For some odd reason, Illinois plays Nebraska really well. Let’s revisit the last three matchups:
- 2015: Illinois upsets Nebraska at Memorial Stadium on Geronimo Allison’s last-second catch. Then he does this:
- 2016: Another year of opening Big Ten play against the Huskers, and the Illini took their opponent to the edge at THEIR Memorial Stadium. Illinois entered the fourth quarter ahead, 16-10, but a Kendrick Foster fumble and two late scores from Terrell Newby put the Illini away. They had a chance, though!
- 2017: In another year of starting the conference slate with the Huskers, Illinois lost 28-6 at home. Illinois was outscored just 7-3 in the second half and two of Nebraska’s scores came on plays of 23 or more yards. Not bad for a team coming off a dismantling at the hands of South Florida.
There really is no rhyme or reason, Illinois is just playing Nebraska well, even if the Huskers haven't been the team that the Big Ten expected them to be when they joined the conference earlier in the decade. As a result, you have to give Illinois a fighting chance.
But those competitive games and late leads may not be the case for Lovie Smith’s Illini in 2018. Coming off a disappointing 4-8 campaign, Nebraska canned Mike Riley and brought in
national champion Scott Frost to take over his former program.
Frost has a few offensive weapons that might give the Illini trouble in this Nov. 10 showdown. Adrian Martinez is expected to be his new quarterback, and the freshman has a solid arm but is even more impressive on his legs.
The arm is good enough to get the ball to Stanley Morgan Jr., who might be the conference’s best wideout this season, and could tear apart the Illini’s secondary.
Add in the fact that this game is in Lincoln in November, and it’s not a good-looking plan for Illinois.
What Illinois might have going for itself is that the week before is a home game against a beatable Minnesota team. If the Illini have a solid QB at this point, some confidence and a reliable secondary, maybe Illinois continues its streak of keeping with Nebraska.
If not, well, Lincoln’s beautiful in the fall.