Nebraska visits Illinois for the Illini’s Big Ten opener Friday night. Here are The Champaign Room staff’s predictions.
Stephen Cohn: Illinois 24, Nebraska 10
Illinois’ freshmen will have to continue to play at a high level to allow the touchdown-underdog Illini to pull off a two-score win over Nebraska. Cornhusker QB Tanner Lee will likely provide opportunities for the Illini secondary to swat some balls and pick off a few passes, but it will be the offense’s freshmen tasked with making QB Chayce Crouch’s job easier and manageable. Tight end Louis Dorsey hauled in three catches in Illinois’ 47-23 loss to South Florida last time out, and he should become a main target in Garrick McGee’s offensive system. Pulling a defender onto the pass-catching Dorsey should open opportunities for Malik Turner and Mike Dudek in open space, and the pair should grab a few touchdowns. If that happens, and freshman tailback Mike Epstein continues playing like one of the top running backs in the country, the Illini should comfortably defeat a struggling Nebraska team.
Michael Berns: Illinois 28, Nebraska 24
The Illini offense hasn’t played well but hopefully with a bye week under wraps, the unit is ready to execute. We know Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee is going to throw at least one pick-six, it’s just what he does. The Cornhuskers have a balanced rushing attack and a stud punt returner in De’Mornay Pierson-El. I like the young Illini secondary getting it done and making a statement at home under the Friday night lights.
Ian Gold: Illinois 23, Nebraska 16
Did you catch Rutgers and Nebraska’s thriller last weekend? Yeah, so that’s what we’re dealing with here. Can Lovie Smith coach the mess out of Illinois and straighten out some of the offensive woes that have plagued the team so far? No better time than a bye week to figure some things out and come out with a few tricks. Nebraska is an equally hot offensive mess but has more developed tools should they come out playing their “A” game. I’m siding with a surprisingly passionate Friday night crowd to be the difference for Illinois.
Austin Jabs: Illinois 24, Nebraska 21
Maybe I am being a homer here, maybe the orange Kool-Aid is is being consumed at far too high a rate, but after the NIU loss and the near loss to Rutgers (the final score is nowhere near indicative of how close the game was) I see this as an unexpectedly winnable Big Ten game for the Illini. I believe Dudek will have his best game of the season, Epstein will break 100 yards on the ground, and the Illini will win late, garnering a 3-1 record and making the possibility of a bowl game much more accessible. Also, a friday night game in Champaign should mean a rocking fan base and a loud stadium to disrupt the Huskers...I hope.