CHAMPAIGN — Since he arrived at Illinois back in December, coach Tim Beckman has always been seen wearing an orange rubber bracelet that reads “12-1-12”. That’s the date of the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. And with Leaders Division rivals Penn State and Ohio State ineligible to compete in that game because of NCAA sanctions, this season provides as good a chance as any for the Illini to reach that goal. And even in the wake of Saturday’s blowout loss at home to Louisiana Tech, the Illini view Saturday’s upcoming game against the Nittany Lions (2-2) as their first step toward Indianapolis.
“Our goal starts next week, the Big Ten starts next week and we’ve got to make a lot of strides to get better and play a good Penn State football team,” Beckman said. “Our goal is to try to compete on 12-1-12 and we haven’t played anybody in the Big Ten and our first opportunity will be next week.”
The Penn State roster was decimated because of an NCAA rule allowing players to transfer without penalty in the wake of the sanctions levied on the program because of the child sex abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
But the Nittany Lions come to Memorial Stadium on a high note after consecutive wins against Navy and Temple.
“Penn State is a big deal because they’re our next opponent,” said receiver Ryan Lankford, whose dad Paul played defensive back for the Nittany Lions. “We’re not really thinking about anyone after that or before that because you can’t change the past. Whoever’s up next, that’s the big deal and it’s Penn State.”