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Oskeim’s Free Pick Winner: Nebraska at Illinois

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My math model favors Nebraska by 7.45 points in this game so the line is fair but the Cornhuskers enter year four under head coach Scott Frost and welcome back seventeen starters. For the first time during his tenure in Lincoln, Frost has a roster comprised of recruits who fit his system. Senior quarterback Adrian Martinez is one of those players – a dual-threat athlete ideal for Frost’s spread option attack.

Martinez looks to recapture his 2018 form where he threw for 2,617 yards (65%) and rushed for 629 yards in eleven starts. Martinez has a plethora of weapons to throw to and will be operating behind an offensive line that has three returning starters.

Nebraska’s defense returns ten starters from a stop unit that finished ranked 38th in defensive S&P last season. I expect another strong defensive effort under fourth-year coordinator Erik Chinander, who consistently ranks in the top 30 nationally in creating Havoc.

My only concern with backing Nebraska is the fact that the NCAA is investigating its football program following a report that said Cornhuskers staff improperly used analysts and consultants and even moved workouts off campus last year when such activities were banned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nebraska’s special teams analyst, Jonathan Rutledge, was fired in January and Gerrod Lambrecht, Frost’s chief of staff, resigned earlier this month.

Continuity is not Illinois’ friend in 2021 as Lovie Smith was fired following last year’s 2-6 record and replaced by Bret Bielema, who spent the past two years in the NFL. Bielema brought in an entirely new coaching staff, including both coordinators so the players are going to have to learn new schemes on both sides of the ball.

Illinois’ offense will likely be led by quarterback Brandon Peters, who has been extremely inconsistent and will be without leading wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe.

Finally, the Fighting Illini have no home-field advantage to speak of as they are just 44.6% ATS since 2009 and 50.0% ATS since 2016. Lay the points with Nebraska as Oskeim’s Free Pick Winner for Saturday, August 28.

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