Nebraska vs. Illinois College Football Week 0 Preview and Best Bet

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Adrian Martinez #2 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers pitches the football during a game against Rutgers on December 18, 2020. Corey Perrine/Getty Images/AFP

The 2021 college football season is finally here as the opening weekend kicks off this Saturday. Five games highlight a slate with unique regional matchups. The most important game of the weekend is the first of the day when Nebraska takes on Illinois. So let’s see what the College Football odds look like for this game.

Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

Saturday, August 28, 2021 – 01:00 PM EDT at Memorial Stadium

Both the Cornhuskers and Fighting Illini have a ton to prove in 2021. Scott Frost’s Cornhuskers continue to face adversity after dealing with disappointing on-field results, continued transfers from young talent and, now, an off-field discrepancy that must be hashed out. Meanwhile, Bret Bielema has to re-establish his legitimacy in the Big Ten.

We’re breaking down how Nebraska and Illinois matchup in this opening Big Ten showdown. We have two great picks to start the season off on the right foot. Let’s dive in.

Nebraska Offense vs. Illinois Defense

The last time we saw these teams battle, Illinois shocked Nebraska with a 41-23 victory in Memorial Stadium. One of the two keys to the game was Luke McCaffrey’s inability to protect the football. The backup completed 15-of-26 passes for 134 yards and three interceptions, negating the 122 yards and two scores he accumulated on the ground.

McCaffrey has since transferred out and junior Adrian Martinez is back under center for Scott Frost. Martinez has his own flaws as a playmaker but is more consistent in both facets of being a dual-threat quarterback compared to McCaffrey. The passing game averaged more yards per attempt and Martinez was more prolific on the ground.

This is the biggest positive Nebraska has going into this game and compared to 2020. Martinez’s experience will be vital in this game. Nebraska’s offensive line is projected to start three freshmen, one sophomore, and one junior. The backfield is headlined by two freshmen and a transfer. It’s safe to say Frost’s ability to coach will be tested right off the bat.

Nebraska grinds out yards on offense and has been making do with limited resources throughout Frost’s tenure. They understand their own identity at this point, and they don’t have a big margin for error. What happened last November, in their upset loss to Illinois, is an example of what happens when the game-plan fails.

Nebraska will keep the game on the ground to stay comfortable early on. They lost 44% of their production on offense from 2020, meaning they’re adjusting on the fly. And Illinois was especially weak last year against the ground, surrendering 230 yards on the ground each week. 

Illinois Offense vs. Nebraska Defense

Illinois had a woeful passing offense last year, averaging under 153 yards and 47% completion rate in 2020. Bret Bielema is bringing 80% of 2020’s production back, which is solid, but last year’s crew was quite bad. The handful of graduate transfers he added, who are projected to be rotational players, won’t be enough for a big change.

Quarterback Brandon Peters is subpar and has very limited options around him. Bielema is far from a passing game architect, and there’s a stark lack of athleticism in the receiving room currently. They must win on the ground.

The bad news for Illinois is Nebraska has the ninth-most defensive production back from 2020. This unit is young but will benefit from continuity and time in the weight room. I expect Nebraska to be much more consistent on defense in 2021.

Illinois is too predictable. While they can average five yards per carry, all day, their path to scoring several times in order to cover would require us considering unpredictable factors like turnovers. 

The Pick

This will be a close game that relies on each team’s running game. Last year’s game will prove to be a fluke so, for my College Football pick, I think Nebraska will edge out a cover. I’ll add that we’re safely hitting the under, as both teams consistently failed to clear the over last year and not enough has changed for us to stray from that trend.

College Football Picks: Nebraska -7 (-103) and Total Under 55 (-108) at Heritage Sports (visit our Heritage Sports Review)

Nebraska -7 (-103)
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Under 55 (-108)
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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.