Illini Football Game Preview: LOLHAT Contest vs Northwestern

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Happy rivalry week college football fans! All Thanksgiving week and weekend we’ll see local rivalries renewed and in state battles waged across this great country of ours. It all culminates on Saturday, Nov. 27, with a loaded week 13 slate which includes the Northwestern Wildcats at the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Let’s preview the Land of Lincoln Hat Trophy (or LOLHAT) game, starting with the basic FYIs.

Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CT, with the radio broadcast on WGN AM-720, and Big Ten Network handling the telecast. If you want to dos some esports betting, or some regular sports betting for that matter, this is the time to do it. You’ll find the Illini favored anywhere from -6 to -7, with a money line falling -110 to -116. The smartest bet is Illini -6.5, and that price is readily available.

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Northwestern Wildcats (3-8, 1-7) Preview

“All across the country, everyone gets excited for this week because the last week of the season is rivalry week,” Northwestern team captain and #1 Joe Spivak said after the Cats were soundly defeated at Wrigley Field at the hands of Purdue, on Saturday.

“We’re excited to go down there and play our brand of football.”

Evan Hull, the team’s main offensive weapon, said after his team was demolished at the Friendly Confines that “we’re definitely going to use this as fuel” for the game ahead.

Hull, with 16 might be the team’s only true “offensive weapon,” and there in lies the problem with this team, but then again they are not much better on the other side of the ball either.

Asked about Purdue recovering an onside kick, despite the fact that the Boilermakers placekicker actually slipped and fell, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said:

“Sounds like our season, not much to say.” This team is definitely on par with 2019 as the worst that he’s had, but in a very different way.

This one is pretty much equally bad on both sides of the ball while the 2019 side had a good defense but just an atrocious offense. Illinois is a very bad matchup for NU because their run defense is poor and running the ball is what the Illini does beat.

Illini Football (4-7, 3-5) Preview

“They’ve really played well since their bye week. I’ve been impressed by how they use their personnel in all three phases.” Fitzgerald said of Illinois.

“It’s always challenging to be the road team on a holiday week, so we’ll probably front load this week in preparation.”

Illini football coach Bret Bielema is expected to be out of isolation, from a covid-19 positive test, and back with everybody else by Friday.

He should be on the sidelines, leading a team that will rely on leading rusher Chase Brown (156-893-4), and to a lesser extent Josh McCray, to take over the game.

My Illini football preseason prediction was 5-7, and it looks like that’s exactly how they’ll finish. However, it will be a very odd roundabout way to get there.

ESPN Matchup Predictor gives Illini football a 70.8% chance of winning here, despite the fact that Illinois has only won this game twice since 2010, and that was in 2011 and 2014.

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Prediction: Illini Football 24, Northwestern Wildcats 17

Hull also said, in the Cubs media room at Wrigley Field:

“Records go out the window when it comes to rivalry games.” Painfully cliche as that is, it does often apply, in many cases but not here. The team with the better record almost always wins this game, with 2019 the lone exception of the 2000s.

And that’s only because the Illini football coach at that time, Lovie Smith was actually a career NFL man who treated that game like it was week 17 and he had a team that already wrapped up playoff position. Bielema, on the other hand, totally gets it and will game plan accordingly.

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram

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