The Wisconsin-Illinois game was going to have a story angle behind it no matter what: Bret Bielema’s return to Camp Randall Stadium.
Bielema has downplayed it, naturally, and really this is more about the fans than the coaches (and definitely the players, who were in elementary or middle school when Bielema bolted for Arkansas after the 2012 Big Ten championship).
Some of the luster has been taken off due to the Badgers’ start: 2-2 with wins against nobodies, a home loss to Washington State and looking like they didn’t belong on the field getting destroyed by Ohio State last weekend.
Fan apathy – and disgust – is rising.
A win over their former coach might help stem the tide for some. A loss – the Badgers haven’t suffered a defeat at Camp Randall Stadium to the Illini since 2002 -- and, well, best to stay off social media.
Wisconsin opened as a 10-point favorite and it’s now down to seven. If Vegas is right, this won’t be a walkover. Should be an interesting Saturday.
Here’s this week’s picks from around the web:
The Associated Press' Ralph D. Russo: Wisconsin 20, Illinois 10.
Pete Fiutak of Collegefootballnews.com: Wisconsin 23, Illinois 17. “Bret Bielema has the team in place to beat the reeling Badgers. It starts with the takeaways. Wisconsin has no ability whatsoever to overcome adversity, and it’s going to turn it over twice to the attacking Illini defense. But the Badgers have a defense, too. Yes, Illinois does what Wisconsin does. Wisconsin does it a bit better. Don’t expect a lot of points. The Badgers will survive with a few big second Half stops.”
Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun Times: Wisconsin 21, Illinois 17. “Hotshot? No-shots? Forget all that. Upshot: This would be a coin flip anywhere but Camp Randall. Illini — so close!”
Gabe Salgado of Athlon Sports: Wisconsin 28, Illinois 24. “Illinois has a better record and looks better on paper entering this game. But Wisconsin has had the Illini's number and then some for a while now, especially in Madison. The Badgers are eager to put last week's horrendous showing against Ohio State behind them, and in many ways, that game should be treated as an outlier. Along those same lines, even with wins over Virginia and Wyoming and a close loss to Indiana, this will be Illinois' first true test of the season. Both teams rely on their running games, and that will likely determine the outcome of this one. Although the Illini are continuing to show improvement under former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, the Badgers know who they are and pretty much have their style of play down to a science. It will be close, but Wisconsin posts yet another win over Illinois in Camp Randall Stadium.”
Kerry Miller of Bleacher Report: Wisconsin 24, Illinois 21.
Paul M. Banks of The Sports Bank: Wisconsin 13, Illinois 10. “This is a very very intriguing one. Given what happened last year, I just can’t pick Illinois to win. And given how meh WIS has looked so far, I can’t pick them to cover. The Wisconsin offense vs the Illini defense keeps this one very close until the end.”
Seven of 11 writers at The Champaign Room think Wisconsin will win.
Trent Knoop of Wolverines Wire: Wisconsin 27, Illinois 24.
Riley Donald of Hawkeyes Wire: Illinois 21, Wisconsin 17.
Bob Dunning of Davis Enterprise: Wisconsin.
Picks and Parlays: Wisconsin 21, Illinois 17.
Bill Connelly of ESPN: His S&P+ projection has it Wisconsin 26, Illinois 18.
All three Athlon Sports analysts are picking Wisconsin to win.