Stephen Cohn: Minnesota 28, Illinois 17
I said it last week and I’ll say it again: Until Illinois wins a game, it’s hard to pick them to win a game. I still like a lot of the pieces this team has, but I have zero clue how well Coran Taylor will play in his first start, even against a horrid defense like Minnesota’s. Plus, the ghost of PJ Fleck — or just, PJ Fleck — still scares me every time he opposes Lovie Smith. So we’ll see, but I’m not confident they’ll win a game until they win a game.
Michael Berns: Illinois 35, Minnesota 24
This is the most excited I’ve been to watch a football game since… Redbox Bowl 2019. Why? Minnesota’s defense is horrible. Let me repeat. HORRIBLE. Through two games, the Gophers have the second worst run defense in the Big Ten. They’ve given up eight! rushing touchdowns already and over 500 rushing yards. Their pass defense is as bad as Illinois’ is. Offensively, Rashod Bateman is a beast as is Chris Autman-Bell, but Tanner Morgan looks like a shell of the quarterback he was a season ago. *To rant a bit more, I think a lot of this has to do with an offensive coordinator change as well as the graduation of security blanket Tyler Johnson out wide.
No matter who plays quarterback for the Illini, I expect some points and some big plays out of the zone read option offense. Call me overly optimistic, but I like this matchup — a lot.
Matt Rejc: Minnesota 41, Illinois 24
It was really hard to see Illinois competing in this game with our defense struggling as much as it is, but now given the offensive personnel issues we’ll be dealing with, I just can’t see a viable path to victory. The secondary’s issues in coverage appear to be scheme/coaching-related, but until those are figured out, the blueprint to beating the Illini is in the open. I see the Illini offense starting strong and fading as momentum shifts back to the Gophers in the second half.
Raul Rodriguez: Minnesota 38, Illinois 35
The Gophers issues on defense are well documented. Michigan and Maryland moved the ball at will on the Gophers. Unfortunately, the Illini lack the explosiveness of either of these teams, but did show promise in the second half against Purdue. So, Minnesota coming to Champaign will be an opportunity to build on the momentum. I think the Illini will move the ball at will on Minnesota. However, I see the Gopher offense doing as much (or slightly more) as Illini’s in route to a close win.
Quentin Wetzel: Illinois 38, Minnesota 31
I know that the transitive property of sports isn’t real. If team A beats team B, and team B beats team C, that doesn’t necessarily mean that team A is better than team C. But allow me to humor myself here. In its first game, Minnesota got blown out by Michigan, who then lost to Michigan State, who got smoked by Rutgers the week prior. Last week, Minnesota lost to Maryland, who had just lost by 40 points to Northwestern. I’m pretty sure that Minnesota is really bad.
Looking closer, it’s clear that Minnesota’s defense is the source of its issues. The Golden Gophers have allowed 10.3 yards per pass attempt, nearly as bad as the Illini’s awful mark of 11.1. But on the ground, Minnesota has allowed a truly atrocious 8.7 yards per attempt so far. Nobody else in the conference has even allowed more than 5.7 yards per carry. To put this in perspective, Clemson’s offense, led by Heisman candidate Trevor Lawrence, has averaged 8.4 yards per attempt this season. So Minnesota’s defense has essentially turned opposing rushing attacks into a Trevor Lawrence-led passing offense this season. Yes, Illinois will likely start fourth-string QB Coran Taylor on Saturday. But Minnesota’s defense is allow-thirty-points-to-a-fouth-string-QB bad. Illinois wins a shootout.
Drew Pastorek: Illinois 31, Minnesota 27
I, too, love this matchup for our beloved Orange & Blue. The Illini offense showed promise against Purdue, and Minnesota’s defense has been remarkably, comically bad. The Gophers have allowed 93 points through their first two games. Maryland, who barely gained 200 yards versus Northwestern, racked up 675 against Minnesota.
I’m glad Coran Taylor is getting a shot. But Lovie has built this offense around the running game throughout his tenure, and with an unproven QB, I think Mike Epstein should get about 25 touches on Saturday. Maybe P.J. Fleck emerges from his megachurch with a brilliant gameplan this weekend, but I’ll roll with the Illini for one more week. The Big Ten has been bonkers...so why the hell not? I might be nuts, but at least my team doesn’t have its coach’s catchphrase emblazoned across their uniforms.