The Nebraska Cornhuskers will look to get off to a 2-0 start to Big Ten play when they go up against the Illinois Fighting Illini on September 29th at 7:00pm.
The last time these two teams met in Champaign, Illinois emerged victorious after a series of extremely bizarre and perplexing plays. In the latter stages of the game, veteran QB Tommy Armstrong inexplicably passed the ball on a third down situation where taking a knee would have all but ended the game.
After getting the ball back, Illinois drove down the field and ran the same exact passing play to the same corner of the end zone, but Nebraska kept bailing them out with pass interference penalties until the Illini scored the winning touchdown.
Last week, Nebraska defeated Rutgers, but it was extremely unimpressive. Illinois will not be intimidated looking back at that film, as struggling with the worst team in the conference is not a good look for the Huskers.
Before the game kicks off under the lights on Friday, a great deal can be learned by taking a look back at the last five recruiting classes fielded by both teams.
For objectivity, the recruiting site 247Sports was used to determine which team has been more effective on the recruiting trail over the past few years. The majority of the players who will be on the field Saturday were members of the 2013-2016 recruiting classes.
Back in 2013, Illinois was led by then-head coach Tim Beckman. The Illini’s 2013 class was rated as the 51st best in the nation. That class included starting players Christian Dilauro (3-star), James Crawford (3-star) and Jaylen Dunlap (2-star).
In 2013, Bo Pelini’s final season as head coach of the Cornhuskers, the team finished with the 22nd rated recruiting class in the nation. That class included starters such as Marcus Newby (4-star) and David Knevel (3-star).
In 2014, Tim Beckman hauled in the 72nd rated recruiting class for the Illini. Starters from that class include Mike Dudek (3-star), Nick Alleretti (3-star), Henry McGrew (3-star) and Chayce Crouch (3-star).
On the other side, the Cornhuskers, who were transitioning to current head coach Mike Riley, finished their 2014 recruiting class rated 35th nationally.
Some notable starters who developed out of the Huskers 2014 class include Tanner Farmer (4-star), Nick Gates (4-star), Jerald Foster (3-star), Mick Stoltenburg (3-star), Luke Gifford (3-star), Josh Kalu (3-star) and Freedom Akinmoladun (3-star).
After Tim Beckman was fired in 2015, Bill Cubit took over as head coach. Cubit’s 2015 class was rated as the 48th best in the nation. That class included starters such as Gabe Megginson (4-star), Jamal Milton (3-star), Julian Jones (3-star) and Patrick Nelson (3-star).
In 2015, Mike Riley’s first full season as the head coach, the Huskers recruiting class ended up being ranked 30th in the nation. Notable players to emerge out of Riley’s first full recruiting class are Eric Lee (4-star), Khalil Davis (3-star), Carlos Davis (3-star), Dedrick Young (3-star) and Stanley Morgan (3-star).
In 2016, Illinois hired ex-Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith. In Smith’s first year at the helm, Illinois finished with the 73rd rated recruiting class in the nation. Notable starters from that class are Tymir Oliver (3-star), Dominic Thieman (3-star) and Doug Kramer (3-star).
In 2016, Riley recruited very well and ended up securing the 26th best class in the nation. Notable Huskers already contributing early in their second season of college football are Lamar Jackson (4-star), JD Spielman (3-star) and Tre Bryant (3-star).
Last year, Lovie Smith did his best work as the head coach of the Illini. Illinois ended up with the 46th rated recruiting class in the nation. Early contributors from that class include Tony Adams (3-star), Bennett Williams (3-star), Larry Boyd (3-star) and Mike Epstein (3-star).
In Lincoln, Riley and the Cornhuskers’ 2017 recruiting class was rated as the 27th best in the nation. So far, Tyjon Lindsey (4-star) has been the biggest true freshman contributor for the Huskers.
The five year average recruiting class ranking for both schools ended up being:
Illinois – 58 Nebraska – 27
Nebraska has the edge in overall talent going into Friday’s match up with Illinois. However, expect a close game on Friday night as the Huskers have not shown the ability to dominate their opposition thus far.