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Illinois and Nebraska will get the 2021 college football season underway on Saturday afternoon when their game kicks off at Memorial Stadium in Champagne, Illinois. While it may not be the most exciting matchup, it does feature two Big Ten teams looking to turn their respective programs around.

Will Scott Frost get the Cornhuskers off to a good start in his fourth season, or will Brett Bielema start his tenure at Illinois off with a win in his home debut? Oddsmakers appear to be favoring Nebraska. But that does not mean the Fighting Illini should be counted out.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Scott Frost was supposed to resurrect the Nebraska program but has yet to finish a season with a winning record. While his offense returns eight starters this season, it is hard to say if it will be good enough to beat the competition in the Big Ten.

Quarterback Adrian Martinez has the job all to himself with Luke McCaffrey transferring to Louisville. Under his guidance, the offense has been good at generating yards the last few years. But due to mistakes and turnovers, the yards have not always translated to points.

Losing two receivers to the transfer portal is not going to make it any easier. But Nebraska does have two solid tight ends in Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek. However, with little experience at wide receiver, chances are the Nebraska offense will lean heavily on the run game (unless someone emerges).

Martinez has proven to be a good running, but the team would love to get more production out of the running backs. While they are unproven, the team does have three talented ones in Marvin Scott, Gabe Ervin, and USC-transfer Markese Stepp.

But the run game will depend on the offensive line—a line that lost its two best blockers from last season.

On the defensive side of the ball, there is hope. Nine starters return, and while it is hard to call any of them stars, they are good players. The front seven is going to be tough to run against. But to win games, the secondary is going to need to step its game up.

Illinois Fighting Illini

Brett Bielema has his work cut out for him with the Fighting Illini. He inherits a team that struggled on both sides of the ball last season en route to a 2-6 record. On the offensive side of the ball, they averaged around 350 yards a game and just 20 points. It was not any better on the defensive side, where they gave up just under 35 points a game.

Former Michigan-transfer Brandon Peters will give Bielema a decent talent at quarterback to build around this season. But he will not have much to work with at wide receiver, so the team will probably end up leaning heavily on the run game.

To that end, Illinois does have four returning offensive linemen—which is a good thing. The unit lost its best player to the NFL, but it should be in decent shape this season.

The deepest position for the Illini offense happens to be one that will get featured in Brett Bielema’s offense—running back. Last year’s leading rusher, Chase Brown, is back. But he will not be asked to carry the load. Bielema will probably make good use of Mike Epstein, Reggie Love III, and Chase Hayden.

On the defensive side of the ball, new defensive coordinator Ryan Walters has his work cut out for him. Last year’s unit was simply awful. The linebackers will likely be the strength of the defense led by super senior Jake Hansen.

Roderick Perry is a force at nose guard, but he and the rest of the defensive front will have to play better this season. The hope is for an improved pass rush to take some of the pressure off in the secondary. But there is some talent back there; the trick will be whether they can up their game this season.

Betting Recommendation

This is not going to be an exciting game. Both teams have holes in their respective rosters, and it is unclear how they will fill them. Frost and Bielema will probably hope they can figure some of their respective issues out as the game progresses. That being said, Nebraska has fewer holes, and that will be the difference in the end.

Neither team is going to throw the ball well. But Scott Frost should be able to establish the run game early against the Fighting Illini defense and ride it all the way to a season-opening win. Take the Cornhuskers to win, via the moneyline and against the spread.

It will be shocking if these two teams combine for more than 55 points (take the under).

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About the Author
Travis Pulver

Travis Pulver

Senior Writer
Travis Pulver is a senior writer for Gaming Today and a lifelong football fan, something he says comes naturally having been born in the football-crazy state of Texas. Through the years, Pulver's love of sports has extended into baseball, basketball, golf, and rugby. Life currently finds him in Indiana with his wife and two kids.

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