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How and what to watch for Illinois vs. Northwestern

Just a week before the Big Ten Championship game, Northwestern will get their final regular season test when hosting rival Illinois.

Illinois DB Sydeny Brown during a college football game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Illinois Fighting Illini on December 5, 2020 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The talk of the entire college football world this week has undoubtedly been the Big Ten deciding to relax its conference championship game qualifier rules to allow Ohio State in after their rivalry game with Michigan was canceled due to COVID-19. While the Buckeyes are sidelined, their league title game opponents will very well be in action on Saturday with the Northwestern Wildcats hosting the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday.

The B1G West champions suffered their first loss of the season two weeks ago after a 5-0 start, an inexplicable 29-20 loss at Michigan State. The normally bad Wildcat offense was especially terrible in East Lansing, mustering only 285 yards of offense on a season-low 3.5 yards per play and turning the ball over four times, one of which was a fumble return for a touchdown to end the game.

NW is currently ranked 104th in offensive SP+ but their ranking of No. 3 in defensive SP+ is why they’re heading to the league title game for the second straight year. The Wildcats are averaging 2.7 takeaways per game, good for third in the nation and are holding opponents to 20 points or under in each of their five victories. Defensive back Brandon Joseph has been a ball hawk, tied for the most interceptions this season with five.

Last week, Illinois couldn’t muster up much of anything explosive in a 35-21 loss to Iowa. The Illini went eight consecutive drives without putting a single point on the board, allowing the Hawkeyes to score 35 unanswered to pull ahead. U of I’s offense has been boom or bust, ranking 94th in offensive success rate but 19th in offensive explosive rate. If they’re not ripping off big plays, they’re usually stalling out.

Game Time/TV Channel/Streaming

You can watch Illinois vs. Northwestern on Saturday, December 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2, or you can stream it via the ESPN app with a cable or streaming service login.

Point Spread, Totals, Odds, Trends

Point spread: Illinois vs. Northwestern (-14)
Point Total: O/U 40.5
Money line: Illinois (+480) vs. Northwestern (-715)

  • Twenty-nine of Northwestern’s last 38 day games at Ryan Field have gone UNDER the total points line.
  • Northwestern has covered the spread in each of its last four games in Illinois.
  • Northwestern has won five straight against Illinois.
  • Illinois is 3-3 against the spread this season and 2-1 against the spread as a road underdog.
  • Northwestern covered the spread as six point underdogs in last year’s matchup between the two schools. The OVER of 38.5 hit in a 29-10 Northwestern victory.

Betting splits

Illinois: (9% of handle, 21% percent of bets)
Northwestern: (91% of handle, 79% percent of bets)

The Best Bet

This has all the makings of the type of ugly rockfight you’d expect from a Northwestern-Illinois game. However, don’t expect the Wildcats to turn the ball over like they did against Michigan State. Pat Fitzgerald will try to have his guys sharp as they head into the B1G title game and they’ll do enough offensive to push this game into OVER territory.

Pick: Over 40.5

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