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Awkward! Illinois prepares to play Penn State after trying to recruit its players

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(Associated Press)

Well, we knew when Illinois sent a team of assistant coaches to Penn State's campus this summer to recruit players that the teams would eventually meet on the field.

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It has certainly made for an interesting subplot to this Saturday's game between Penn State and Illinois, even if all the involved parties don't really want to discuss it publicly.

Illinois coach Tim Beckman, who sent a reported eight coaches to State College after Nittany Lions were given the opportunity to transfer in the wake of the NCAA fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, said this week he had no regrets. The Illini ended up getting offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki, who is eligible to play but hasn't seen any action this season. Here's what Beckman said, according to the Philadelphia Daily News:

"This game was developed, I believe, for opportunity, and when we had that opportunity to go out and ask young men if they would come to us and tell you that they would like the opportunity to speak to us, I think that's what college football is about," Beckman said. "And I just regret that it ended up being [publicized] this much and it's still talked about, but it did give a young man the opportunity to make his decision on what he wanted to do."

Aside from the eye-rolling double talk about regretting the publicity this got (here's a note to all coaches: the best way to avoid headlines of "Illinois coach sends assistants to recruit Penn State players" is to not send assistants to recruit Penn State players), it's a gray area. Illinois was within its rights to go after those players, and no rules were broken. Then again, it seemed a bit odd to do it to a conference foe, and seemed like overkill to send so many coaches. One can see why Penn State's football program and its fans would hold a grudge.

Penn State is avoiding all talk about it this week. Linebacker Michael Mauti said at Big Ten media days that he had a "serious problem" with Illinois coming after Nittany Lions players, but The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., says Mauti has been off limits to the media this week. Other players have downplayed what happened this summer. Penn State coach Bill O'Brien hasn't said anything to fan the flames, according to the Philadelphia Daily News:

"It takes a lot to bother me," O'Brien said. "I would tell you that our players, myself, our staff, we're very focused on the task at hand."

If Penn State manages to beat Illinois on Saturday, it will be interesting to see if the Nittany Lions players and coaches continue to be so bland with their comments about the Illini.

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