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TCR Staff Predictions: Illinois vs. UTSA

We’re all expecting Illinois to hold on in this one.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Tristen Kissack: Illinois 34, UTSA 24

Losing Brandon Peters for an undetermined amount of time and Calvin Hart for the season are tough setbacks after just the first week. But there weren’t many complaints to be had about how Artur Sitkowski handled the offense throughout the game. The defense looked solid against Nebraska and has had a week to clean up some things. Don’t try and get too pretty, and Illinois should take care of business against the Roadrunners.

Michael Berns: Illinois 48, UTSA 23

UTSA has a running back worth revering, but when it comes to the trenches, give me Big Ten Bert bully ball over anything the Roadrunners can do on either side of the ball. The Illinois defense gets after the passer, while the Illini offense puts up close to 300 yards on the ground.

Matt Rejc: Illinois 35, UTSA 28

UTSA has many of the same advantages that Illinois enjoys, including a standout running game and an experienced roster. But it’s week two and we already know Illinois’ offensive identity: control the ball and grind out yards. UTSA won’t face many opponents with that type of game plan, and with Illinois’ talent advantage, I don’t see the Roadrunners being able to keep up in what should be a close game throughout. The wildcard here is that we still don’t have a good read on Illinois’ run defense. Nebraska focused on trying to beat the Illini through the air, so this will be a good test for Bielema’s defense.

Drew Pastorek: Illinois 31, UTSA 20

The Roadrunners return 21 of 22 starters from last year’s squad that reached the First Responder Bowl, have a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, and sport an All-American-caliber tailback. Illinois is going to get their best shot, and the Illini still aren’t in a position to overlook anybody. UTSA could play the role of plucky underdogs, but has never faced off with a Big Ten team and is much better when playing inside the Alamodome. Both teams love to run the football, and while the Roadrunners have the better individual back in Sincere McCormick — he might even be the best player on the field, the Illini will better utilize its bevy of ballcarriers and showcase their physicality up front. Bielema’s boys will be in danger if they let UTSA hang around. I anticipate Illinois trying to neutralize the Roadrunners by controlling the clock and holding onto the ball. Illinois covers and heads to Charlottesville 2-0.

Quentin Wetzel: Illinois 26, UTSA 23

I am far more confident in Illinois now than I was a week ago. I was skeptical of Illinois in year one with a new head coach, and I still am, but much of my fear was eased with the win over Nebraska. There’s a decent chance that Illinois is a bowl team. But… I think UTSA might be pretty good too. The Roadrunners went 7-5 last year, and they return 21 of 22 starters from that team. I don’t feel comfortable about this game at all. But I trust Illinois football (famous last words, I know) more than I have in quite some time. The Illini eke one out under the lights.

Jeff Horwitz: Illinois 30, UTSA 24

Illinois is only a -5.5 favorite against UTSA, down from -6.5 before the Brandon Peters injury. After the first quarter against Nebraska, Illinois sacked Adrian Martinez five times, while the offensive line didn’t allow any sacks. The Illini dominated Nebraska for three quarters despite being -7.0 underdogs and losing their starting QB. If logic holds, Illinois should be able to cover this uncomfortably low spread against a Conference USA team. Just don’t turn the ball over!

Mihir Chavan: Illinois 43, UTSA 17

Coming off a big win against Nebraska, Illinois has a chance to step on the gas. UTSA had two good players on offense, a QB that threw for 1600 yards and a RB that ran for 1400 yards. Let’s be honest here, they also played in the C-USA, with 0 games against P5 opponents, during a pandemic. So those numbers can be taken with a grain of salt. Overall, their margin of victories were, 3, 14, 2, 1, 31, 3 and 32. Their largest wins came against North Texas (32 points) and UTEP (31) points. UTEP is ranked 125th and North Texas is ranked 110 in the SP+, so pretty bad teams. The team they beat by 14 is St. Francis, an FCS school. I think that if Illinois is headed where I think it’s going, we cruise to a victory. Our line got penetration against a B1G line on both sides of the ball and that says a lot. HOWEVA (Stephen A Smith voice) This is a classic trap game. The eyes and the preparation will be on the Hoos of Virginia next week, not some pesky C-USA team from San Antonio. Illinois should and will win, but it will be a tense one.

Jack Jungmann: Illinois 38, UTSA 27

Illinois should not overlook UTSA. UTSA brings back a ton of talent from a 7-5 squad last year. Even without Calvin Hart, I think Illinois does just enough to get a win over UTSA. After what Art Sitkowski and the rest of the Illinois offense (hopefully with a healthy Chase Brown this week) showed us last week against Nebraska, I have no doubts that this offense can get it done. I think it might be close through the game, but Illinois should close this one out. I’ve got Illinois by 11.