Matt Rejc: Northwestern 21, Illinois 10
For better and for worse, the Illini have largely played to the level of their opponents this season. We saw the highs of Illinois beating two ranked teams on the road in fairly convincing fashion, but we’ve also seen the lows of narrow home losses to mediocre teams like Maryland and Rutgers. I see this game as more of the latter, compounded by the recent trend of Northwestern routinely defeating the Illini no matter what either team had done earlier in the season. I want so badly to be wrong here, but after the season Illinois has had, I find it hard to believe that this team will be able to pull out this win and secure the Hat.
Thumpasaurus: Northwestern 33, Illinois 7
Illinois sure does seem to have some momentum as a program after a season of competing in 9 of their 11 games and beating two ranked teams on the road. Just around the corner is a rare level of hope for Illini fans, not that we’ll be good next year (because it’ll be a struggle to replace the offensive line) but that we’re on the right track to escaping perennial doormat status and actually having most if not all of our games be worth watching.
You know what would vaporize all of that? Getting annihilated by a very bad Northwestern team.
That alone convinces me of this result. Like two years ago, we’ll get their very best shot. Like Rutgers and Iowa, their offense is shitty but balanced. Like every year since the Big Ten mandated that we play Northwestern the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the stadium will be empty. Like last year, I won’t be watching. The worse Northwestern looked all year, the more convinced I became that we stand no chance against them.
If Bret Bielema can actually beat an awful Nerncats team, it might mean that things are going to be different.
But I’m an Illini fan.
Drew Pastorek: Northwestern 20, Illinois 17
The Fighting Illini are 6.5-point favorites for Saturday’s game. The Fighting Illini have played down to their competition all season long — see Maryland, Rutgers, Charlotte. The Fighting Illini haven’t beaten Northwestern since 2014. The Fighting Illini got absolutely trucked by a God-awful Northwestern team two years ago. That’s all the evidence I need to pick the Wildcats.
This Northwestern squad has yet to score more than 24 points in any game this season — and hasn’t put up more than 14 during their current 5-game losing streak. But these are the types of games Illinois has lost this year. The Illini’s conservative offensive approach will allow Northwestern to hang around, thus setting up a nightmarish end-of-game scenario we’ve already seen play out multiple times this season.
Pat Fitzgerald has owned Illinois the past decade, and while I sincerely believe Bret Bielema will care about this game/rivalry — Lovie sure as shit didn’t — I just can’t put any additional blind faith in the Illini. PROVE ME WRONG! I WANT TO BE WRONG!
Quentin Wetzel: Illinois 20, Northwestern 14
I’m looking at my colleagues’ predictions above, and… really? (I mean no disrespect; I’m just surprised.) I get that we, as a fanbase, are pretty jaded, especially when it comes to games against Northwestern. But Illinois is objectively better than the Wildcats this year. And it’s at home. And we’re playing for a shot at a bowl game. And we have a coach who we all believe won’t overlook any opponent. I’m by no means saying that Illinois can’t lose this game — sports are very random. If we do lose though, it’s the worst loss of the season. I don’t want to believe that we’re about to suffer the worst loss of the season. Let’s win that Hat.