The Daily Illini sports staff makes predictions ahead of Illinois football’s game against Northwestern

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Cameron Krasucki

Northwestern celebrates after winning the Land of Lincoln trophy against Illinois after last years game at Ryan Field on Nov. 27, 2020. The Daily Illini sports staff makes predictions on how the Illinois Northwestern game will play out today.

By The Daily Illini Sports Staff

Jackson Janes: Illinois 17, Northwestern 14

In what will be the final game at Memorial Stadium for over 20 super seniors on the team, the Illini welcome the Northwestern Wildcats to Memorial Stadium as they look to win the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the first time since 2014.

Neither team has a reliable offense, so I would be fairly surprised to see either team exceed 20 points in a cool, cloudy afternoon contest in Champaign, though I think this team will do just enough to reclaim the trophy in Bret Bielema’s first season at Illinois.

Wes Hollenberg: Illinois 20, Northwestern 10

Neither team has much left to play for in the context of this season, but this is a rivalry game that Bielema has made a point of emphasis.

The Illini are back at home, and Northwestern is on a five-game losing streak, so Illinois is entering the game as heavy favorites. Underlying that five-game Wildcat losing streak is a poor running defense and a confused quarterback situation in which Northwestern has flipped between quarterbacks Ryan Hilinski and Andrew Marty within games.

I’d expect Illinois to exploit Northwestern’s weak rush defense and control the ball for much of the afternoon.

Will Payne: Illinois 27, Northwestern 20

Coming into the Illini’s final game of the season, it’s safe to say Illinois have been one of the most unpredictable teams in the country this year. Now although Northwestern has defeated Illinois in its past six tries, I think the Illini will be able to pull a victory out on Saturday. 

Under Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern has not had many bad seasons, but the 2021 campaign has been one of them. The Wildcats sit at 3-8 after losing several key players to the NFL prior to this year, and they have not won a game since Oct. 16 agains Rutgers.

Illinois will once again look to establish the running game early and hope that Brandon Peters can string together some solid plays from under center. Bielema has said that he would accept a bowl bid for Illinois at 5-7, and I think that’ll be the reality come Saturday evening.

Josh Pietsch: Illinois 27, Northwestern 17

Yuck. I hate predicting Northwestern games late in the year, especially when the Wildcats are having a down year. Pat Fitzgerald is so good at improving his teams as the year goes on, which makes the prediction that much tougher, especially after his Wildcats got rocked by an iffy Purdue team last week.

I’ll still take the Illini, though. Every game they’ve played since Wisconsin has been competitive until the fourth quarter, which has included upset wins on the road against then ranked Penn State and Minnesota teams. I think considering how well Illinois played against Iowa last week — which, in a way, is just a better Northwestern — shows it may have a good shot at beating Northwestern for the first time since 2014.

Illinois’ offense is slowly figuring out the passing game, and after poor play in the rushing game against Iowa, I actually think they’re due for another good performance. Northwestern continues to struggle on offense, and since Illinois’ defense has continued to hold teams down, I like the Illini here by double digits.

This game means a lot for both teams. For Illinois, it would be its first win against Northwestern in over half a decade and a five-win season in Bielema’s first year. For Northwestern, a win over its in-state rival during a down year would mean it still completely controls the state. I think this game should be fun.

Claire O’Brien: Illinois 24, Northwestern 21

Illinois enters its final game of the regular season — should the Illini prevail, there is a slim chance they may go to a bowl game — against a 3-8 Northwestern team. Illinois is favored to win, but it hasn’t defeated the Wildcats since 2014. Illinois lost to Iowa last week, and Northwestern has lost its last five games. 

Statistically, Northwestern averages more offense yards per game than Illinois, but it also gives up more yards. Illinois scores 17.7 points per game on average, while Northwestern scores 16.8. The Illini are slightly favored to win, but if they do, it will be by a slim margin.