Michigan’s recent struggles and Nebraska’s defensive problems have created a wide-open race in the Legends Division.
“I think we can beat any football team that we line up against,” Pelini said. “I also understand that there are a lot of football teams out there that can beat up on us if we don’t take care of us.”
Here are five things to know as Illinois and Nebraska start Big Ten play:
HUSKERS IN BIG TEN: Since it started Big Ten play in 2011, Nebraska has won 12 of 16 regular-season conference games. Penn State and Michigan also are 12-4 over that stretch. No one else has won more than 10. The Huskers go into Saturday’s game on a six-game regular-season conference win streak.
THAT AWFUL STREAK: Last year, Illinois’ 14-game conference losing streak was a hot topic among fans and media. Scheelhaase said he and his teammates have tuned out that talk this year.
“All we know is we’re a 3-1 football team right now headed into conference play, getting to play a team that won their (division) last year.”
NEBRASKA LINEUP CHANGES: David Santos has bumped Josh Banderas from the starting middle linebacker’s job. Corey Cooper has locked up one safety spot, but Pelini didn’t name a starter at the other. Harvey Jackson struggled against South Dakota State and has been pushed by LeRoy Alexander, Andrew Green and Charles Jackson.
RUNNER AND RECEIVER: While Cubit is credited with helping revive Scheelhaase’s career, running back Jason Ferguson also has benefited. Ferguson has rushed 30 times for 196 yards, and he’s the Illini’s leading receiver with 12 catches for 262 yards.
PROTECTING THE QB: Nebraska has allowed just two sacks in four games for a nation-best average of .50. That’s a huge improvement from last year, when the Huskers ranked 105th in sacks allowed after giving up 35 in 14 games (2.5 average).