Nebraska has had a rough few years. They haven’t finished above .500 since 2016. Things have been looking up for Nebraska though. They landed the 20th best recruiting class in the country in 2021. Meanwhile, their Week 1 opponents haven’t shown much improvement.
Illinois’ struggles have been even worse. They haven’t had a winning season since 2011 when they finished 7-6. To make matters worse, they’re one of the worst recruiting Power 5 schools in the country. They finished with the 73rd best class in the country in 2021. The only Power 5 schools with worse rankings were Purdue, Arizona, South Carolina, and Oregon State.
This is a game that Nebraska has to win if they’re going to turn their program around. If they can’t win conference games against the likes of Illinois then it may be time for a reset.
The Cornhuskers come into their Week 1 matchup as 7 point favorites. That’s the smallest margin of any Week 1 matchup. Not the sign that Nebraska fans were looking for heading into this season.
Still, they’re given -263 odds, or an implied 72.5% chance to win their Week 1 game. Meanwhile, Illinois is given +225 odds, or an implied 30.8% chance to win the game. So, oddsmakers are clearly behind Nebraska even if they aren’t the massive favorites they probably should be.
The good news is that Nebraska has historically dominated this matchup. These teams have met up 18 times in their histories and Nebraska is 14-3-1 all time.
The bad news is that Illinois won this matchup last year in a blowout 41-23. It was one of only 2 wins for Illinois in 2020.
Before that loss though, Nebraska has won 4 straight matchups against Illinois. The hope is that last year was nothing but a blip.
I wish I could say that Nebraska has this game locked down and will start the year 1-0. I just can’t though. Illinois had their number last year and they return both Chase Brown and Mike Epstein, both of whom rushed for over 100 yards in their game last year.
Nebraska has the clear talent advantage, that much is certain. The question is whether or not they can turn that talent advantage into wins on the field. That’s been an issue under Scott Frost, but here’s hoping that 2021 will finally be the year.