiving votes.
What's on Tap
Last week wasn't a bad one for predictions, as my choices went 7-3-2 in the second weekend of Big Ten play. That makes my season total 63-19-6. Let's get to this week's choices, with my picks in bold.
Minnesota at Wisconsin. Which Gopher team will we see? The one that outplayed Michigan on Friday, or the one that got blasted by Michigan State on Sunday?
Ohio State at Penn State. The Nittany Lions lost the conference opener at Wisconsin. They may not lose again in the regular season.
Indiana at Illinois. The Hoosiers may present a challenge for the Illini defense, but I think the offense will make up for it.
Michigan at Iowa. Look for the Hawkeyes to remain unbeaten...for at least one more game.
Michigan State at Nebraska. Laura Heyboer vs. Morgan Marlborough. Wish I could be there to see this one. When in doubt, go with the home team.
Purdue at Northwestern. This weekend is probably the Wildcats' best shot at a Big Ten win. I'm not sure they'll get it.
Purdue at Illinois. The home team has dominated this series. I look for that to continue this season.
Indiana at Northwestern. I really want the Wildcats to win one, but right now I don't see who they beat.
Michigan State at Iowa. I think the unbeaten streak ends at twelve for the Hawkeyes, thanks to Laura Heyboer and company.
Michigan at Nebraska. I got burned for doubting Michigan at times last season, but this weekend looks like a tough one.
Ohio State at Wisconsin. The Badgers defense is always tough, but especially at home.
Penn State at Minnesota. If the Nittany Lions are without Christine Nairn (U-23 call up), things could get a bit more interesting.
On the Air
We'll be carrying Sunday's game vs. Purdue on WDWS. Start time is 1pm. Tim Dittman and I will go on the air at 12:50pm. I also had a nice conversation with senior Julie Ewing this week. You can find that interview in the podcast section of IlliniHQ.com.
Thanks for reading.