Stephen Cohn: Wisconsin 40, Illinois 21
Being TCR’s official Madison resident, I can say with certainty that the Badgers are ready for this game. Even without Jack Coan patrolling Wisconsin’s offense, the fan base (and coaching staff) thinks Graham Mertz is ready to be #ThatGuy, and they’re probably going to come out fast against the Illini.
I don’t think Illinois is a bad football team by any means — they’re not great, but they’re not awful — but Wisconsin will not lose this game. The Illini cover, but the Badgers start the season 1-0.
Tristen Kissack: Wisconsin 27, Illinois 20
HAMMER Illinois to cover any double-digit spread. Wisconsin just doesn’t blow out the Illini. Sure, the Badgers will most likely come out with a chip on their should after last year. But this is an Illinois squad that returns one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country, a fifth-year senior under center, not one, but two Bhebhes.
We’ll see how Wisconsin’s freshman quarterback fares in his first appearance. This is an Illinois defense that returns a lot of weapons, though. I expect the Illini to hang around in this one, but I’m not sure if they’ll steal one in Madison tomorrow.
Michael Berns: Wisconsin 24, Illinois 16
Good teams win, great teams cover. Wisconsin wins, but they do not cover the as-of-now 3-touchdown margin they’re expected to beat the Illini by.
Illinois has a few things going in their favor on Friday night. No fans at Camp Randall on a Friday night game — that’s a big plus for the Illini. No Jack Coan means Illinois will have the more experienced quarterback when Brandon Peters goes face to face with redshirt freshman Graham Mertz. As always, the Badgers’ offensive line is outstanding — and they’ll start all upperclassmen, the smallest of which is left tackle Cole Van Lanen who weighs a mere 305 pounds. The key for Wisconsin, and why I think they’ll win this game is senior Kendric Pryor combined with their always-reliable running game. Pryor is a speedster out wide and in the bubble-screen/jet sweep game, and I think he’s due for a touchdown and a 100+ yard game.
Illinois hangs tough, but it’s Pryor and the Badgers that have the more explosive play or two to win the game.
Matt Rejc: Wisconsin 35, Illinois 24
As the first game of the season after what has been a highly tumultuous offseason, it’s hard to imagine that either team is going to be looking great this week. I’m sure Rod Smith will have some surprises in store for the Badgers in the early going, but I have a feeling that Wisconsin will take over the game and emerge with the win. It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that Illinois wins this game, particularly with a highly limited Camp Randall atmosphere, but the first game on the road is always a tough one to win.
Jacob Rajlich: Illinois 31, Wisconsin 21
It’s going to be a whole different experience playing on the road without opposing fans, and with a late start to the football season, I think anything’s possible at this point. With a veteran QB and offensive line I think the Illinois offense will be able to outpace Wisconsin’s and ultimately pull out the W. Forget about the three touchdown spread, play the Illinois moneyline (+500)!
Raul Rodriguez: Wisconsin 38, Illinois 31
Illini Football is back!!!!! We finally get to see what Lovie has been building toward and I think Illini fans will be pleased. Now as for this game, I really have trouble imagining the Illini will stop the Badger’s run game and Paul Chryst’s creativity in the pass game will make it even harder. As we have seen all over CFB, defenses are struggling to defend the pass but they’re also struggling with physicality. Unfortunately, I see the same for the Illini in this game. On the other hand, I do see the Illini offense giving Wisconsin fits as well. Expect a back and forth game with Wisconsin getting enough stops to eke out a one touchdown win over the Illini.
Jeff Horwitz: Wisconsin 34, Illinois 24
Tackles Logan Bruss and Cole Van Lanen will be instrumental for the Badgers as they’ll rely heavily on the run game with starting QB Jack Coan out. Look for senior back Garrett Groshek to hit the gap between the guards and tackles and get downhill. He’ll also be a threat in the passing game out of the backfield and vertically down the middle. With Milo Eifler out for the first half, Illinois needs Hansen and Khalan Tolson to stop Groshek and Nakia Watson from getting into the secondary. In a deviation from the norm, the key for the Illini will be the passing game. Watch for Rod Smith to be aggressive and push the ball early in downs. If Peters can connect with Imatorbhebhe and Navarro deep early on, and limit turnovers in Illini territory, then Lovie can take his shot in the run game against LB Jack Sanborn and the Badgers 3-4 front.
Drew Pastorek: Wisconsin 28, Illinois 17
You think Bucky has forgotten about what happened last season? I highly doubt it. Paul Chryst will have his team ready to play and won’t overlook the Illini this time around. But, I also believe the words of Lovie Smith — Illinois is a better team than last year’s six-win squad. The Illini are certainly capable of springing the upset again and they will certainly keep it closer than the spread (for entertainment purposes only, of course), but winning at Camp Randall will be a titanic task. Illinois can’t afford a slow start against a physical, formidable challenger. The Badgers love to push their opponents around on both sides of the line, and I echo Raul’s thought that the bigger, stronger team will have the advantage early in the season. The Illini keep it competitive and acquit themselves well, but fall a few big plays short.
Quentin Wetzel: Wisconsin 31, Illinois 20
There is no denying that Wisconsin is the better team. The Badgers have won at least 7 regular season games in every season since 2002. Illinois hasn’t won 7 regular season games since the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Put another way, Wisconsin’s worst season of the past decade was better than Illinois’ best season over that same period. So until the Illini prove they can consistently hang with the best teams in the conference, I won’t believe it.
That being said, I do think there is reason for optimism. The Illini return the 12th most production in the country from a team that already went to a bowl game. Any home field advantage for Wisconsin will be severely limited with no fans jumping around in Camp Randall. And after the injury to Jack Coan, the Badgers will have a redshirt freshman at quarterback making his first career start. It’s not too hard to imagine the Illini pulling this off. Ultimately, I think this game comes down to turnovers. If the Illini can reignite some of that #LovieBall magic from 2019, they will return home with back to back wins over Wisconsin for the first time since 2002. But I’ll believe it when I see it. Go prove me wrong, boys.