- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

Illinois (2-4, 1-2 Big Ten) at No. 3 Michigan (6-0, 3-0), 3:30 p.m. (BTN)

Line: Michigan by 36½.

Series Record: Michigan leads 69-23-2.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

The Fighting Illini, potentially at least, could provide first-year coach Lovie Smith with quite a boost as he tries to rebuild the program with a stunning upset. The Wolverines are playing high-stakes football, climbing to their highest spot in the poll in a decade, desperately seeking at least their first Big Ten title since 2004.

KEY MATCHUP

Illinois’ fumble-forcing defense against Michigan’s high-scoring offense. The Fighting Illini lead the Big Ten with seven fumble recoveries and they’re second in the conference with 13 takeaways. The Wolverines have lost just two fumbles and thrown just two interceptions in six games. They’re averaging 50 points a game, ranking No. 2 in the country.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

ILLINOIS: LB Hardy Nickerson. The California transfer is averaging a Big Ten-best 9.7 tackles a game and has two interceptions, tying a team high. Nickerson’s dad, the former NFL linebacker of the same name, is the Illini’s defensive coordinator.

MICHIGAN: FB Khalid Hill. Jim Harbaugh loves giving the football to fullbacks and Hill is taking advantage. Hill leads the team with eight touchdowns, including two rushing and one receiving against Rutgers. He moved from tight end to fullback during spring practice.

FACTS & FIGURES

Harbaugh and Smith will become the first college coaches to meet after leading teams to the Super Bowl. In their only previous matchup, Harbaugh helped San Francisco beat the Smith-led Chicago Bears 32-7 in 2012 as Colin Kaepernick made his first start for the 49ers. … Michigan’s defense ranks No. 1 in six categories and No. 2 in two more among FBS teams. … Illinois QB Wes Lunt returned to practice after missing last week’s win against Rutgers with a back injury. Smith wouldn’t say if the senior or sophomore Chayce Crouch, who started against the Scarlet Knights and replaced Lunt against Purdue, would take the first snap against the Wolverines.

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Online:

AP college football website: https://collegefootball.ap.org

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