UNC vs. Illinois Prediction, Game Preview

UNC vs. Illinois prediction and game preview. Projecting who wins between the Tar Heels and Fighting Illini.

UNC vs. Illinois Game Preview

When: Saturday, Sept. 10 – 7:30 p.m. ET 

Where: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill. 
Broadcast: Big Ten Network 
The storyline for North Carolina-Illinois would be a whole lot more interesting if Tim Beckman were still a part of it. The Fighting Illini fired Beckman in the middle of last season because of alleged mistreatment of players, then latched on with the Tar Heels as a volunteer assistant – an interesting move considering his knowledge that Illinois was on the schedule. He resigned from the position days later with urging from the school, so now we can just focus on the matchup at hand.  
Illinois kicked off the Lovie Smith Era with a 52-3 rout of Murray State, a team that doesn’t have nearly the talent of North Carolina. The Tar Heels will be trying to bounce back from last week’s 33-24 loss to Georgia, a game they led going into the fourth quarter.

What To Know About UNC

Smith called Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky “the ideal guy to lead their attack.” He went 24 of 40 for 156 yards against Georgia and also added a rushing touchdown and showed tremendous poise. The biggest threat to the Illini is the running game, though. T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood combined for only 16 carries, but they gained 152 yards and each of them had a run for at least 32. As for defensively? The Bulldogs rushed for three touchdowns, including two by Nick Chubb as part of his 222-yard day.

What to Know About Illinois

Smith hasn’t changed his defensive approach from what made some of his teams successful in the NFL. He preaches forcing turnovers in any way possible, and the Illini forced three in Smith’s debut last week. Murray State finished with minus-10 rushing yards on 26 attempts, but Smith still said there were a couple plays he’d like to have back. Illinois will try to put pressure on Trubisky and force him into making bad decisions.


Offense: North Carolina – Illinois has talent with quarterback Wes Lunt, running back Kendrick Foster and receiver Malik Turner, but UNC’s two-headed RB monster is more dangerous. . 

Defense:  Even – Smith calls Hardy Nickerson Jr. the quarterback of his defense – just like is dad was for Smith, who hired Senior to be Illinois’ defensive coordinator.
Special Teams: Illinois – Georgia held the edge over UNC in multiple facets of special teams last week. 
Coaching: Illinois – Fedora has North Carolina on the rise, but Smith has built a quality staff full of assistants with NFL experience. 
Intangibles: North Carolina – Smith just doesn’t have enough talent yet.

Matchup To Watch

Hood and Logan vs. Illinois’ run defense

It’ll be interesting to see if the pair can break loose like they did last week against Georgia. The Illini are dealing with much more talented backs than anyone Murray State played.

Betting Odds

Spread: North Carolina -10 

Over/Under: 58 1/2

UNC vs. Illinois Prediction

The Tar Heels get a rushing touchdown apiece from Hood and Logan, Trubisky is steady and North Carolina escapes in a game that will be closer than some might expect. 

UNC vs. Illinois Final Score Prediction: North Carolina 31, Illinois 24

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