Nebraska vs. Illinois: NCAAF betting odds, preview, and pick
The Big Ten has the spotlight for the first game of college football's Week 0, when the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Illinois Fighting Illini square off in Champaign on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.
Sat, August 28 2021, 5:00 PM
Illini begin anew with Bret Bielema
Former Wisconsin and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is back in college football, after he briefly worked as a positions coach for the New England Patriots and New York Giants.
At Illinois, Bielema replaced head coach Lovie Smith — who was fired in 2020 and jumped back to the NFL in 2021 — and will attempt to turn around a program that finished 2-6 during a COVID-shortened season.
The Illini owned the second-worst scoring offense (20.1 points) and defense (34.9 points surrendered) in the Big Ten last year and lost top cornerback Nate Hobbs, who is now with the Las Vegas Raiders.
On the plus side, the team features a strong offensive line and will return 18 starters, including senior quarterback Brandon Peters.
Bielema has his work cut out for him to turn the program around, but his first test will come against a team Illinois destroyed last season.
In a road matchup in Lincoln, Peters threw for 205 yards and a touchdown, while running backs Chase Brown and Mike Epstein each rushed for 100 yards and combined for three touchdowns in a 41-23 blowout.
Nebraska also turned the ball over five times.
Scott Frost on the hot seat in Year 4
Head coach Scott Frost has yet to put together a winning season at Nebraska and will enter his fourth year, off a 3-5 finish in 2020.
To kick off the season on a high note, his team will need a strong performance from its defense, which ranked sixth in the conference in yards allowed (386.5) and seventh in points surrendered (29.4).
The offense was decent, at times, last season and ranked second in the Big Ten in rushing (201.4 yards per game). The passing game has been a sore spot and lost top receiver Wan'Dale Robinson (461 yards, one touchdown) to the transfer portal.
The offensive line also experienced turnover and will start four underclassmen, which might cause the run game to take a slight step back, at least initially.
A couple of pregame graphs for your viewing pleasure (thread). First is total QB EPA from 2020. #Illini QB Brandon Peters missed time due to Covid protocols in 2020 and had his best game against the #Huskers. Adrian Martinez played well in the Rutgers game and finished strong pic.twitter.com/TNxzjsd4QS— Arbitrary Analytics (@arbitanalytics) August 27, 2021
Junior dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez does far more damage with his legs (521 yards, seven touchdowns in 2020) but has shown flashes of talent in the passing game. Turnovers are his main issue. Last season, he completed 71.5% of his passes but tallied just four touchdown passes and threw three interceptions. He also tied for second in lost fumbles among FBS players (five).
The good news for Nebraska is that the Illinois defense has a lot to figure out and will give the Huskers offense some breathing room to get the ball rolling in the season opener.
Nebraska vs. Illinois injury report
|Nebraska Cornhuskers||Illinois Fighting Illini|
TE Travis Vokolek: Questionable (undisclosed)
DL Jamaal Woods: Questionable (foot)
TE Thomas Fidone II: Out (knee)
DL Roderick Perry II: Questionable (undisclosed)
LB Will Honas: Out (knee)
WR Marquez Beason: Questionable (hamstring)
RB Markese Stepp: Questionable (foot)
OL Jordyn Slaughter: Out (ankle)
Nebraska and Illinois trends
- The Cornhuskers are 2-6 ATS in their last eight games as a favorite.
- The Illini are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games overall.
- Illinois is 1-4 ATS in its last five home games.
- The Under is 4-0 in the Cornhuskers' last four conference games.
- The Under is 20-8 in the Cornhuskers' last 28 games as a favorite.
Illini defense can't match Nebraska's run game
The Cornhuskers have not won a season opener on the road since 1999, but against an Illinois team in rebuild mode, the time is right for Nebraska to snap its ice-cold streak.
The program is 13-4-1 against the Illini and will be eager to avenge last year's upset loss.
Illinois' best hope in this matchup is to turn up the defense, but it has too much to fix on that front to be able to stop the Huskers' potent rushing attack.
Nebraska is the better team on both sides of the ball and will do just enough right to pull out a victory.
Score prediction: Nebraska 31, Illinois 21