In the first week of 2022 college football action (officially dubbed Week Zero), the Wyoming Cowboys will travel to Champaign, IL to face the Illinois Fighting Illini at 4 p.m. EST on Saturday, August 27. The Illini enter their second season under coach Bret Bielema after a disappointing 5-7 season in which they failed to reach a bowl game. The Cowboys finished 7-6 in 2021, culminating in a victory over Kent State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. This is the first ever meeting between the Cowboys and the Fighting Illini. We have all your odds, picks, and predictions for this Wyoming vs. Illinois matchup.
Wyoming Vs. Illinois Odds
Illinois is expected to beat Wyoming in a relatively low-scoring affair. The Illini are favored at -10 on the spread and -450 on the moneyline, and the over/under on this matchup is 43.5.
Wyoming Vs. Illinois Prediction & Pick
Despite missing out on a bowl game last year, Illinois finished the season strong with upsets over two ranked teams in Penn State (#7 AP) and Minnesota (#20 CFP) late in the year. The Illini are primed to build on that late-season momentum and take a step forward in 2022. They usually start strong in their first game of the season, having gone 10-1 over the last 11 season openers, and that trend is unlikely to change against a Wyoming team that struggles against Big Ten opponents. The Cowboys only have one victory against a team from the Big Ten, and that came way back in 1986 against Wisconsin.
The safest bet in this contest is Illinois on the moneyline, but I like the Illini to get off to a strong start in 2021 by covering the 10 points.
The over/under pick is a more difficult call. It would be easy to look at the 43.5 number and pick the over, but the under has hit in seven of Illinois’ last nine games. A big reason for that was the Illini’s much-improved 2021 defense, which finished 31st in the nation in scoring defense and returns most of its core. On the other hand, the over has hit in five of Wyoming’s last six games. If I had to make a bet, I would bet the under, but I am probably staying away from this one.
Prediction: Illinois 27, Wyoming 13
Wyoming Vs. Illinois Key Matchups
The biggest mismatch in this contest will be the Illinois defense against the Wyoming offense, specifically the Cowboys’ offensive line, which returns only one starting lineman from 2021. The Illini return several key contributors on their defensive line, led by defensive end Jer’Zhan Newton who tallied three sacks and 50 tackles in his redshirt freshman campaign last season. If Wyoming wants to hang with Illinois and give itself a chance for the upset, or at least a cover, then the new-look offensive line needs to find a way to create some running lanes for junior running back Titus Swen, who averaged nearly six yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns in 2021. The Cowboys also lost their top two quarterbacks from last year’s squad, so they will likely need to rely on Swen to carry a heavy workload.
On the other side of the ball, the Illini will also be featuring a new quarterback this season. Although Bielema has declined to announce who the starting quarterback will be, Syracuse transfer Tommy Devito is expected to get the nod.
Illinois head coach Bret Bielema takes a similar route, saying he won’t announce the starting QB before Saturday’s opener vs. Wyoming.
Bielema does say the QB and the team knows, though. https://t.co/4nOhigJBFK
— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) August 22, 2022
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Illini offense will feature running back Chase Brown, who rushed for 1,005 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and scored five touchdowns in 2021, including a 223-yard outburst in the upset of Penn State. Wyoming’s defense allowed 181 rushing yards per game last year and lost its top linebacker Chad Muma to the NFL Draft. If the Illini get out to an early lead, expect the Cowboys to see a heavy dose of Brown and his backfield mate Josh McCray.
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