Illinois has proven it is much-improved - already surpassing last season's win total - but can make a larger statement when it travels to face No. 25 Nebraska to open Big Ten play. The Illini kept up their hot start with a 50-14 rout over Miami (Ohio) last week, but they begin conference play with a major test against a Cornhuskers team that is expected to contend for the Legends Division title. Illinois' only loss is a 34-24 defeat against 18th-ranked Washington, while Nebraska's lone defeat is a 41-21 setback against No. 13 UCLA.
The Huskers had a week off after trouncing South Dakota State 59-20 on Sept. 21, but the extra time might not have been enough to nurse quarterback Taylor Martinez back to health. The senior is considered day-to-day with turf toe, but senior Ron Kellogg III and freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. filled in admirably against the Jackrabbits, so Nebraska coach Bo Pelini isn't concerned about a drop-off if Martinez can't play. "I feel even better now than I did before and that was pretty good," Pelini told reporters. "I have a lot of confidence in those guys."
TV: Noon ET, ESPNU. LINE: Nebraska -10.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (3-1): Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's unit is performing at a record-setting clip, as the Illini's 161 points are its most ever through four games - and the record through five games is 193 in 1903. Illinois averages 478.5 yards and 40.3 points with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (1,162 yards passing, 12 TDs, three INTs) leading the revival. The defense has struggled - particularly against the pass - but turned in its best performance of the season last week, holding the RedHawks to 250 total yards.
ABOUT NEBRASKA (3-1): The Cornhuskers found balance - and success - on offense against South Dakota State, topping 300 yards passing and rushing in the same game for the first time in school history. That was even without Martinez, whose dual-threat nature usually is the catalyst for the offense. Nebraska needs a lot from its offense thanks to a defense that has allowed 463.8 yards per game - last in the Big Ten and 107th in the nation.
1. Nebraska has won 35 of 38 conference openers all-time but has lost two of its last five.
2. Illinois has recorded 27 plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more after having only 34 such plays all of last season.
3. The Illini have lost six straight and 15 of 16 against ranked opponents, with the lone win coming against No. 18 Arizona State in 2011.
PREDICTION: Nebraska 35, Illinois 27