College Football Preview – Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

After a long offseason, the 2021 college football season will finally get underway on Saturday, August 28. There are five games involving FBS opponents on the schedule, but the only game that will feature teams from two Power Five conferences pits the Illinois Fighting Illini against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. This is a huge game for Scott Frost, as his seat in Lincoln is red hot heading into the 2021 season.

Illinois will host Nebraska on August 28, 2021 at 1 p.m. ET on FOX.

College Football Betting Odds

Nebraska -6.5

Illinois +6.5

Total 55

Scott Frost was heralded as the savior when he returned to Nebraska. Before his first game on the sidelines, the governor declared Scott Frost Day, and there was a book written detailing how he would return the Cornhuskers to greatness.

It’s looking more and more like that book should be in the fiction section. Frost is 12-20 in three seasons at Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers have yet to finish .500. They have finished in the bottom half of their division each year, so the pressure is on the former quarterback.

As for Illinois, the Illini parted ways with Lovie Smith and brought in former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema to try to turn this program around. Bielema was a superb coach at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers to a 68-24 record and three straight trips to the Rose Bowl.

When Nebraska Has the Ball

There is continuity under center as Adrian Martinez will start the season at quarterback for Nebraska. Martinez had a great freshman season in 2018, but unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, he has been unable to build off that strong start. He has been a middling passer over the last two seasons, but he did improve as a runner in 2020, averaging 5.7 YPC.

The Cornhuskers have a very young running back corps. The top two players on the depth chart are both freshmen, so it’s tough to say what to expect from this group. The offensive line is projected to start three freshmen too, so Martinez may be running a lot more than he wants to on Saturday.

Five of the seven members of Illinois’ front seven are either seniors or transfers. That gives the Fighting Illini an experience advantage over Nebraska’s offensive line. Roderick Perry II was strong in the middle of the defensive line last year, and Jake Hansen and Owen Carney Jr. are very good linebackers.

When Illinois Has the Ball

Brandon Peters will be the starter for the Illini. He was banged up last year, but he did lead Illinois to a 41-23 win over Nebraska in Lincoln. Peters completed 18 of 25 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown in that game, and he had a rushing touchdown too.

Expect a run-heavy attack from Illinois under Bielema. He loves a power running game, and he has a veteran offensive line for his running backs to run behind. Every one of the starting linemen is a senior or grad transfer, so Chase Brown could average more than 5.2 YPC.

Nebraska has a good secondary, but the front seven is a little suspect. There isn’t a lot of talent or experience outside of a handful of players, so Illinois might be able to run through the Blackshirts. The Illini carried the ball 52 times 285 yards against this run defense last season.

Prediction

There is a good chance that Illinois pulls off the upset here. The Fighting Illini ran through this defense last season, and they might be able to do it again in the season opener.

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