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Illinois Head Coach Lovie Smith speaks with an official during a review in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Holly Hart)Illinois Head Coach Lovie Smith speaks with an official during a review in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Holly Hart)

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Sports editor MATT DANIELS breaks down five hot topics ahead of the 2:30 p.m. kickoff at Michigan State:

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The broadcast crew that has seen the Illini more than anyone else in the country is back calling an Illinois game again. Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analysis) and Lisa Byington (sideline reports) are on the call for Fox Sports 1 from Spartan Stadium. This is the fifth time this season Kugler and Millen will have a view from the press box of Illinois in action, with Lovie Smith’s program sporting a 2-2 record in games (Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Rutgers) the duo has called. Illinois is 2-0 when Byington is on the broadcast (Akron and Purdue). The trio could witness a historic accomplishment by Illini on Saturday, with a sixth win guaranteeing a bowl berth for Illinois for the first time since 2014. “Our football team realizes where we are,” Smith said. “Of course, one of our goals has been to take steps as we build our program. One of those steps is to get to a bowl game.”

No downplaying this

Saturday marks the 46th game for Smith in charge of Illinois. And he’s not shying away from what the implications are. Beat Michigan State and a bowl berth is secure. Lose to the Spartans and the Illini will need to either win at Iowa on Nov. 23 or beat Northwestern at home on Nov. 30 in order to get that sixth win. “This is a playoff game for us,” Smith said. “We’re looking at it that way.” Not only is a bowl berth at stake, but a fourth Big Ten win — an item Illinois hasn’t accomplished since 2010 — is also in the balance. “To be playing football that matters in November, that’s what we’re really most excited about,” Smith said. “This is the biggest game we’ve had here since I’ve been here.”

No respect — again

In two of the Illini’s three Big Ten wins this season, Illinois has entered as an underdog, according to the Vegas oddsmakers. No change this week, either, with Michigan State a 15-point favorite, following a similar trend set when Illinois played Wisconsin and Purdue. Just more motivation, according to Illinois linebacker Jake Hansen. “We love being the underdogs and being disrespcted by that,” Hansen said. “It’s only going to make us a little bit hungrier.”

Picking his spots

Poor weather, an opportunistic Illinois defense and a solid run game haven’t exactly seen Brandon Peters throw the ball much during the Illini’s three-game win streak. The Illinois quarterback is 18 of 38 for 352 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the last three games. Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith said he’s not opposed to seeing Peters attempt a deep downfield pass or two if Michigan State’s defense allows for it. “There are several times throughout the course of the game where I give Brandon green lights to go ahead and take shots if the opportunity presents itself,” Rod Smith said. “At times, there was (against Rutgers). At times, there wasn’t. It’s kind of a feel thing more than anything.”

Predicting the future

Tough game to pick. Both teams need a win, albeit for different reasons. Illinois wants to keep its roll going, while Sparty needs to end its skid. Michigan State’s defense does just enough. Spartans 21, Illini 17.