Saturday, December 12, 2020, Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois, noon ET
Fighting Illini at Wildcats Betting Preview: Fighting Illini (+14.5), Wildcats (-14.5)
Illinois is hoping to win back the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the first time since 2014 after losing a fifth consecutive game to Northwestern 29-10 last year in Champaign.
“It’s been up north for too long,” Illini coach Lovie Smith said. “Our guys will be pumped up and ready to go. We plan on playing our best game we’ve played all year.”
The Illini (2-4, 2-4 Big 10) are coming off a 35-21 loss to Iowa. Illinois jumped to a 14-point lead behind two touchdown passes from Brandon Peters, but Iowa responded by scoring 35 straight points.
At the end of the game, backup quarterback Isaiah Williams led the Illini to their final touchdown.
Smith said “there’s a place” for Williams in the offense, although he also expressed his belief in Peters. Peters has completed 58.1 percent of his passes but for an average of only 136 yards a game in three outings.
Williams has played four games and completed only 14 of 37 passes or 187 yards
The loss to Iowa ended the Illini’s winning streak at two games.
“If you look at our play, we have a legitimate chance to win each week,” said Smith, who is in his fifth season with the Illini. “That hasn’t always been the case.”
One year ago, Northwestern entered the Illinois game winless in Big Ten play and at the bottom of the West Division standings. Now, the No. 14 Wildcats (5-1, 5-1 Big 10) already have clinched the West Division and a spot in the Big Ten title game against an opponent to be determined.
The Wildcats clinched last week despite having their game against Minnesota being canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Golden Gophers’ program.
The division title is the second in three years for Northwestern. The Wildcats will become one of four teams in the conference to make the championship game multiple times since its creation in 2011.
“Sometimes Northwestern is portrayed this way or that way, having these type of athletes or those type of athletes,” wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman said. “But at the end of the day we’re coming to play, we’re coming to win the West, we’re coming to win a Big Ten championship.”
The hallmark of the Wildcats this season has been their defense. They are sixth in the country in points allowed per game at an average of 15.3. They also have held opponents to 322.5 total yards per game, 15th-best in the country.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he believes turnover margin also has been a huge determiner of his team’s success. The Wildcats have forced 18 turnovers this season.
“I’ll go back to a lot of our games,” he said. “I think it has a lot to do with turnovers and then points off of turnovers. I think that has been key in most, if not all, of these games.”
The Wildcats have averaged only 327.8 yards a game in total offense with Peyton Ramsey, a graduate transfer from Indiana, passing for 189.3 of that.
Fighting Illini at Wildcats Betting Pick for December 12, 2020
The Illini lead the series 55-53-5 but the Wildcats have won the last five meetings and seven of the last eight. The last meeting in Evanston, however, was a one-score game with the Wildcats escaping with a 24-16 win after the Illini scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Fighting Illini at Wildcats Betting Pick:
Wildcats 21, Fighting Illini 10
Fighting Illini at Wildcats Best Bet for December 12, 2020
Neither team has lit up the scoreboard. The Wildcats haven’t scored more than 21 points in a game since opening with a 43-3 rout of Maryland on Oct. 24 and the Illini have scored more than three touchdown only once, a 41-23 win at Nebraska.
Fighting Illini at Wildcats Best Bet: UNDER 43.5