Quick picks: The DI sports staff makes predictions for Illinois’ Week 1 matchup with UTSA


Lanie Hibel

Linebacker Jake Hansen looks to the field from the sideline during game against Nebraska Aug. 28 at Memorial Stadium. The DI sports staff makes predictions on how the Illinois versus UTSA game will go.

By The Daily Illini Sports Staff

Illinois enters Saturday’s matchup with the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners with a win under its belt after taking down Nebraska, 30-22, in the college football season opener last weekend at Memorial Stadium.

After leaving the game in the first quarter against the Cornhuskers, Brandon Peters likely won’t play against the Conference USA opposition, which could potentially leave the door open for the Roadrunners to steal a road win over a Power-5 school.

The Daily Illini sports staff makes their score predictions ahead of Saturday’s contest.

Jackson Janes: Illinois 24, UTSA 21

UTSA narrowly lost to both BYU and Louisiana last season and returns much of its production from its 2020 roster. The Roadrunners boast an experienced quarterback in Frank Harris, who was named to the Davey O’Brien Award and Manning Award watch lists, and a Second-Team All-American running back in Sincere McCormick.

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Brandon Peters is highly doubtful to contribute on Saturday, though I was impressed with Rutgers transfer Art Sitkowski in his first game with the Illini last week. Losing Calvin Hart Jr. for the season is a big blow for the Illini, but some combination of Jake Hansen, Khalan Tolson and Tarique Barnes should hold things together for Illinois at the linebacker position.

It isn’t going to be pretty, and Illini fans might be biting their nails and holding their breath throughout the game, but I think Illinois does just enough to leave Memorial Stadium with a narrow 24-21 victory and head to Charlottesville with an unblemished 2-0 record.


Wes Hollenberg: Illinois 24, UTSA 17

I’d take Illinois winning 24-17. UTSA had a strong running game last season, so much of the outcome may be determined by line play and result in a low-scoring affair. The largest question is probably Illinois’ quarterback situation. Peters has not been ruled out, but the Illini should feel comfortable with both options after Sitkowski’s strong relief performance against Nebraska. UTSA hit some high marks last season and is returning much of its roster, but Illinois earned enough respect to receive the nod this week after dominating its first matchup.


Will Payne: Illinois 28, UTSA 14

After their win last Saturday against Nebraska, the Illini will look to build on the positive momentum when they welcome UTSA to Memorial Stadium. 

With Sitkowski starting at quarterback this week, expect Illinois to establish the run game early. 

Although the Roadrunners have some talented individuals on their defense, such as DL Trumane Bell II and safety Rashad Wisdom, Illinois will be too much to handle for the visiting Roadrunners.


Josh Pietsch: Illinois 31, UTSA 27

I think this one’s gonna be real close. It is encouraging to already have film to look at for Illinois, a game in which it beat Nebraska where the score resembled a closer game than it actually was.

However, UTSA had a very good 2020, lost a bowl game to a good Louisiana team by seven and is returning almost every defensive starter. Oh yeah, they also have a backfield that features McCormick, a Second-Team All-American. Peters almost certainly won’t be the starting quarterback, but the main reason I think Illinois will pull it out is because Sitkowski had an awesome Week. Assuming the Illini offensive line can give him as much time to throw as they did last week, Sikowski’s interception risk should lower.

A healthy Chase Brown to lead the running back room will also help the Illini. No Hart for the rest of the year at linebacker, but luckily for Ryan Walters and his defense, the linebacker position has some depth with Barnes and Tolson. UTSA is going to put up a great fight and make Saturday night exciting, but Illinois should pull off the win, led once again by the offensive line and Art Sitkowski.


Carson Gourdie: Illinois 27, UTSA 17

The Bielema era got off to its best possible start by holding off a reeling Nebraska program. But, of course, Illinois was ready. Bielema knew it was a huge game and needed to make a statement. However, how he prepares the Illini for this trap game will truly determine if this team can make a bowl game this season. 

UTSA nearly defeated ranked BYU and Louisiana teams last season, losing each contest by only a touchdown. The oddsmakers in Vegas have also taken notice of the Roadrunners, as they are less-than-one-touchdown underdogs. 

As Bielema says, you need to learn how to not lose a game before you can win a game. Let’s be real: Illinois is more talented. UTSA simply cannot compete against the Illini in the trenches, especially the offensive line. As for UTSA’s offense, it goes through its running game, with the passing threat not up to par. 

UTSA is a disciplined program, and Illinois played disciplined last week. If Sitkowski can avoid throwing multiple interceptions — as he often did at Rutgers — Illinois can rely on its running game and excellent special teams that can pin the Roadrunners deep. 

I project that Mike Epstein runs for over 100 yards, Daniel Barker and Luke Ford play well, Sitkowski throws for two touchdowns and Illinois holds off UTSA, 27-17. 




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