The 2021 college football season is finally here and it starts with a bang Saturday. Week 0 starts with an interesting game in the Big Ten when Illinois plays host to Nebraska at the Illini's Memorial Stadium. However, the setting of Champaign, Illinois, wasn't where this game was initially set to be played. The Illini and Cornhuskers were originally scheduled to play this game across the Atlantic Ocean in Dublin, Ireland. Unfortunately, the game was canceled and moved back to the United States amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, this will be the last time the pandemic impacts either's season.
Both teams are hoping to bounce back from rough seasons and are led by veteran quarterbacks. Adrian Martinez is back for his third season at starter for the Cornhuskers, while Brandon Peters will begin his third season as the starter at Illinois. The Cornhuskers finished last season with a record of 3-5, while the Illini went 2-6.
This will be the 19th meeting between the programs, and Nebraska has dominated the series overall, going 13-4-1 in the first 18 games. That includes a 6-2 mark since Nebraska joined the Big Ten.
Nebraska vs. Illinois: Need to know
Nebraska wants revenge: Neither of these teams found the 2020 season enjoyable, as Nebraska finished 3-5 and Illinois checked in at 2-6. Unfortunately for Nebraska, one of Illinois' two wins was at its expense. The Illini went to Lincoln and took advantage of five Nebraska turnovers en route to a 41-23 victory. Luke McCaffrey -- who has since transferred out of the Nebraska program -- threw three interceptions, which offset his two rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, Illinois saw two running backs rush for over 100 yards as Mike Epstein finished with 113, Chase Brown had 110. Both players are back with the Illini this fall.
Where is Scott Frost's offense? When Frost was brought to Nebraska to save the program for which he once played, he was seen as an offensive visionary of sorts. Not only had his UCF team completed a 13-0 season with a win in the Peach Bowl, but it had done so with one of the most exciting offenses in the country, scoring 48.2 points per game. That hasn't been the case in Lincoln, Nebraska, however. In Frost's first three seasons, Nebraska's offense is yet to finish higher than sixth in the conference in points per game, and that was in Frost's first season. The Cornhuskers scored only 23.1 points per game last year, which ranked 12th. They enter the 2021 season with Martinez at QB but without one of their biggest playmakers in Wan'Dale Robinson (transferred to Kentucky). On Saturday, they'll face an Illini defense that will look different but features a lot of the same players from a unit that allowed 34.9 points per game last season.
New faces on the Illinois sideline: While Illinois has more super seniors returning than any other program in the country, they'll be led by an entirely new coaching staff. Lovie Smith was fired late in the 2020 season and replaced by former Wisconsin and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. Bielema's overhauled nearly the entire coaching staff, and the team will look different on both sides of the ball.
How to watch Nebraska vs. Illinois live
Date: Saturday, Aug. 28 | Time: 1 p.m. ET
Location: Memorial Stadium -- Champaign, Ilinois
TV: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Nebraska vs. Illinois prediction, picks
The Illini seem to be a popular pick against the spread in this game, but even if I don't think Nebraska is poised to take a large step forward in 2021, the Cornhuskers are getting Illinois at the right time. Illinois is an experienced team, but nearly all of the experience came in different systems under a different coaching staff. Nebraska fans are well aware of how difficult the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 can be on the defensive side of the ball when you don't have the right personnel on the roster. So while I think Illinois will be a better team in 2021, I don't see it this weekend. Give me the Huskers. Prediction: Nebraska -7
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