UTSA vs. Illinois Odds, Pick: The Spread to Bet in College Football Week 1 (Saturday, September 4)
Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Bret Bielema.
- The Illinois Fighting Illini and UTSA Roadrunners go to battle in Week 1 on Saturday night.
- The Illini absolutely dominated Nebraska in Week 0, giving themselves momentum heading into their next matchup.
- Check out Mike Ianniello's betting guide for the game below, including odds, picks, and predictions.
College Football Week 1 Odds
UTSA vs. Illinois
The Bret Bielema era officially began in Champaign with a 30-22 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Week 0. The three-time Big 10 Championship winning coach was so emotional he was moved to tears … oh wait no, he was just sweating. But it was an exciting win for the Illini, nonetheless.
Expectations are high for the UTSA Roadrunners entering the 2021 season. They’re co-favorites to win the Conference USA title, which would be their first in program history. If they were to eclipse their win total of 7.5 it would be the most wins since joining the conference.
If this UTSA squad wants to live up the hype as one of the best teams in program history, it will need to get off to a good start. Since joining the FBS in 2012, the Roadrunners are 1-14 on the moneyline against Power 5 opponents, yet 8-6-1 against the spread (ATS). This will be their first ever matchup against a Big 10 opponent.
The Roadrunners finished second in the Conference USA West least season with a 7-5 record in the first season under Jeff Traylor. Prior to joining UTSA Traylor spent time as the associate head coach and running backs coach for Arkansas (2018-19) and SMU (2017).
Traylor is known as an excellent recruiter. He spent two seasons as the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach for the Texas Longhorns, and he was named the Big 12 Recruiter of the Year in 2016 after helping secure back-to-back top-10 classes.
The 2021 class Traylor signed ranked second in Conference USA and is the highest-rated class in program history.
On top of a strong recruiting class, the Roadrunners return 85% TARP on offense and 74% on defense. ESPN’s SP+ pegs them as returning the most production in the conference.
According to SP+, this is rated as the best offense in the conference. The Roadrunners strength is just that: running. The 2020 Conference-USA Offensive Player of the Year, Sincere McCormick, is back at running back after setting a school record with 1,467 rushing yards, the second most in the country.
McCormick averaged 5.9 yards per carry and tallied 113.4 yards per game last season. He racked up 808 yards after contact and scampered for a run of at least 25 yards in eight of his 11 games.
MCCORMICK! Roadrunner first down and then some.#BirdsUp 🤙 pic.twitter.com/HItB38Nw2f
— UTSA Football 🏈 (@UTSAFTBL) November 28, 2020
There is no denying that McCormick will need more consistent help from quarterback Frank Harris, who has shown flashes of potential. The dual-threat QB threw for 12 touchdowns and 1,630 yards and added nine touchdowns and 528 yards on the ground in 12 games.
This group of pass catchers is quietly loaded with Joshua Cephus and Zakhari Franklin at wide receiver and tight end Leroy Watson. Harris needs to take a step forward with his arm and get the ball to his talented receivers more consistently to prevent teams from stacking the box on McCormick.
UTSA’s offensive line returns all five starters and ranked 33rd in line yards last season and 22nd in stuff rate. They will continue to open holes for McCormick and give Harris time to find those wide outs.
Special teams is usually a question mark for Group of 5 teams, but not for UTSA. The Roadrunners return kicker Hunter Duplessis and punter Lucas Dean after both earned First Team All-Conference USA selections last year.
Just like the offense, this UTSA defense brings back a ton of production. All 11 starters from 2020 are back, as well as their top 14 leading tacklers.
The Roadrunners defense ranked 38th in defensive success rate last year and was especially good against the pass, finishing 22th in success rate.
The leader of this defense is All-Conference safety Rashad Wisdom. He led the team with 95 tackles from his safety spot, over 20 tackles more than the next closest guy. He was second in the conference in tackles and led the league with four interceptions.
Up front, the Roadrunners return a pair of strong defensive tackles in Lorenzo Dantzler and Jaylon Haynes. They also added the massive 310-pound Brandon Brown from Tulane.
The UTSA front seven was 39th in stuff rate and 40th in line yards last year. They led the conference and ranked eighth in the country with 85 tackles for loss, averaging 7.1 per game. The Roadrunners finished 35th in the country in Havoc created on defense last season.
After going 17-39 in five seasons at Illinois and making just one bowl appearance, the Illini fired Lovie Smith before the final game of last season.
Enter Bret Bielema. Big Bert is back in the Big 10 after serving as the Wisconsin head coach from 2006-12, earning three Rose Bowl trips.
Bielema left Wisconsin to take the Arkansas head-coaching gig, going 29-34 and earning three bowl trips in five seasons. He has spent the last three years in the NFL, two with the New England Patriots and 2020 as a linebackers coach for the New York Giants.
The first game of the new era began as only a Big 10 game should, with an Illinois safety. The Illini went on to a 30-22 victory, despite losing starting quarterback Brandon Peters in the first quarter.
With Peters out for the game with a shoulder injury, backup Artur Sitkowski took over and played really well, going 12-for-15 for 124 yards and two touchdowns. How long he is able to maintain that play remains to be seen. In three seasons at Rutgers, Sikowski appeared in 18 games, completing just 54% of his passes and throwing eight touchdowns and 20 interceptions.
The Illini offense averaged just 20.1 points per game last season, ranking second-last in the Big 10 and 111th in the country. The running game was solid, but the passing attack ranked 121st in success rate.
With six receptions last week, the team’s leading receiver was actually Isaiah Williams, who started four games at quarterback last season but switched to wide receiver this spring.
As Bielema did at Wisconsin, this offense is expected to rely heavily on the run game, and that was the case in the season opener. Illinois had 48 rushes compared to 19 passing attempts.
The biggest question for the Illini backfield is how the rotation will shake up as the season goes on. Five backs had at least three carries last week.
Chase Brown was the team’s leading rusher last year and presumed starter, but he was apparently dealing with a nagging injury. Instead, it was veteran Mike Epstein who led the way with 75 yards and 16 carries, followed by Reggie Love who picked up 45 yards on 12 carries. Brown went for 24 yards in his five touches, and Chase Hayden and Jakari Norwood each got a few carries as well.
The offensive line is really experienced, featuring three super seniors, but this is a unit that ranked 77th in Stuff Rate and 71st in Line Yards last season. Improving the line play is sure to be a focus for Bielema this season, although Nebraska did manage three sacks and nine tackles for loss in the opener.
On defense, the Fighting Illini bring just 45% of TARP back to a unit that ranked 114th in total defense and 124th in defensive success rate.
Getting into the backfield was a struggle for Illinois front seven last season, when it finished just 96th in Havoc rate.
Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters was brought to Champaign after five seasons as the DC for Missouri, but the Tigers ranked just 91st in success rate on defense last season and 112th against the run.
Not only did teams have success moving the ball on Illinois, but they had no problem punching the ball in either. The Illini ranked just 115th in finishing drive on defense last year.
The teams leading tackler last season Jake Hansen is back at linebacker, along with outsider backers Owen Carney and Isaiah Gay. Illinois also added Calvin Hart Jr. from NC State, and he shined in his debut against Nebraska, registering six tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and returning a fumble 41 yards for a touchdown.
In the secondary, cornerback Tony Adams is an excellent tackler, finishing second on the team last season. He led the team last week with 11 tackles last week against the Cornhuskers.
UTSA vs. Illinois Matchup Analysis
Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how UTSA and Illinois match up statistically:
UTSA Offense vs. Illinois Defense
Illinois Offense vs. UTSA Defense
Pace of Play / Other
UTSA vs. Illinois Betting Pick
When teams playing their first game of the season are facing a team that has already played, they have covered the spread at a 55% clip. Having film on a team has been a much bigger advantage than having a game under your belt.
When UTSA has the ball, they will be able to run the ball behind their terrific offensive line and one of the best running backs in the country.
When Walters was the defensive coordinator at Missouri, he called man-to-man coverage on 58% of their defensive plays, the most in the country. That can lead to trouble against mobile quarterbacks with the ability to take off when the secondary turn their backs.
Adrian Martinez ran for 111 on 17 carries last week against this defense. Harris scampered for 528 yards and nine touchdowns last season and will definitely look to use his legs when the Illini defense is in man-to-man coverage.
We all know Bielema wants to play some Big 10 bully ball. Illinois will look to pound the run and rely on their backs and veteran offensive line. But don’t expect this UTSA team to get pushed around easily.
This Roadrunners defense is huge across the board, with good size at every position. Eight starters on defense are at least 6-foot-2 and their entire front seven weighs at least 220 pounds. 6-foot-4 corner Tariq Woolen gives them size on the outside with a pair of 300-pound nose guards rotating to provide the beef up the middle.
UTSA has the talent, returning production and expectations to put together the best season in program history this year. That starts with a strong performance against a Big Ten opponent.
Illinois was able to finish the job with a backup quarterback against Nebraska, but with Sitkowski expected to start against a veteran defense that ranked 22nd in passing success rate and 35th in Havoc rate, the Roadrunners defense will make things a lot more difficult for him on Saturday.
I am backing UTSA at +5.5 against the Illini and would play them down to +4. In addition, go ahead and sprinkle a little on the Roadrunners moneyline at +180. Meep meep!
Pick: UTSA +5.5
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