The 2020 Big Ten college football season finally gets underway on Friday night with a rematch of one of the more memorable upsets in the conference last season. Last October Illinois battled back from a 20-7 deficit in the second half to upset then-No. 6 Wisconsin in Champaign, Illinois, 24-23 thanks to a game-winning field goal from James McCourt as time expired. Now the two teams meet again to open a 2020 season that looked like it wouldn't even happen.
Of course, while Illinois won last year's meeting, Wisconsin has been on the winning end of this matchup far more often lately. Wisconsin had won 10 straight in the series before last year's loss, and even with it, the Badgers have won 14 of the last 16 meetings and lead the all-time series 42-38-7. The No. 14 Badgers also enter the 2020 season seen as a favorite in the Big Ten West Division, while Illinois is expected to finish in the bottom half of the group.
Will Friday night mirror those expectations, or will we see a repeat of last season's surprise? Odds via William Hill Sportsbook
Wisconsin: There's some unanticipated intrigue surrounding the Badgers as the season begins. We all knew that the team was going to have to replace its star running back, Jonathan Taylor and leading receiver Quintez Cephus. What nobody saw coming was that Jack Coan wouldn't be the team's starting quarterback, but Coan is going to miss some time after having surgery on his foot. Enter Graham Mertz, a former top-100 player in the 2019 recruiting class. Mertz saw limited action last season, appearing in only two games, but he did complete nine of his 10 pass attempts. However, what remains to be seen is how much trust Paul Chryst is willing to afford the inexperienced Mertz.
Illinois: Illinois is coming off its best season in years and has its most experienced, talented roster in perhaps even longer. Lovie Smith has overhauled the team's roster with transfers the last few seasons, and the Illini will need to see those players continue to make an impact if they're to take a step forward. It helps that they have an experienced offensive line and a senior QB in Brandon Peters. Still, despite a couple of big wins and a bowl appearance last season, there are plenty of skeptics remaining when it comes to this program. The Illini have a lot left to prove.
Date: Friday, Oct. 23 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Camp Randall Stadium -- Madison, Wisconsin
TV: Big Ten Network | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
Illinois has not won a game at Camp Randall Stadium since 2002, and odds are it's not going to end that streak this year. That said, the chances of it happening are a lot more likely than you might think considering this spread. Wisconsin is replacing a lot on offense and has an inexperienced QB. Illinois is one of the most veteran teams in the country. So while I think that Wisconsin's defense is too good to allow the Badgers to lose this game, barring a number of turnovers on offense, this Illini team is better than the spread suggests. Take the points. Pick: Illinois (+19.5)
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