Rutgers (1-2) will face Illinois (0-3) at 1 pm ET on Saturday as the favorite for the first time in a Big Ten game in six seasons. Can they deliver and become the surprise team in the conference at 2-2? While we wait to find out, our contributors make their predictions.
David Anderson: I am incredibly hyped for this game and curious what will happen because Illinois gets back their starting center, starting kicker, and backup quarterbacks. They had been playing their 4th string QB who can’t throw much nor set protections with the backup center, so opponents just dug into against the run. The Illini were still able to get their running backs going, so if they can just throw the ball a little more (look out for Luke Ford at TE) with Isaiah Williams at QB (former four-star recruit), their defense won’t wear out. Rutgers’s strengths and Illinois’s strengths are identical and I actually give the Illini the edge in those areas (RB, DL, LB). The great advantage Rutgers should have here is coaching (Illinois fans agree according to our sister site) per the first three games, particularly with in game adjustments. In the end, Rutgers is at home, has had more continuity, and just seems to have more karma this year so far even if Illinois is treating this like their Super Bowl. Rutgers 31, Illinois 26.
Dave White: So, Rutgers is in good shape right now, correct? I know nothing about Illinois other than they got better as the season went on last year. Rutgers is playing loose and they’re back home. They found a way to make last week’s score look competitive. They’re still not perfect and still not where anyone wants them to be. No idea. Shot in the dark. Rutgers is favored, but I think it will be closer than some are saying. Rutgers 25 Illinois 21.
Cara Sanfilippo: I. AM. SO. EXCITED. for Saturday. I feel like after we performed in the second half against the Buckeyes, we have a lot of momentum going our way. Again, I get that we lost by three scores but in my mind it was two because, Poor Art. Either way, we won the second half and I’ll take it and now we are playing a team that is arguably at the bottom of the B1G rankings. While they are getting some of their starters back this week, they still don’t have their starting quarterback playing and we have played better teams. If this is Illinois Super Bowl, we should be treating it as if it is ours as well. This is our chance to actually show we have improved and even under Ash we often played competitively. I believe the coaching staff will pull out all the stops and I am excited to see how they mix things up. Despite his bad luck in the red zone last week, I do think Art has strongest arm and that gives us more options on offense. The defense held Ohio State in the second half. I just don’t see how we don’t win unless we sh** the bed. Rutgers 34, Illinois 20
Patrick Mella: Despite falling to Ohio State last week, Rutgers showed a lot of heart coming out in the second half and making it a much closer contest than most fans thought at half. Do they always make it look easy? No. This is far from being a polished product. But Coach Schiano has the ship steered in the right direction. Competent quarterback play, an offensive playbook that should keep defenses on its heels and a defense that fights through all four quarters. That would’ve been a wish list a year ago for most fans. I expect Rutgers to take care of business but as we know they rarely make it look pretty. Rutgers 35, Illinois 28.
Fred Gaudios: Earlier this week, I essentially gave away my game pick in advance in a hyper-optimistic-bordering-on-crazy article about how Rutgers could possibly win out the rest of the way. In it, I mentioned thinking the line for this week’s game (then RU -7) would shift toward Illinois before game time. I was wrong: as of this writing, it’s still RU -7, but there are reasons to be even more optimistic than this projection. Illinois is 0-3 and has an injury report that looks like an Excel spreadsheet right now (would never be happy about this, just stating the fact) while Rutgers (knock on wood) seems to have gotten through Columbus relatively unscathed. Also, Rutgers has shown they’ll get creative and do what it takes to win. On what projects to be a chilly, crisp autumn day, let’s hopefully watch Rutgers run out the clock for the final four minutes of an anticlimactic (!) Big Ten conference football win. Rutgers 38, Illinois 21.
Danny Burrick: Rutgers is favored to win a Big Ten game! After seeing last weeks game against Ohio St. I really do believe that this Rutgers team is for real. Every player has the chop first mentality and will not stop chopping the moment in a game until they get the winning result. My prediction for this game is that we will see another trick play that results in a touchdown wether that is on special teams or not I believe that will happen. I think that Rutgers will win this game but it will be very close. Rutgers 31, Illinois 24.
Greg Patuto: Rutgers fell behind 35-3 at halftime last week against Ohio State but the second half was the story. The Scarlet Knights did not let the game get completely out of hand moving forward and they continued to fight until the end. This included some trickery from the offense and special teams. Now, they are a touchdown favorite in a Big Ten game.
This is a game that Rutgers has to win. If the culture has truly changed, Schiano needs to get his men ready to play and the team needs to come out with energy on their home field. This will not be a pretty game. Both of these teams have glaring issues on both sides of the ball. Expect an ugly game but one full of points. Rutgers 33, Illinois 28
Aaron Breitman: Rutgers is no offensive juggernaut and while this is certainly a winnable game, they’ll need to play well in all three phases to beat Illinois. Forcing takeaways and converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns will be areas the Scarlet Knights must execute to pick up the victory. Illinois has struggled this season but they play an aggressive defense predicated on stopping the run. Noah Vedral will need to make plays and I think he plays his best game so far. For a change, RU wears a Big Ten opponent down at the end of the game. Rutgers 31 Illinois 14
Are we too optimistic or rightfully confident? Sound off in the comment section.