College football is in the air and the season kicks off this Saturday with a Big 10 clash between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Illini of Illinois. Let’s break it down and make our first of many college football picks this season a winner!
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Saturday, August 28, 2021 – 1:00 PM ET at Memorial Stadium
These Big 10 rivals met last year in Lincoln and if you happened to scan the college football odds you would have seen that the Huskers were a whopping 17-point favorite. However, that number was woefully off base as the Illini delivered a 41-23 smackdown on Nebraska’s home turf. Luke McCaffrey, the NFL’s Christian McCaffrey’s little brother, tossed three picks in that game but you won’t be seeing him on the field as he transferred to Louisville after the season, and within a blink of an eye packed up to join the Rice football team for the 2021 season.
The defense was an issue for Nebraska last season as they allowed over 29 points per game and surrendered 217 passing and 169.5 rushing yards per game in the truncated 2020 season. On offense, Nebraska managed only 23 points per game and leaned heavily on their rushing attack that averaged over 201 yards per game while their passing checked in at a modest 190 yards per contest en route to their 3-5 record.
The Illini were mired in the basement of the Big 10 West standings with a 2–6 mark last season. Defensively, they allowed 230 rushing and 237 passing yards per game while surrendering an average of nearly 35 points per contest. Offensively, they were similar to Nebraska in featuring the run game which averaged 196.1 yards per contest while their passing game was rather docile as evidenced by the 152.9 yards per game they averaged.
Bret Bielema Back in Big 10
Illinois is hoping their program can get a big boost with Brett Bielema at the helm. As college football fans know, Bielema has had mixed results in the schoolboy ranks with an outstanding run at Wisconsin from 2006-2012 in which he led the Badgers to two Big Ten titles and part of a third over his successful tenure. However, his stint in the SEC with Arkansas was quite the opposite as he assembled a 29-34 record over five seasons.
After a few seasons at the pro ranks, first a defensive line coach with the Patriots and then as a senior assistant with the Giants, he has returned to the scene of his most galvanizing moments as a head coach, and the administration at Illinois is banking on him to rekindle that Big 10 magic from several years ago.
“They didn’t know me from Adam,” Bielema said of his players. “All I said is, “Here I am, let’s get to know each other.’ I would say there have been moments of high stress but also moments of levity and fun.
“I know this, walking off that field on Saturday we’ll know a lot about who we are by the actions of our four quarters and how we react to moments of adversity as well as success.”
And as hope springs eternal in Illinois with a big-time head coach planning great things for this season and beyond, the same cannot be said for Nebraska’s Scott Frost who is on the hot seat in his fourth year at Lincoln. Nebraska’s hometown kid has fostered a 12-20 record over his three seasons as the Cornhuskers head coach and it’s now or never.
Recalling last season’s embarrassing loss at home to the Illini, Frost stated, “There are some challenges to playing a team that has a new staff. We did not play very well against them last year. We made some mistakes. We need to play better this year. I think the guys are locked in on that.”
Wanna Make a Bet?
I’m not sure why the oddsmakers at all of the best online sportsbooks are showing the Huskers as touchdown favorites in this one. After all, this has not been a good team in a long time, and say what you will about Illinois, they haven’t been much worse. In fact, they beat this team by almost 20 points on the road last season and have a seasoned quarterback in Brandon Peters who knows his teammates well heading into his third season under center for Illinois.
Although the offensive schemes will be different under the new head coach, Brett Bielema, it should be an improvement over what they were working with under the old regime. There is no good reason to lay points on the road with Nebraska unless they prove otherwise with a stunning turnaround this season. Grab the seven with the home hound and cash a ticket!