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Can Illinois Football Salvage Their Season?



Can Illinois Football Salvage Their Season?

Illinois Football looks to keep the Land of Lincoln trophy and earn a bowl game berth.

Saturday afternoon holds lots of significance for Illinois. First, the Illini look to keep the Land of Lincoln Trophy in Champaign for a third consecutive year. The last time Illinois beat Northwestern three straight times was 1988-1990. Second, a win on Saturday and the Illini salvage their season with bowl eligibility. It has been 13 years (2010-11) since Illinois has gone to back-to-back bowl games. Finally, the home finale is senior day. It is their last day in the Orange and Blue for all seniors. For some, it’s their last day in a football uniform.

Illinois (5-6, 3-5) enters Saturday’s contest after a heartbreaking, last-second loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes 15-13. The Illini have not been a stranger to close games. Each of its last five games has been decided by three points or less. Minnesota, Maryland, Iowa, and Indiana were determined late in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Northwestern has been a world-beater this year. No one could have predicted the Wildcats would go bowling and finish .500 in the conference after the tumultuous summer it had unless you had a Delorian and a Flux Capacitor. Interim coach David Braun deservedly had the interim label removed and was promoted to head coach. After a 1-11 2022 and a hazing scandal that rocked the university, the Wildcats can finish this season 7-5 and 5-4 in conference play.

Analyzing the Odds

Odds: Illinois -5.5, Northwestern +5.5

Team Total: o/u 46.5

Money Line: Illinois -225, Northwestern +180

Illinois is 1-4 against the spread, while Northwestern is 2-2 in their last five games against the spread. Northwestern is also 2-2 against the spread on the road. The total has gone over in three of Illinois’ last five games. Totals have gone over in two of Northwestern’s previous four games.

Keys to Victory

Unfortunately for the Illini, freshman running back Kaden Feagin will need season-ending shoulder surgery. The Illini look for more Paddock magic as the transfer starts in the season finale. Even without Feagin, the Illini should have success running the football. Northwestern is 92nd in the country in run defense.

Northwestern is not dynamic offensively, so Illinois should be able to bottle up the Wildcats’ offense. That said, Northwestern traditionally finds a way to play above its numbers, especially in a rivalry game. Bret Bielema has to preach fundamentals this week because Northwestern hardly beats itself, so Illinois can’t turn the football over or give Northwestern extra yards via penalties.

Illinois has to get off the field on third downs and score touchdowns in the red zone.

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Armchair Illini is a comprehensive site dedicated to covering University of Illinois Athletics owned and operated by Alex Kyi. Dante Pryor has been writing about College Football for years on Saturday Blitz and is now the Lead Football Author for Armchair Illini.