Graham Mertz will get his first start as Wisconsin’s most prized QB recruit in the modern era. Photo from @BadgerofHonorFS (Twitter)
- Illinois faces #15 Wisconsin in the Big Ten season opener on Friday Night
- The Badgers will be starting heralded RS Freshman QB Graham Mertz as Jack Coan remains out for an indefinite period of time with a foot injury
- See the game odds, spread and total along with predictions below
Can Illinois make it two straight shockers against #15 Wisconsin?
The Fighting Illini pulled off a huge upset beating the Badgers 24-23 last year in Champaign on a walk-off FG. Lovie Smith and company will look to do the same on the road when the two meet Friday Night at Camp Randall.
With this being the season opener for both clubs it’s important to look at injuries as well as key departures from last season.
Let’s take a deeper look into both programs to see if there’s value in betting on the Badgers as 20-point favorites.
Illinois vs #15 Wisconsin Week 8 Odds
|Illinois||+20 (-113)||+850||O 51 (-109)|
|Wisconsin||-20 (-108)||-1667||U 51 (-112)|
Odds taken October 20th from DraftKings
Wisconsin Offense Will Look Much Different
Let’s start with the elephant in the room shall we? Wisconsin needs to replace two time Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor. Their star running back now wears the blue and white of the Indianapolis Colts and leaves a gaping hole in the back field.
Senior Garrett Groshek and sophomore Nakia Watson will try and make up for the lost production. This isn’t a knock on either player it’s just a simple fact neither has the pedigree of Taylor. It could be a rocky ride early in the season as the Badgers try and settle on a definitive RB1.
We made it. We’re here.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 19, 2020
Wisconsin also has question marks at quarterback with last year’s starter Jack Coan out indefinitely due to a broken foot.
He suffered the injury in practice and will miss several weeks. In his place will be Graham Mertz who is making the first start of his career. Similar to this situation at running back, this isn’t a shot at Mertz, it’s just pointing out the fact it’s another big chunk of the offense being handled by someone without experience in the role.
Offensive Line Will Lead Illinois
The big men up front may be boring to talk about, but they can be very important. Illinois has the most experienced returning offensive line in the Big Ten with 125 starts combined. Center Doug Kramer, left tackle Vederian Lowe, left guard Kendrick Green and right tackle Alex Palczewski all have the talent to play in the NFL.
For now, they’ll protect senior quarterback Brandon Peters and be a key asset to head coach Lovie Smith. Having a talented, experienced group will allow the Illini to move the chains and control the clock which is particularly helpful playing a more skilled opponent like Wisconsin.
#illini Lovie Smith always knows the spread. Said being “three touchdown underdogs” gets your attention.
— Jeremy Werner (@JWerner247) October 19, 2020
Peters returns and so does his favorite target wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe. Peters threw for 18 touchdowns and half of them were to Imatorbhebhe. If Peters is given time in the pocket by his offensive line, he should be able to complete a high percentage of passes given the talent at wideout.
Smith has done a great job plucking these players from other high end programs. Peters came from Michigan and Imatorbhebhe arrived from USC. Expect these two and the offensive line to play major roles in keeping this scoreline tighter than you might expect.
There’s a reason Illinois is +850 on the moneyline and you don’t need to be taking chances like that. Asking them to win back to back games as big underdogs against Wisconsin may be too much, but asking them to cover isn’t. With an experienced offensive line, big weapons on offense and an opponent that will be trying to find it’s footing in week one it’s a strong play. Expect the Badgers to hold but only after a scrappy affair against a respectable opponent.
The Pick: Illinois +20 (-113)
Ryan has been working at TSN for over eleven years, and is now a lead writer and content producer at That’s Hockey. Over the years, he’s launched and hosted TSN’s first NCAAF podcast, The College Football Show, and been featured on the likes of TSN 1050, Sportscentre, and That’s Hockey 2Nite.