Penn State learns its Big Ten foe for next Saturday

STEVE HEISER
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Penn State head coach James Franklin joins his players for the alma mater following an NCAA college football game against Michigan State in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Penn State now knows its Week Nine opponent.

The Big Ten announced its matchups for this coming weekend on Sunday.

Penn State learned it will host the Illinois Fighting Illini at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Beaver Stadium. The game will be shown on Fox Sports 1.

James Franklin's Nittany Lions will face an Illinois team with an interim head coach.

Illinois fired head coach Lovie Smith on Sunday. Smith became Illinois’ first Black head football coach when he was hired by athletic director Josh Whitman in March 2016. The longtime NFL coach went 17-39 in five seasons at the school.

Smith’s original deal was for six years and $21 million, but he received a two-year extension through 2023 after Illinois went 4-8 in his third season. The Illini made one postseason appearance under Smith, losing 35-20 to California in the Redbox Bowl in 2019. They were 6-4 last season after a thrilling comeback victory at Michigan State, but then dropped their last three games.

The slide continued into this year, with Illinois losing its first three by a combined 117-45 score. It is 2-5 after it was pushed around in a 28-10 loss at Northwestern on Saturday, allowing 411 yards rushing in its sixth straight loss in the series against the in-state Wildcats.

Illinois said offensive coordinator Rod Smith was elevated to acting head coach for the PSU game.

In 24 all-time matchups with the Illini, Penn State leads the series, 19-5.

The two squads last met on Sept. 21, 2018, as Penn State totaled 387 rushing yards, led by 200 yards and three touchdowns from Miles Sanders, as it defeated Illinois, 63-24, in Memorial Stadium in the Big Ten football opener for both teams.

Penn State is 3-5 on the season after earning its third consecutive victory on Saturday, beating Michigan State, 39-25.

The other Big Ten contests next weekend are: Nebraska at Rutgers, 4 p.m. Friday; Purdue at Indiana, 7:30 p.m. Friday; Minnesota at Wisconsin, 4 p.m. Saturday; Michigan at Iowa, 7 p.m. Saturday; and Michigan State at Maryland, 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Big Ten title game had already been set: Ohio State vs. Northwestern at noon Saturday at Indianapolis.

Reach Steve Heiser at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.