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TCR Staff Predictions: Illinois at Nebraska

Just two of the conference’s worst facing off.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Tristen Kissack: Nebraska 34, Illinois 20

Redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey (yes, Christian’s little brother) got the starting nod last week at quarterback for the Cornhuskers and looked solid in his debut. He put up 152 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 13-of-21 passing and picked up another 67 yards and a score on the ground — which would translate to something like 20-of-21 passing, 220+ passing yards, three TDs, and 120+ yards rushing against this Illinois defense. But hey, at least Brandon Peters is back.

Michael Berns: Nebraska 34, Illinois 28

Another week, another pair of bad football teams going at it. To the neutral, Illinois beating Rutger last week by three and Nebraska beating Penn State by seven is not exactly convincing, impressive stuff for either team. Cornhusker sophomore quarterback Luke McCaffrey is a problem, and I expect he’ll make throws Noah Vedral couldn’t make last week against a poor Illinois pass defense. Nebraska wins, but Illinois keeps this competitive through three quarters.

Matt Rejc: Nebraska 42, Illinois 24

The Illini defense appeared to find its footing against Rutgers, but the Cornhuskers bring significantly more talent to the table on both sides of the ball. Brandon Peters starts again, yet Isaiah Williams takes two drives in the first half. I expect the home team to take over late in a game that’s probably closer than the final score would indicate.

Jacob Rajlich: Nebraska 35, Illinois 7

Illinois won, but reality is going to hit back hard this weekend. The Illini don’t stand a chance against Nebraska, who has played leagues ahead of Illinois despite a 1-2 record. I don’t expect this to be pretty, and I don’t possibly see a win on our schedule for the remainder of the season. But hey, I’ll enjoy this game when I’ll have to bear the Ohio State disaster next week.

Jeff Horwitz: Illinois 24, Nebraska 21

While there’s certainly a talent disparity between these teams, they have very similar profiles in Big Ten play this year. Illinois is 4th in the Big Ten with 207 rushing YPG. Nebraska is right behind them with 193 YPG. Illinois only has three passing TDs on the season. Nebraska only has one! Big Ten Freshman of the Week Isaiah Williams will have to split time with Brandon Peters for now, and it’s unclear what has to happen for Williams to get the starting job. If the Illini can have a +2 turnover margin for the second straight week, they’ll get out of Lincoln with a W.

Drew Pastorek: Nebraska 37, Illinois 21

Remember last season’s game? The Huskers won 42-38, despite outgaining the Illini by nearly 400 yards. Nebraska ran 98 plays, possessed the ball for 37 minutes, and would’ve demolished Illinois were it not for four lost fumbles. The Illini were able to rush for 299 yards in last year’s matchup, and the ground game has been good for them so far in 2020. They’ll likely need a similar output to keep this one competitive. I’m not sure how much we’ll see of Isaiah Williams this week with Brandon Peters expected to return as QB1. If the Illini fall behind early, Peters will have to make plays through the air. If they can keep things close and break off a few big run plays it will bode well for Illinois. Nebraska’s defense isn’t stellar, but their offense is more than capable of exploiting Lovie Smith’s defense. I agree with Jeff — the Illini will need a strong dose of ‘Lovieball’ to have a real shot Saturday.

Quentin Wetzel: Nebraska 38, Illinois 21

So far, Nebraska has lost to #3 Ohio State and #19 Northwestern, and it has beaten Penn State. These Huskers are a far cry from the juggernaut of decades past, but they are still competitive in the Big Ten. Illinois is not. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to beat Rutgers on Saturday. After all, beating Rutgers is better than not beating Rutgers. But when you’re halfway through the season and a three point win over the conference’s basement-dweller is your greatest accomplishment, you are a bad team.

The Illini defense did finally put together a few stops in the second half against Rutgers last week, and the return of Brandon Peters should be a boon for the offense. But Illinois has yet to put two good halves together, and I see that trend continuing in Lincoln.

Billy Lawton: Nebraska 28, Illinois 21

The Illini and Cornhuskers limped to wins last week with inexperienced quarterbacks at the helm for both squads. It remains to be seen whether Brandon Peters will be back under center this week, and Lovie will keep that close to vest for strategic purposes. If we see Williams, it’s unlikely that Nebraska’s front seven will allow a repeat performance from Isaiah Williams on the ground, forcing the Illini into obvious passing downs where Williams struggles. While Luke McCaffrey and Adrian Martinez have had their issues as well, they ran into tough defenses early on in Northwestern and Ohio State. McCaffrey also showed enough consistency in the pass game against Penn State, giving them an edge offensively. This matchup will come down to which defensive front will minimize the other’s running game, and I think Illinois’ penchant for giving up big plays defensively and lack of discipline will cost them in this game. Nebraska will gain confidence for the back end of their schedule and continue their historical dominance in their matchups with the Illini.