Josh Kelly, Senior Sports Editor - Nebraska 33, Illinois 20
A walk in the park, right?
Well, after a subpar performance in non-conference play, the Huskers are in a rare situation where every team they face has a chance to win. That was proven in the 36-28 win against Southern Mississippi on Saturday, which should have been more of a walk in the park than it was.
The pass defense for Nebraska has been horrendous, allowing more than 300 passing yards in each game this season. Illinois has an experienced quarterback in Wes Lunt, who is averaging 214 yards per game. While that number is not impressive, it should be higher after a duel with Nebraska.
In the first Big Ten matchup of the season, Nebraska tries to keep the Illinois offense at bay as it still tries to find a way to convert on third downs. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has another big day in the passing game, while the No. 1 running back on the team remains in question.
The game will be close in the third quarter and a touchdown from Imani Cross will give Nebraska the lead. Illinois will try to hang on, but the offense makes a few costly fumbles later on. Big Ten game No. 1 gets crossed off the list.
Nick Wilkinson, Print Sports Editor - Nebraska 31, Illinois 21
The Fighting Illini barely escaped a 2-2 overall record Saturday against Middle Tennessee, winning 27-25 with a late field goal to give them the edge. Nebraska also escaped a not-so-close game versus a Southern Miss team that racked up 458 yards against them.
Junior quarterback Nick Mullens was 26-41 passing with 447 yards and two touchdowns. That being said, Illinois junior quarterback Wes Lunt could run wild against Nebraska’s ever-struggling secondary.
Although Nebraska’s secondary has had a hard time thus far, letting each opposing quarterback toss for more than 300 yards against them, Illinois let Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill throw for 330 yards and three touchdowns.
Both Nebraska and Illinois have a struggling ground game. Junior running back Terrell Newby is no doubt Nebraska’s starter, but Newby is still looking for his breakout performance this season.
The Huskers have only experienced one away game this season. If their performance in Miami is any precognition to how away games go this season, Nebraska fans are in for a treat this Saturday. The Huskers’ second-half performance against the Hurricanes is still haunting my dreams.
If Nebraska’s defense can grasp its true potential, it will breeze through Champaign with no problems. As unlikely as that is, Illinois will stick with Nebraska through all four quarters.
If the Huskers’ defensive players give up more than 330 passing yards to Lunt, they may need to be stripped of their blackshirts for the first time since Kevin Cosgrove stripped his Huskers of theirs in 2007.
Brett Nierengarten, Online Sports Editor - Nebraska 31, Illinois 24
If you would have asked me to pick this game after week three ,I would have said Nebraska by at least two scores. After Saturday’s game against Southern Miss, I look at Nebraska’s Big Ten opener much differently.
The Huskers are lucky they get the Illini in their first conference road game because I am not sure how many teams in the Big Ten Nebraska can beat right now.
I still think they will take care of business because the only legitimate opponent Illinois has played this year is North Carolina, and that game ended with a 48-14 loss for the Illini.
Wes Lunt has been solid for Illinois at quarterback. He has completed more than 60 percent of his passes and has thrown for six scores. Still, Illinois is probably the worst passing team Nebraska will play all year, which is very good for Nebraska.
Nebraska’s offense has been pretty good this year, and I do not think Tommy Armstrong will let the Huskers lose to Illinois, but this one will not be a blowout like the last two meetings between these schools.
Vanessa Daves, Football Beat Writer - Nebraska 33, Illinois 28
Illinois barely defeated Middle Tennessee on Saturday. I am not kidding.
For those of you who live under a rock, the fighting Illini were behind the entire game until their kicker scored a field goal, placing them a whole two points ahead of the Blue Raiders and giving them a 27-25 victory..
It is another mediocre team Nebraskans expect the Huskers to defeat, but going into conference play with a 2-2 out-of-conference record should leave you questioning what may happen.
The Huskers tend to play to their opponents’ level. It is why Nebraska had a hard time maintaining the lead in the second half of the game against Southern Mississippi.
This weekend, Nebraska will win, but much like the Southern Mississippi game, I am not sure it will be the win Nebraska fans want to see.
If a blowout were to happen, there would need to be a handful of adjustments made that I am not sure can happen in one week. It is the first conference game, and on top of that, it is away. Those factors will come into play.
Yes, Nebraska will bring home a victory, but much like the Southern Miss game, it won’t be the kind of win fans are hoping for.
Michael Dixon, Football Beat Writer - Nebraska 35, Illinois 31
If we have learned anything about the Huskers through the non-conference schedule, it is that nothing will be given in 2015 — not even a trip to lowly Illinois.
The Illini are bad, but things change when you hit conference games. Naturally, they are tougher. And naturally, games on the road can always be tough, too.
That said, Nebraska should still win, but it might be much more difficult than anyone is willing to admit.
Despite Illinois’ 3-1 record, quarterback Wes Lunt and Co. barely escaped Middle Tennessee, which missed a game-winning field goal in the final seconds, only a week after getting embarrassed by North Carolina.
Lunt is solid, and statistically, Nebraska has the worst passing defense in the country. But that will not be enough to prevent Tommy Armstrong from exploiting a defense that gave 48 points in Chapel Hill. With Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly as his weapons, Armstrong has another chance to continue a solid stretch of play to begin the season.
But while Illinois may be Illinois, it will not get any easier for Nebraska. With games against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa still on the horizon, losing games like this would be disastrous.