Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Wisconsin Badgers Betting Picks

October 21, 2020

Date:Friday, October 23rd
Time:8:00 PM ET
Venue:Camp Randall Stadium
Network:ESPN
Spread:Wisconsin -19.5
Total:51.5

The 0-0 Illinois Fighting Illini will go on the road Friday night to face off with the 0-0 Wisconsin Badgers at 8:00 PM ET in Camp Randall Stadium. You can watch the game on the Big Ten Network. The Badgers come in as 19.5-point home favorites and we’re expecting a defensive battle with a 51.5 over/under. This is week one for both of these teams, so we really have no idea what to expect. The Badgers are ranked 14th in the country and have plenty of expectations for this season. The Illini don’t have much to live up to this season, but they’ll be looking to surprise the country and will have every opportunity to do so right off the bat. Let’s dive into how this one will go and who will cover the spread. 

When The Illinois Fighting Illini Have The Ball

The Illini are going to have their hands full with this Wisconsin Badgers defense. This is a squad that has aspirations of being the best D in College Football and while those might be a bit lofty of expectations, top five certainly isn’t. Isaiahh Loudermilk and Jack Sanborn are two of the best pass-rushers in the country and they’re going to make it extremely tough on Illinois any time they want to throw the ball. Illinois will have to play an extremely clean game if they want to put up any points. 

Graduate-transfer Brandon Peters is starting his second year under center for Illinois and he’s working with an extremely talented WR corps. Josh Imatorbhebhe leads the way and he’s coming off 33 catches, 634 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago. Donny Navarro and Casey Washington round out the starting receivers and Navarro is a guy with TD-upside any time the ball is in his hands. 

Illinois wants to run the ball as much as they possibly can. With all three leading rushers gone from a season ago, it’ll be Mike Epstein that steps into the starting role. He carried the ball just eight times in 2019 and rushed for 45 yards due to a season-ending injury in game one. He’s likely the best player on this offense and a guy they’ll look to get involved heavily. He’s backed up by Chase Brown, who’s another going back with immense upside. They’ll be running into a tough defensive front in this one, however. 

If you don’t remember last season, Illinois upset Wisconsin and put any playoff hopes to sleep. If the Fighting Illini want this game to look anything similar, they will have to control the likes of scrimmage. Wisconsin thrives on running the ball and stuffing the run. If Illinois is able to move the defensive line, we’re looking at a very interesting ballgame. I just think this Wisconsin D-Line is one of the toughest in the country and they’re obviously at full health in week one. 

When The Wisconsin Badgers Have The Ball

Wisconsin has leaned on HB Jonathan Taylor for the past three seasons and he ended up as one of the best College backs of all-time, at least statistically. With that being said, this Badgers team is always producing talent and they had no problem replacing Montee Ball or Melvin Gordon when they left. That means it’s Nakia Watson’s turn after backing up Taylor in ‘19. He rushed 74 times for 331 yards and two scores. He averaged nearly five yards per carry and I’m expecting another huge season out of the Badgers running game. Garrett Groshek is actually listed over Watson to start the season, so we might be in line to see carries out of both of these guys. 

Former four-star QB recruit Graham Mertz will lead the Badgers as a redshirt freshman. Mertz appeared in just two games a season ago and looked phenomenal in both, completing 9-of-10 passes for 73 yards. He doesn’t necessarily change the mold of what a Wisconsin QB is, either. He won’t be the reason you win the game, but he also won’t be the reason you lose. Mertz will avoid the big mistakes and be tasked with getting his weapons the ball efficiently and in space. Mertz has a bit more upside than the QB’s we’ve gotten used to in this system. 

The Badgers didn’t just lose their leading rusher. They also lost Quintez Cephus, who caught 59 balls for 901 yards and seven touchdowns. He won’t be easy to replace, but the talent is there. Tight end Jack Ferguson was WR2 in ‘19, catching 33 balls for 407 yards and two scores. Expect the young QB to lean on the big-bodied tight end early and often. Groshek is also a big threat out of the backfield and he caught 29 balls for 289 yards a season ago. Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor start on the outside and while neither will see a ton of targets, both are talented and one will emerge as the top option before long. 

The Badgers haven’t forgotten what happened a season ago and they’re going to come out on fire in this game. I expect Graham Mertz to run this offense a lot better than Jack Coan did and while Jonathan Taylor might be gone, there is still a ton of talent in the backfield. The Badgers offensive line is the best unit on the field and I fully expect them to push around Illinois.

Spread Prediction

The Pick: Wisconsin -19.5

 When the Illini are on offense, Wisconsin is going to make it extremely tough. They not only have future NFL talent in the secondary, but might have two 1st round picks on the line. This is the healthiest they’ve been all season and I expect Illinois to struggle to move the ball. Wisconsin isn’t an explosive offense, but they’re extremely efficient and they’re going to run the ball for 200+ yards as a team. Look for Wisconsin to pick up an early lead in the first and for them to increase that lead every single quarter. I’m a big fan of the Badgers up to 20.5 points. 

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Total Prediction

The Pick: Under 51.5 Final Score Prediction: Wisconsin 31, Illinois 10

You have to love these low Big-10 totals. I fully expect this Wisconsin defense to be elite and the Illinois offense isn’t one I’m worried about. The Badgers are going to force a few turnovers and I’m uncomfortable projecting more than two scores. I do expect Wisconsin to put up quite a few scores, but not enough for this over to hit. Give me the under all day here as my favorite bet of this game.

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