The Wyoming vs Illinois Fighting Illini will begin the regular season with a Week 0 matchup for the second year in a row. And when they do, they’ll face a first-time opponent, the Wyoming Cowboys, at Memorial Stadium.
College Football Predictions for Every Week 0 Game
Last year, the Illini fell one game short of bowl eligibility (5-7) and will try to build on head coach Bret Bielema’s success in Year 2. The Cowboys are seeking to bowl for the second year in a row after finishing last season (7-6) with a win against Kent State in the Idaho Potato Bowl.
Wyoming is also seeking to create a name for itself in the Mountain West title race, while Illinois is looking for its first winning season since 2019. This game might set the tone for both clubs’ 2022 seasons.
- Wyoming at Illinois
- Kickoff: Saturday, Aug. 27 at 4 p.m. ET
- TV: Big Ten Network
- Spread: Illinois -1
When Wyoming Is in Possession of the Ball
Craig Bohl, the team’s head coach, has yet to choose a starting quarterback for Saturday. Sean Chambers and Levi Williams (combined 162-of-297 throwing for 2,115 yards, 15 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) have moved to Montana State and Utah State, respectively. The only active quarterback on the squad with game experience is Utah State transfer Andrew Peasley. From 2018 to 21, he passed for 830 yards, ran for another 501, and scored 10 touchdowns for the Aggies.
The individual who gets the job will be able to toss the ball to several seasoned pass-catchers. Last season, wide receivers Joshua Cobbs, Alex Brown, Wyatt Wieland, and tight end Treyton Welch combined for 51 catches for 501 yards and three touchdowns. The return of running back Titus Swen, the Cowboys’ second-leading rusher last season, will also help (132 att,, 785 yds., 7 TDs). Fullback Parker Christensen (160 total yards on 16 touches) is also expected to contribute.
Wyoming was sixth in the Mountain West Conference in overall offence (360.8 yards per game) and scoring offence last season (23.7 ppg).
The Cowboys will have to move the ball against an Illinois defence that has several potential NFL players.
This group finished fifth in the Big Ten in sacks (31) in 2021, snagged nine interceptions, and forced nine fumbles, led by defensive back Sydney Brown (81 tackles, three pass deflections last season), linebacker Tarique Barnes (7.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, two forced fumbles), and defensive linemen Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph Jr. (7.5 sacks combined).
Although Illinois finished seventh in the Big Ten in scoring defence (21.9 points per game), the underlying figures were more problematic. The Illini allowed 367.0 yards per game (eighth), ranking seventh in pass defence (215.8 ypg) and ninth in run defence (151.1 ypg). Those areas will require major work, and second-year defensive coordinator Ryan Walters will need to demonstrate growth in those areas.
When the State of Illinois Has the Ball
Bielema has designated Tommy DeVito the starter for this game, knocking out Artur Sitkowski, who transferred from Rutgers last year. Last season, Sitkowski passed for 704 yards and six touchdowns in five games, largely in relief of an ailing Brandon Peters. That is, until Sitkowski sustained a season-ending arm injury during Penn State’s nine-overtime epic triumph. As a result, he had surgery and was unable to participate in spring ball while he healed. If Sitkowski gets a chance to play this year, he’ll need to work off some rust.
DeVito left Syracuse after passing for 3,866 yards and 28 touchdowns in 26 games over the previous four seasons. Despite his statistics, he was never a full-time starter. DeVito, on the other hand, will need more effort from their pass catchers.
Isaiah Williams has developed into Illinois’ No. 1 receiver, but he also has quarterback experience (1,000 yards from scrimmage, 7 TDs). Casey Washington showed hints in 2021 (finishing second on the team with 294 receiving yards), but now he has to break out. The Illini will also need better performances from other receivers Brian Hightower (no catches since 2020) and Khmari Thompson (only utilised as a kick returner so far), as well as tight end Luke Ford (17 receptions, 129 yards) if they are to be successful after collecting 1,874 passing yards in ’21.
The good news for Illinois is that the passing game should have an easier job this season because much of last year’s running attack is returning (173.6 ypg, seventh in the Big Ten). Josh McCray and Reggie Love III (combined for 725 running yards) join lead back Chase Brown (1,005 yards) in the backfield. This backfield is capable of producing 1,000-yard rushers. And with another senior offensive line in place this year, led by Alex Palczewski, this club has the talent to climb over the hump.
This year, Bielema hired Barry Lunney Jr. from UTSA as the Illini’s offensive coordinator. Last season, the Roadrunners travelled to Champaign and won their first-ever game against a Big Ten school on their way to the Conference USA championship. In 2021, UTSA had the nation’s 34th-ranked offensive (439.0 ypg), and Bielema now thinks that Lunney’s playbook will deliver a boost for Illinois’ offence, which finished 10th in the Big Ten in total offence (329.8 ypg).
They’ll face a Cowboys defence that returns its second-leading tackler from last season, linebacker Easton Gibbs (89), and its leading pass rusher, defensive lineman Cole Godbout (5 sacks) (INT, 2 pass breakups, 38 tackles). Wyoming finished first in the Mountain West Conference in pass defence (177.5 ypg), fourth in overall defence (346.6 ypg), and sixth in scoring defence in ’21. (22.5 ppg). They were, however, ranked tenth against the run (169.1 ypg). Because Illinois allowed the sixth-most sacks in the Big Ten (23) last season, there might be a chance to wreak chaos.
Despite the fact that this will be the Fighting Illini’s first meeting with the Cowboys, Wyoming is 1-19 all-time versus the Big Ten (they lost their last game to Iowa in 2017). Their sole conference victory came against Wisconsin in 1986. Illinois has a 5-4-1 record versus Mountain West teams in their history. However, this will be their first meeting with the league since succumbing 45-44 to Fresno State in their regular-season finale in 2009.
Illinois is 10-2 in its previous 12 home openers, all of which have taken place at Memorial Stadium. The Illini, on the other hand, are 6-11 in their previous 17 home games. In Wyoming’s instance, the Cowboys have won four of their past seven season openers. On the other hand, they’ve dropped three of their previous four away games. In addition, they are 1-5 in their previous six encounters with Power 5 opponents.
This game will not have many points scored, but it will be tight. Illinois wins because to home-field advantage, success in home openers, a star-studded defence, and a potent run game.
Illinois 21, Wyoming 13 is the prediction.
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