Stephen Cohn: Nebraska 38, Illinois 24
I think Illinois is able to put up some points against Nebraska, and even after last year’s beating, I still think the Illini are able to play the Cornhuskers close. Even the Lovie haters have to think that the coaching staff has something up its sleeve that it hasn’t shown yet and will be ready for what is now the “BIGGEST GAME OF THE LOVIE ERA.” We’re saying that every week. It’s time to actually mean it. Sadly, I don’t feel all too confident that actually happens. Huskers by two TDs.
Tristen Kissack: Nebraska 48, Illinois 17
Saturday night, conference opener, sold out student sections, what could go wrong? Well, a lot for one. This is a pretty big game for Lovie Smith in regards to his future employment with the University of Illinois. I haven’t seen enough from the defense through three weeks that can convince me it will contain Adrian Martinez. And now, an offense that struggled for two quarters against Eastern Michigan is expected to go tit for tat with a solid Big Ten defense? We’ll see, but I don’t think this one ends well.
Thumpasaurus: Nebraska 62, Illinois 17
Somehow, after every game, Lovie Smith erases all memories of every read-option play from his defensive players’ memories because every game they look like they’ve never seen it before, much less been coached to defend it. Our position coaches are such garbage that we could switch defensive rosters with Clemson right now and by the time we played Rutgers, we’d give up 600 yards. I wonder what anointed linebackers coach Miles Smith spent all spring ball and fall camp doing with the linebackers, because clearly no time was spent teaching them their assignments in Cover 2. The back seven was so bad in coverage that at a certain point against EMU, Lovie went against type and abandoned it for regular blitzes. This didn’t matter because the blitzes never got home. Nebraska is much more talented than Eastern Michigan, and probably more talented than Illinois. Since Nebraska is coached by a living human not named Lovie Smith, they’re better coached than Illinois as well. There’s still talented athletes on this team that care more than the coaching staff, so I expect Reggie Corbin to put up at least 100 yards and a touchdown, but it’ll be hard-fought yardage since Nebraska knows we’re not running Peters. This one is ugly and we rack up at least 80 penalty yards. Martinez puts up 300 through the air and 150 through the ground despite not playing in the fourth quarter. Josh Whitman is incredibly proud of our effort.
Michael Berns: Nebraska 48, Illinois 24
We knew EMU was a better team than Akron and UConn, so in hindsight and for those who objectively knew about EMU, last week should not have come as a total shocker. Nebraska’s offense is lightning in a bottle — oozing with talent, and they make their share of mistakes, but when it’s clicking it can be a scary explosion of points. The Cornhuskers big-play potential on offense is real — a bad thing to consider given how poor the Illini pass defense looks. The Illini score, put points on the board and capitalize on Nebraska’s disastrous special teams miscues, but it’s not enough to overcome the perimeter speed of Nebraska’s running backs and receivers. Nebraska has three scoring plays of 50+ yards (looking at you, Mo Washington and Wan’Dale Robinson), and that puts this night game to bed before Illinois even has a chance on offense to play catch up.
Drew Pastorek: Nebraska 54, Illinois 27
The Illini have already given a lot of fans -- myself included -- orange and blue balls this season; things started off well and we thought we were going to seal the deal, but Illinois turned out to be a tease. While I wasn’t shocked *that* they lost to EMU -- consensus was that the Eagles’ would be the most difficult out-of-conference game to win, it’s *how* they lost. Terrible coverage on defense, both lines getting pushed around, and OH LOOK ANOTHER PENALTY. The lack of discipline from this group astonishes me, and while you can’t blame all of it on coaching, eventually you (Mr. L. Smith) need to look at yourself in the mirror and ask what’s gone wrong. It appears that nobody on the Illini staff has that kind of self-awareness (or the simple ability to, like, answer questions honestly), so we’re in for a TREAT on Saturday night. I expect this to go much like the primetime Penn State game last year -- Illinois will do just enough offensively for casual observers to think “Hey, these guys might not be that bad” before getting the brakes beaten off them in the second half. As has been previously mentioned, the Illini does have some dudes on offense. Josh Imatorbhebhe has been a great find so far and I expect him to outmuscle the Nebraska defense and find the end zone at least once. Reggie Corbin is still the #1 offensive threat on the team and should be able to wriggle free for a few meaningless touchdowns. I like the resolve Brandon Peters showed in the fourth quarter last week, but he was so scatterbrained for half that game that it’s hard for me to see him staying the QB1 for much longer. Nebraska is most certainly not “back” yet and I *want* to believe that maybe, just maybe, the Huskers will be looking ahead to Ohio State. But after a win that felt like a loss and one actual loss...how do you give Illinois the benefit of the doubt? I expect this to be a long evening in Champaign. OH LOOK ANOTHER PENALTY.
Matt Rejc: Nebraska 52, Illinois 14
On the surface, I could see this as a bounce back game for the Illini after a brutal loss. But Nebraska is a tough opponent to face in this situation, with the Huskers’ well-traveling fans filling the stadium alongside a beaten-down Illini fan base. As opposed to the vibrant night game atmosphere that we saw against North Carolina in 2016, I expect a surreal environment in a Memorial Stadium filled with Husker faithful. Much of the initial push against North Carolina was based on the energy of a sold-out stadium going wild for the Illini. I don’t expect that to occur this Saturday, as the atmosphere may provide more of a benefit to the visitor than the Illini. With that in mind, I expect Nebraska to put Illinois away quickly, while a pair second half touchdowns by Ra’Von Bonner and Daniel Barker will prevent a shutout.
Jacob Rajlich: Illinois 38, Nebraska 28
I want to believe. Please, give me a reason to. Illinois has to win this weekend for any hope to remain, so I’ll just try to will it into existence.