The Big Ten will kick off its 2020 season Friday with the Illinois Fighting Illini taking on the 14th ranked Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, at 8 pm EST. The Badgers have won nine of the last ten versus their conference foe while also covering in six of their previous ten meetings, overall. However, the Fighting Illini not only walked away with a one-point victory in their most recent matchup last year but accomplished this feat as 28.5 point dogs. Nonetheless, Wisconsin seeks its 6th straight win at home versus Illinois while attempting to cover the number in five of their last six matchups versus the Fighting Illini at home.
Fighting Illini seek to improve from 2019 campaignAfter beginning last season with a record of 2-4 (3-3 ATS), Illinois was able to end 2019 going 4-2 SU along with 5-1 against the number to make a bowl game narrowly. Nonetheless, the team fell flat in a loss to theCalifornia Golden Bearsin the RedBox Bowl as 6.5 point favorites despite the offense outgaining the Bears by a margin of 450-295. QuarterbackBrandon Peters(1611 yds, 17 TD's, 7 INT's) led the charge with 273 yards along with a touchdown toss, while the then-junior also rushed eight times for 68 yards. On the other hand, while Peters can certainly be a dangerous duel threat for Illinois, he certainly needs to improve upon his completion percentage from 2019 (55%). He completed less than 60% of his passes in his last eight contests of last year.
Due to graduation/NFL, the Fighting Illini lost critical pieces on both sides of the ball. However, they return some talent in the backfield and on the outside while returning four of their lineman. Much will be expected of receiverJosh Imatorbhebhe(364 yds, 6 TD's in 2019) along with tight end Daniel Barker 218 yds, 3 TD's). Running back Mike Epstein will also be relied upon to stay healthy and replace the production lost by Dre Brown along with Reggie Corbin. Important to note that even with Brown and Corbin, the Fighting Illini only averaged just 319 yards per game, with their passing attack posting just 177 yards per.
Defensively, the team will have experience and leadership both at the linebacker position with seniorJake Hansen(39 tackles, INT, 3.5 sacks, seven ff) along with junior Milo Eifler (35 tackles, sack) returning to a unit that defended the pass well last season. They also recorded 12 turnovers but gave up over 200 yards per game rushing to opponents. Senior defensive backsNate Hobbs(36 tackles, INT, ff), junior Sydney Brown (43 tackles, 3 INT's), along with senior Tony Adams (30 tackles, 2 INT's, ff) will be the tip of the spear in preventing big plays by opposing offenses in 2020.
Coan out indefinitely for BadgersWhile the offense for Wisconsin averaged over 34 points per game in 2019 while heavily relying on a rushing attack that put up an average of 241 yards per game, the passing attack will undoubtedly miss the accuracy of last year's starter in Jack Coan. He passed for over 2500 yards while throwing 17 touchdowns compared to just four picks. Furthermore, the signal-caller completed 70% of his passes while posting a total of eight TD's and three picks in his last six starts. Nonetheless, with a foot injury putting his return in doubt for the foreseeable future, the team expects sophomore QB Graham Mertz to step in and take control of the offense after playing in just two games last year while throwing a total of 73 yards and completing 90% of his passes.
Due to the team attempting to break in a new QB, expect the rushing attack to be essential in keeping the Badgers competitive. Junior Nakia Watson (74 att, 334 yds, 2 TD's) and Garrett Groshek (4o att, 457 yds, 2 TD's) will take over for Jonathan Taylor this year. Fullback Mason Stokke will also be critical in ensuring that the Badgers can maintain their punishing style that they are known for. The good thing for Wisconsin is that even though they must replace three offensive linemen from last year's team, many of the backups received a decent amount of time on the field in 2019 and will step into those empty spots in 2020.
due to the loss of Quintez Cephus to the NFL, the Badgers look for senior tight end Jake Ferguson (364 yards, 2 TD's) along with senior receivers Danny Davis III (233 yds, 2 TD's) and Kendrick Pryor (274 yds, 2 TD's) to take a step up. The offense averaged slightly over 200 yards per game last year, ranking them 94th in the country. Again, the Fighting Illini excelled in mitigating the damage from the opposing team's passing attacks in 2019 as they were ranked 39th.
Defensively,Jack Sanborn(46 tackles, 2 INT's, 5.5 sacks, ff) will lead the linebacking corps for what was a stingy Badgers squad in 2019. Defensive ends Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand return after seasons where they accounted for 23 tackles along with four sacks and four forced fumbles. Much will also be expected of the secondary with seniorsCeaser Williams(26 tackles, INT, ff) and Faion Hicks (22 tackles) manning the backend while junior Rachad Wildgoose (16 tackles, INT) will seek to improve upon a productive campaign.
Stats & Trends
- Fighting Illini are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 meetings versus Badgers in Wisconsin.
- Fighting Illini are 4-6 ATS in last 10 games versus Badgers
- Badgers are 5-3 ATS in last 5 games versus Fighting Illini
- Badgers are 4-1 ATS in last 5 home games versus Fighting Illini
Illinois halted a ten-game losing skid to the Badgers last season in what was not an overly spectacular showing for the offense; however, the defense bottled up the Badgers' potent rushing attack throughout the contest. In addition to this, Wisconsin did not help itself in having a total of three turnovers (two lost fumbles). Nonetheless, the Badgers have seemingly retooled in plugging in skilled playmakers at the running back position and along the offensive line and will once again be one of the best in the nation when all is said and done for 2020.
Illinois, as stated, was horrible in stopping the run in 2019. And while they possess some talent at linebacker and within the secondary, Wisconsin will exploit the unit's inability to consistently dominate the trenches to run the ball effectively while picking up a blowout win to begin their 2020 campaign.