Nebraska football kicks off their 2021 season on Aug. 28 in Champaign, Illinois against the Fighting Illini. This is a good opponent for the Huskers to start the season against because it’s been arguably their most competitive rivalry since joining the Big Ten a decade ago.
While Illinois embarrassed Nebraska last season with a 41-23 victory, the Huskers had won the previous three matchups and looked like the better team in all three of those wins. They won 42-38 in 2019, 54-35 in 2018, and 28-6 in 2017, making it seem like the Cornhuskers were trending in the right direction while the Illini were still struggling to get it going.
This year’s matchup will be the earliest these two will have played each other and it’ll be an important game for both. The winner starts the season at 1-0 and gets bragging rights for an entire calendar year while the loser goes into the hole 0-1 and has to dig themselves out of said hole.
Nebraska football starts their season against an opponent who they’ve been competitive against.
Unlike last year when the Huskers were forced to open their season against Ohio State, Nebraska has a chance to start things off on the right foot in 2021. The Fighting Illini always gives the Huskers a good fight but these are two teams who have been in the bottom of the Big Ten basement for the past few years and typically consider the upcoming matchup a “winnable game”.
Last year’s game went so poorly for the Huskers because Luke McCaffrey struggled mightily at the quarterback position. McCaffrey went 15-of-26 for 134 yards and threw three ugly interceptions. He did rush for 122 yards and two touchdowns, but the three interceptions were costly, as the Huskers lost by 18 points at home.
McCaffrey is no longer on the team and this will be Martinez’s fourth time facing Illinois. The last time he started against the Fighting Illini, he had himself one heck of a game, throwing for 328 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another 118 yards. That was premier Martinez right there and one of his best performances as the Huskers’ quarterback.
Facing Illinois in Week 1 will prepare the Cornhuskers for what’s in store for the season. It’s not a cupcake opponent like many teams face in their first few games and it’s also not a far better opponent. Both Nebraska and Illinois are stuck in the same cycle of trying to get better but not going very far.
While this game would have been more fun in Ireland, it’s still going to provide plenty of entertainment in Week 1.