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Northwestern vs. Illinois predictions

Our staff doesn’t think the Wildcats will have much trouble.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Brief: Northwestern 35, Illinois 13

Illinois possesses the ball for 25 minutes per game (second-worst in the country), averages 19.5 points (seventh-worst), converts 28.6 percent of third downs (second-worst) and has recorded the fewest number of first downs in the country. Even Rutgers’ numbers are better. Illinois is bad. If Northwestern loses, it’ll be an embarrassment. Coming off a putrid offensive performance at Minnesota, I expect a big-time rebound from Clayton Thorson & Co. on the offensive end, and for for a sputtering Illinois offense to do next-to-nothing against Northwestern’s defense—save a few garbage-time scores. Northwestern wins and locks up a bowl berth.

Martin Oppegaard: Northwestern 28, Illinois 7

Illinois suffered its first shutout of the season to Iowa last week. On Saturday, the Illini will struggle to put up points again. This is a sputtering offense that has put up three points in its last eight quarters; I don’t see them scoring double-digits. As for Northwestern, Clayton Thorson takes care of the football, Austin Carr returns and finds the end zone to set the Northwestern receiving touchdown record, and Justin Jackson picks up his 10th touchdown of the year. Lovie Smith’s first season in Champaign comes to a listless end, while Northwestern secures a bowl berth.

Caleb Friedman: Northwestern 31, Illinois 17

Northwestern is the better football team, and it will be evident Saturday. Illinois ranks 117th in defensive rushing S&P+, so I foresee Justin Jackson and John Moten IV having huge days. The Fighting Illini will also struggle to move the ball; they’re 119th in offensive S&P+. There will be some garbage time opportunities, so I think the game will be more lopsided than the final score may indicate. You can often throw records out the window in rivalry games, but the disparity between the teams is too big here. Northwestern ends the season on a high note.

Zach Pereles: Northwestern 28, Illinois 7

The pattern to Northwestern’s season has become relatively simple: beat teams that are bad in the trenches and lose to teams that are good in the trenches, especially when it comes to the offensive line vs. the opponent’s defensive line. Illinois is awful in the trenches.

Rob Schaefer: Northwestern 38, Illinois 14

Northwestern wins this game for a lot of reasons, but paramount to all of them, Northwestern wins this game because it simply must.

Josh Rosenblat: Northwestern 20, Illinois 17

Don’t be surprised if Illinois steals this one.

Will Ragatz: Northwestern 41, Illinois 20

I’m not sure why, but I’m feeling a high-scoring affair to determine the home of the Land of Lincoln trophy for the next year. Northwestern shouldn’t have much trouble on offense against a very weak Illinois defense; look for big days from both Jackson and Thorson. The Illini will be in it at halftime but the superior talent of the Wildcats will help them pull away comfortably in the second half of a game they really need to win.

Tristan Jung (random number generator): Northwestern 19, Illinois 5:

The random number generator has spoken. Bow down to its pure expression of existence. Also Illinois is bad.

Josh Burton: Northwestern 30, Illinois 10

Part of me thinks worries that Northwestern is going to overlook the Fighting Illini and could lose this game in shocking fashion. But, the rational part of me realizes that Illinois is really bad and it would take a remarkably poor Wildcats effort to return the Hat to Champaign. I don’t see that happening.