Big 10 football opens up Week 0 on Saturday afternoon in Champaign, IL. Lovie Smith is out, and so the Bret Bielema era begins for Illinois. Bielema is no stranger to taking over a program from a big-name coach, as he followed Barry Alvarez’s tenure in Wisconsin in the mid-2000s and did an excellent job with the Badgers. On the other sideline, Scott Frost leads his alma mater into battle for the fourth season with minimal winning (12-20) on his resume. The head coach’s seat in Lincoln is burning hot.
What opened up as a 9.5 point spread favoring the Cornhuskers on the road has been trimmed back to -7 and in a few places just -6.5 heading into Saturday’s clash. So which Big 10 program will get 2021 off on the right foot? Share your opinion and game picks with us on the BettingPros Discord!
- Opening Line: Nebraska -9.5
- Current Line: Nebraska -7 (-6.5 at FanDuel Sportsbook)
- Over/Under: 55
- Location: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL
- Start Time: 1:20 PM ET
- Last Meeting: Illinois 41 at Nebraska 23
Nebraska will have to rely on their defense in 2021 if they hope to end a four-year run of losing seasons. Jojo Domann is as versatile a defender as you will find. He can play the OLB position when needed but shines in coverage when he lines up against the slot. Cam Taylor-Britt joins Domann in what is expected to be a fierce secondary in Lincoln. On offense, Scott Frost will need to find ways to get the ball downfield with his run-first QB, Adrian Martinez. Martinez leads a modified option scheme that hasn’t been efficient yet under Frost. It will be interesting to see if they draw up a few deep shots early to keep the opposing defense honest.
Illinois won’t be counting on their coverage unit this season after losing top CB Nate Hobbs to the NFL. Their secondary was underwhelming with Hobbs and could be worse than the second-worst Power Five ranking they received in 2020 for pass coverage. Instead, the strength of this team lies in their offensive line. Doug Kramer centers an NFL-caliber front for the Illini. However, the offensive issues for Illinois come at the skill positions. Quarterback Brandon Peters has been inaccurate and doesn’t have a proven playmaker at wide receiver he can rely on. Watch for offensive coordinator Tony Peterson to move the pocket with boots and play-action passes to give Peters some options downfield.
Nebraska and Illinois met last November in Lincoln, where five turnovers helped the Illini control the game from the start, finishing with a 41-23 win. Illinois QB Brandon Peters was solid but not spectacular in the victory. The win snapped a four-game losing streak to Nebraska.
- Illinois is 2-3 in their last five games against the spread
- Totals have gone OVER in 3 of Illinois’ last five games
- Nebraska is 3-2 in their previous five road games against the spread
- Totals have gone UNDER in 4 of Nebraska’s last five games
- Nebraska leads the all-time series 13-4-1; they are 14-0 all-time in August (6-0 vs. Power 5)
Nebraska is the better football on both sides of the ball. While Illinois has the advantage in the trenches on offense, they lack the talent to compete with the Cornhusker’s defensive backfield, making it difficult to see how they will score. Conversely, Nebraska has a couple of playmakers who should give Illinois defenders fits on Saturday: WRs Zavier Betts and Samori Toure. Betts is a homerun threat with significant speed and the ability to score from anywhere. Illinois doesn’t have the speed or skill on defense to stop Nebraska for four quarters, something you will hear about the Illini often in 2021.
Prediction: Nebraska 31, Illinois 23 (Nebraska -7, Under 55)
Week Zero Odds and Game Picks
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- Connecticut Huskies vs Fresno State Bulldogs
- Southern Utah Thunderbirds at San Jose State Spartans
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