Manjesh Mogallapalli: Illinois 24, Nebraska 14
The Bielema era will start off with a success in a well fought out B10 battle. Illinois’ experience on the offensive line and the relative inexperience on the Nebraska defensive line proves to be the difference. Illinois will dominate the T.O.P and run the ball for 150+ yards and leave the Huskers defense searching for answers.
Matt Rejc: Nebraska 24, Illinois 10
Nebraska may be a shell of the program it was even just ten years ago. But if history is any indication, year one of a new coaching staff is generally bumpy for any college football program, and it’s almost always an omen of a disastrous season ahead for Illini teams. This game should be winnable for Illinois, but we’ll likely see lots of penalties, blown coverage, and missed assignments that will let the Huskers off the hook. Mike Epstein will break off a long touchdown run on Illinois’ first possession, but it’ll be all downhill from there.
Raul Rodríguez: Nebraska 28 Illinois 24
Bret Bielema can start his tenure with a bang but, because this is game 1 of year 1, a win is not required. Scott Frost, on the other hand, has to win this game. So, expect some urgency from the Huskers. Nebraska is also more talented and is likely better organized than the Illini who are breaking in a new coaching tenure. So, expect the Huskers to get off to a fast start with a 21-3 halftime lead that grows to 28-3 in the third. The Illini, however, will not give up and will stage a comeback that pulls them to within 28-24 late in the fourth. Nebraska gets the onside kick and takes a knee to secure the win, but the Illini’s second half will make us all feel hopeful for what’s to come this season and beyond with Bielema.
Mihir Chavan: Illinois 45, Nebraska 13
The two stories coming from camp are completely opposite. Illinois is tight lipped while Nebraska is fighting itself with scandals. Illinois had the upper hand last year in Lincoln and returns the same team on both sides of the ball. Illinois runs the ball hard and Reggie Love erupts for 120 yards and 2 TD’s, Chase Brown adds another 75 yards and a TD, and Brandon Peters throws for 200 yards and 2 TD’s and does his best impression of Tom Brady while sneaking in one more on the ground. Jake Hansen continues to do his thing and the 5 man front smothers Adrian Martinez. Bielema gets his first B1G win and starts his era strong at home in Week 0.
Jacob Rajlich: Illinois 35, Nebraska 14
Illinois is a veteran squad with a new coach, and things can go any sort of way when there are so many unknowns. But when you gotta gamble, you gotta side with the home team, and double down financially and emotionally. I think the Bielema era at the University of Illinois starts off on the right foot - not only covering the line as 7-point dogs but winning outright. Take the +200 moneyline while you can, folks!
The only hesitancy I have is with the sense of urgency Scott Frost must be feeling as the Huskers’ head coach, during a tenure that’s been underwhelming to say the least so far. Starting the year off with a win against the Illini would be a boon to his standing with the Nebraska faithful, and may very well make or break a hot seat season for him.
Drew Pastorek: Nebraska 27, Illinois 17
This prediction is based more on the uncertainty of the Illini than confidence in the Huskers — how many years has Nebraska been “back” now? Three? Four?
As my cohorts have alluded to, it’s difficult to predict game one of a brand new regime. There will likely be lots of kinks to work out, plenty of adjustments to be made. Illinois does have the edge on special teams, and the field position game could keep the Illini within striking distance. Quite frankly, the Fighting Illini enter Week Zero with zero expectations. The same cannot be said for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska needs to start the season strong, and I think the Huskers make enough big plays to pull away late.
Quentin Wetzel: Nebraska 28, Illinois 27
I really want to pick Illinois. This should be the biggest home crowd any current Illini has played in front of, and that has to count for something. Plus, I have to think that Bret Bielema’s utmost secrecy with his schemes will give Illinois some level of competitive advantage. But… I can’t quite pull the trigger. Nebraska wins a nail-biter.
Steve Braun: Nebraska 31, Illinois 27
I’m really excited for this game because it could honestly have any outcome in any direction. A blowout win by Illinois would surprise me most, but I don’t expect Nebraska to cruise either.
I think we’ll play a lot of 5-1-5, which will put some pressure on the line while preventing major coverage mismatches. Nebraska will then see most plays either stopped for no gain or ripping off 8-15 yards. Our transfers in the secondary will be tested for sure, and while I think Nebraska will move the ball, Illinois will get some stops and not give up as many 40+ yard touchdowns as we’re used to.
On offense, the first quarter will be telling. There’s no need to be coy about it: this Illini team is best equipped to run between the tackles, and we should go to that well early and often. If we’re still having success on the third drive, we’ll put up points all day, but if Nebraska stuffs the box it’ll come down to whether or not this coaching staff has done a better job planning for that contingency than their predecessors. Daniel Barker and Luke Ford will be big targets on 3rs down, but Brian Hightower has displayed some go-up-and-get-it ability as well.
I’d expect a game that’s competitive but not quite as stupid as, say, the 2019 contest that saw Nebraska squeak out a 4-point win after nearly doubling our yardage.
I haven’t been this excited about an Illini season opener since…Well, let’s not get into that. Good vibes only.