SOC - Nebraska
This one is a tough one. Mostly because of trust. A prediction for this game basically comes down to one thing: do you trust the Illini defense to show the same improvement from last week? Do you trust the offense to put up big runs every game? If you do, then you can entertain Illinois pulling the upset in this game. If you don't, no chance.
Is it an upset if 4-5 Illinois beats 2-7 Nebraska? It absolutely is. Yes, it's a 4-5 team against a 2-7 team. But if the teams were to swap schedules, Illinois would definitely be 2-7 and Nebraska would likely be 4-5 (actually probably 5-4 because I think Nebraska would beat South Florida). There's a reason Nebraska is favored by 17.
We can also look at common opponents. There are three:
Purdue (Nebraska lost 42-28; Illinois lost 46-7)
Wisconsin (Nebraska lost 41-24; Illinois lost 49-20)
Minnesota (Nebraska won 53-28; Illinois won 55-31)
So, fairly even, with a slight edge to Nebraska given that horrendous Illinois-Purdue score. And this game is in Lincoln, and the last time we went on the road, against a pitiful Maryland offense, we gave up 712 yards. All in all, edge to Nebraska (duh).
But we do have the #6 rushing offense in the NERDstats. And Nebraska's rushing defense is (give me a second to look it up)... #92. That's good. Just saw that Nebraska's rush defense ranking in "explosiveness" (does your defense give up explosive running plays?) is 120th out of 130 teams. Illinois' rushing offense explosiveness is 16th nationally. That suggests that more Corbining is coming.
But if we're going on NERDstats, we need to flip that the other way. Nebraska's rushing offense - 13th. Illinois' rushing defense: 115th. As much Rod Smith is licking his chops, Nebraska is licking.. more chops. Feels like a game that could see 800 rushing yards.
Which brings us back to trust. That's the question. Can we TRUST our rushing offense yet. By this time next year, with everyone back, the answer is "absolutely yes". But can we trust it today? Do we know that we know that our rushing offense won't have an off week?
And what about the defense? The first string defense only allowed 17 points on Saturday (Minnesota's last two touchdowns were scored on the second-string D and third-string D), so it was a massive step forward. But do you trust the D to be able to do that again? Was the issue as simple as "Lovie just needed to call the plays all along"?
I just don't think we can trust either one of those yet. I'd love to say that we can, but one simple thing can always bring me back. Such as... the fact that we're 127th out of 130 teams in yards allowed. When you take a defense like that on the road (like, say, the last two road games at Wisconsin and Maryland), things tend to go from bad to disastrous really quickly. I'd love to see the defense improve in back-to-back games, but I just can't see it.
And the offense, I'm not sure I trust the rushing offense on the road just yet? I mean, I'm almost there, and again, a year from today I'm there, but now? This feels like the Purdue game where we all thought we had a dependable running game ("we ran on Penn State! we just destroyed Rutgers!") and then it all fell apart. 69 rushing yards on 31 attempts. One more time - 69 rushing yards on 31 attempts.
This feels like that game, doesn't it? Just when we think we have a thing, we realize it's not a thing yet. It will be, eventually, but there are a lot of starts and stops between here and there.
So while I'd love to see AJ Bush go back to his original school (he was at Nebraska for two years) and make them all miss him terribly, and while I'd love to be able to say "man, once Tony Adams and Dele Harding came back this defense took a big step forward", I just don't trust it yet. We're getting there, but we're not there yet.
Nebraska 48, Illinois 28