2 Nathan Scheelhaase 6-3 205 Sr. Kansas City, Mo.
18 Connor Cook 6-4 218 Soph. Hinckley, Ohio
Edge: Illinois. Cook has provided a calming influence for the Spartans. Ditto for Scheelhaase. Cook struggled, though, last Saturday against Purdue, completing 13 of 25 passes for 107 yards. Yes, it was rainy and cold, but those weather conditions might apply the rest of the season. Mark Dantonio will want the same type of performance from Cook he exhibited against Iowa and Indiana, but not the efforts he had versus Notre Dame and the Boilermakers. Cook still is learning what it takes to quarterback a Big Ten team, while Scheelhaase has plenty of experience in that department. The trick plays Bill Cubit unveiled against Wisconsin did not go over well. The throws downfield from Scheelhaase, though, were on point. Keep more of the latter in the playbook against the Spartans and Scheelhaase might do just enough to help Illinois pull off an upset.
6 Josh Ferguson 5-10 195 Soph. Naperville
33 Jeremy Langford 6-0 206 Jr. Wayne, Mich.
37 Trevon Pendleton 5-11 248 Soph. Lucasville, Ohio
Edge: Michigan State. Jet sweeps and double reverses worked when Illinois utilized those two plays against Cincinnati. More of the same might have to come out of the woodwork against the nation’s stingiest rush defense. Ferguson wasn’t able to get going against Wisconsin. Chances are he could have similar difficulties against Michigan State. Donovonn Young’s struggles are evident. He’s not getting upfield quick enough and isn’t holding on to the ball, two elements running backs never want to hear about themselves. No one really knew in the offseason who would replace the production current Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell had the last two seasons for the Spartans. Langford has answered some of those questions. He rushed for all of 23 yards last year, all against Central Michigan in the second game of the season, and has eclipsed 100 yards in each of his last two games.
12 Ryan Lankford 6-0 175 Sr. Jacksonville, Fla.
8 Miles Osei 6-0 195 Sr. Mount Prospect
80 Spencer Harris 6-3 205 Sr. Greenwood, Ark.
14 Tony Lippett 6-3 191 Jr. Detroit
13 Bennie Fowler 6-1 212 Sr. Bloomfield, Mich.
3 Macgarrett Kings Jr. 5-10 186 Soph. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Edge: Illinois. Both teams lack that elite, game-changing wide receiver. Steve Hull looks like he could possibly step into that void for Illinois after his solid game against Wisconsin. Lankford woke up after getting shut out receptionwise at Nebraska. It’s uncertain how much Osei, a good outlet for Scheelhaase when he’s scrambling or needs a safety valve, will play after he suffered a concussion against Wisconsin. Harris quietly had four catches for 58 yards, including a rather impressive 29-yard touchdown catch late against the Badgers. Kings is the Spartans’ best pass catcher, having hauled in 25 for 287 yards and three touchdowns. Fowler (18 for 238, three TDs) and Lippett (17 for 183) are other options Cook looks to once Michigan State establishes its run game.
3 Jon Davis 6-3 240 Jr. Louisville, Ky.
94 Michael Dennis 6-7 299 Jr. Carey, Ohio
Edge: Illinois. The Illini have the better pass catchers. That’s a cinch. Davis, Matt LaCosse and Evan Wilson have combined for 26 receptions for 318 yards and seven touchdowns this season. The four the Spartans might roll out against Illinois — Dennis, Andrew Gleichert, Jamal Lyles and Josiah Price — have 11 catches for 144 yards and one touchdown. Dennis hasn’t caught a pass. Watching a 300-pound tight end go up high for a pass isn’t exactly pleasing to the eye, but his role is vital. He’s essentially a sixth lineman. In fact, right tackle was the position Dennis played prior to switching to tight end in preseason practices. As long as he clears the way for Langford to run the ball and gives Cook enough time to spot his receivers, Dennis has done his job.
68 Simon Cvijanovic 6-5 310 Jr. Cleveland
74 Michael Heitz 6-5 305 Jr. Vermont
52 Alex Hill 6-3 315 Jr. Slidell, La.
69 Ted Karras 6-4 300 Soph. Indianapolis
70 Corey Lewis 6-6 315 Sr. Cresco, Pa.
74 Jack Conklin 6-6 326 Fr. Plainwell, Mich.
64 Blake Treadwell 6-3 304 Sr. East Lansing, Mich.
66 Jack Allen 6-1 297 Soph. Hinsdale
59 Dan France 6-6 312 Sr. North Royalton, Ohio
51 Fou Fonoti 6-4 298 Sr. Lakewood, Calif.
Edge: Michigan State. Four starters from last year anchor the Spartans’ line. The only newcomer is Conklin, a former high school teammate of Illinois freshman tight end Tyler White at Plainwell (Mich.) High School. Treadwell, who starts at left guard, is the son of former Miami (Ohio) coach Don Treadwell, so Pops probably passed on his scouting report to his son. The Spartans have given up four sacks all season, second fewest in the Big Ten. The progress of Illinois’ starting five has Tim Beckman pleased. Illinois has given up 15 sacks, tied for ninth in the Big Ten, but not all those are the fault of the offensive line. They’ve given Scheelhaase enough time to throw consistently but could have difficulty against a stout Michigan State defensive front.
59 Tim Kynard 6-3 270 Sr. Toledo, Ohio
95 Jake Howe 6-3 300 Jr. McHenry
44 Austin Teitsma 6-2 290 Jr. Glen Ellyn
55 Houston Bates 6-3 250 Jr. Covington, La.
89 Shilique Calhoun 6-4 250 Soph. Middletown, N.J.
91 Tyler Hoover 6-7 290 Sr. Novi, Mich.
60 Micajah Reynolds 6-5 307 Sr. Lansing, Mich.
44 Marcus Rush 6-2 245 Jr. Cincinnati
Edge: Michigan State. Calhoun is what Illinois craves. A pass-rushing defensive end who is adept at capitalizing on turnovers created by other members of his defense. Hoover is a big, big man, and he’s a big, big difference-maker, too, with 3.5 sacks. Kynard is seventh in the Big Ten in tackles for loss and, if you had to pick one, is the most consistent pass rusher Illinois has. Which doesn’t say much for a team that has five sacks this season. Howe and Teitsma, try as they might, aren’t able to create much of a dent in clogging up the run game, so expect a heavy dose of Teko Powell against the Spartans.
45 Jonathan Brown 6-1 230 Sr. Memphis, Tenn.
43 Mason Monheim 6-1 235 Soph. Orrville, Ohio
34 Mike Svetina 6-2 230 Soph. Brunswick, Ohio
34 Taiwan Jones 6-3 250 Jr. New Baltimore, Mich.
40 Max Bullough 6-3 245 Sr. Traverse City, Mich.
28 Denicos Allen 5-11 218 Sr. Hamilton, Ohio
Edge: Michigan State. Brown and Monheim are among the Big Ten’s leading tacklers. That’s all well and good. But the trio Michigan State has is a key reason the Spartans are so dominant on defense. Bullough is the calming influence. Allen is a playmaker, as he showed with his scoop and score on a fumble that resulted in a 45-yard touchdown against Purdue. And Allen leads the Spartans in tackles with 43, one fewer than Bullough. Jones is steady, too, with 30 tackles. Michigan State should expect its linebackers to drop into coverage more so than they have all year (with maybe the exception of Indiana). If Tim Banks could clone Brown and utilize him at the other two linebacking spots, the Illinois defensive coordinator most certainly would. Monheim hasn’t gotten off to the start he wants to in Big Ten play, so he’s due for a big game.
28 Jaylen Dunlap 6-1 175 Fr. Glenwood
9 Earnest Thomas 6-2 210 Jr. Orchard Lake, Mich.
21 Zane Petty 6-1 190 Jr. Corning, Calif.
27 Eaton Spence 6-0 185 Soph. Belle Glade, Fla.
15 Trae Waynes 6-1 185 Soph. Kenosha, Wis.
27 Kurtis Drummond 6-1 200 Jr. Masury, Ohio
9 Isaiah Lewis 5-10 208 Sr. Indianapolis
31 Darqueze Dennard 5-11 197 Sr. Dry Branch, Ga.
Edge: Michigan State. Petty played well in his first career start against Wisconsin. The junior college transfer, who made plays during his two seasons at American River College in California, should make a few more against the Spartans. If he does, it looks like Taylor Barton will continue to fill the backup strong safety spot. Dunlap should make the first start of his college career with Bentley out. The true freshman missed a few tackles against Wisconsin, a sore spot for the Crete-Monee product, who expects to make meaningful contributions each game. He’ll most certainly have his chance against the Spartans. Dennard, Lewis and Drummond have combined for four interceptions this year, with Dennard the most recognizable name in the group.
17 Taylor Zalewski (K, KO) 6-3 220 Soph. Orland Park
18 Justin DuVernois (P) 6-1 190 Jr. Plantation, Fla.
54 Zach Hirth (LS) 6-4 220 Fr. Eureka, Mo.
86 Tim Russell (Holder) 6-6 235 Sr. St. Charles
12 Ryan Lankford (KR) 6-1 175 Sr. Jacksonville, Fla.
8 Miles Osei (KR, PR) 6-0 200 Sr. Mount Prospect
4 Michael Geiger (K) 5-8 186 Fr. Toledo, Ohio
3 Mike Sadler (P, Holder) 6-0 192 Jr. Grand Rapids, Mich.
17 Kevin Muma (KO) 6-0 206 Sr. Troy, Mich.
52 Taybor Pepper (LS) 6-4 200 Soph. Saline, Mich.
12 R.J. Shelton (KR) 5-11 204 Fr. Beaver Dam, Wis.
41 Kyle Elsworth (KR) 6-1 225 Sr. Goodrich, Mich.
3 Macgarrett Kings (PR) 5-10 186 Soph. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Edge: Michigan State. If Bentley and Osei can play, this might swing in Illinois’ favor. But Bentley is out with a left leg injury. Osei should play after starting the week in a purple practice jersey (which indicates he is injured and can’t take part in contact drills) but was in a green, limited-contact practice jersey Wednesday. Zalewski has made his last two field goal attempts, and on a day in which the breezes might kick up, continued accuracy is vital for him if he wants to keep his job. Muma and Geiger split the field goal responsibilities for the Spartans. On the season, they’re a combined 10 of 13. Geiger handles anything longer than 40 yards, where he is 3 for 3, while Muma handles intermediate to short field goals. Sadler is third in the Big Ten in punting average (42.8) and has landed almost half of his 41 punts — 18 to be exact — inside the 20-yard line. No one particularly stands out in the return game for the Spartans, but Kings has a 30-yard punt return next to his name this season.
Tim Beckman At UI (5-13) Overall (26-29)
Mark Dantonio At Michigan State (57-29) Overall (75-46)
Edge: Michigan State. Dantonio has relied on a proven philosophy since taking control of Michigan State in 2007. Play good defense and produce a solid run-oriented offense. Those are two hallmarks of what Dantonio has accomplished in East Lansing. This might be considered a trap game for Michigan State. The Spartans host Michigan next Saturday. It might feel more like a trap game if the Illinois defense had stymied Wisconsin at key times last Saturday. But the Illini didn’t. Beckman still is trying to pin his coaching identity on one aspect or another during his time at Illinois. The defensive struggles have hurt Beckman’s reputation as a defensive-minded coach. Having capable players who will make plays and inspire confidence in the fan base is one item, among many, plaguing Illinois’ defense now. Until it gets corrected, expect Beckman’s five wins at Illinois to stay put for some time.
The Spartans are on the cusp of the Top 25. Once they depart Champaign, they should feel good about finding themselves in the Top 25 come Sunday. It’s a hard argument to make in keeping teams with 7-1 records out of the Top 25 at this point. Michigan State should hold down that record after its defense gets done stifling Illinois and delivering physical hits all game. Few of the defensive starters Illinois will have against the Spartans were even born the last time Illinois beat Michigan State in Champaign (1992). The tackling improves, slightly, but the pressure continues to build on Tim Beckman. And the Big Ten losing streak reaches 17 games after Illinois falls 31-17. (N-G record: 5-1)