The Illinois Fightin Illini host the Akron Zips in Week 1 college football action from Champaign. Kickoff is set for 12:00 PM EST on Saturday, August 31 at Memorial Stadium and the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

Taking a look at the Week 1 college football odds, Akron opened as a 15-point road underdog earlier this week. That number has increased by two full points since then, as the Zips are currently listed at +17. The total for the game is sitting at 58.5 points.

Vegas Betting Preview & Game Odds: Illinois vs Akron

Akron had a pretty disappointing season in 2018, going 4-8 overall and just 2-6 in MAC East play. The Zips have now made just two bowl appearances since 2006, which is probably a large part of the reason the program decided it was time for a new head coach. It appears they think they have found the right man for the job after the hire of Tom Arth, who will be in charge of turning things around. QB Kato Nelson is returning as the starting quarterback after throwing for 15 touchdown passes last year. Nelson will likely lean heavily once again on top receiver Andre Williams, who racked up 649 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore. As a whole, the offense averaged just 18.9 points per game on 294.4 total yards, which was well below the nationwide average.

On the other side of the ball, the Zips defense managed to have a slightly better season than their offence did, surrendering an average of 27.2 points per game on 388.1 total yards. While they will only have three returning starters coming back for 2019, linebacker John Lako’s presence should help immensely after he was ranked 21st overall nationwide with 126 tackles.

Illinois is also coming off of a 4-8 season after a tough 2018 where they only won two conference games and finished dead last in the Big Ten West division. The Fighting Illini have now managed to win only nine games over the last three years. Head coach Lovie Smith certainly needs more offensive output from the quarterback position after Jeff George Jr. transferred to Pitt after the 2017 season. It looks like Brandon Peters may be a perfect fit for the starting quarterback role, as the Michigan transfer will add maturity and fantastic leadership capabilities which are both desperately needed. He should receive plenty of help from RB Reggie Corbin, who was fantastic on the ground despite all of the quarterback issues last season, rushing for over 1,000 yards. Six other starters are also returning from an offense that averaged 26.0 points on 408.7 total yards per game as a whole.

The Fighting Illini were an absolute disaster defensively last year, giving up a ridiculous 39.4 points per game on 508.3 total yards of offense. They were especially bad against the run, as opponents torched them on the ground for an average of 245.3 yards per game (123rd overall).

NCAA Football Betting Predictions & Free Pick: Akron +17

I know I’m going to be in the minority on this one, but I just don’t trust Illinois to win this game by over two touchdowns despite gaining the presence of a more experienced quarterback in the off-season. Both of these teams had identical 4-8 records last year, and while I’m certainly expecting the Fighting Illini to win their home opener, I’m just not sold on them being able to cover a pretty decent spread with all the issues they have on the defensive side of the ball. While it is true that the Akron offense is pretty anemic as a whole, Kato Nelson has shown that he is a capable quarterback at this level and should be able to help the Zips put a decent amount of points on the board against a bad defense.

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Outside of the quarterback change, I’m not exactly sure why Illinois deserves any benefit of the doubt when it comes suddenly turning things around under Coach Smith. While he certainly deserves some credit for recruiting well and giving young players plenty of opportunities to get experience, it simply hasn’t translated to success on the field. Again, I’m not suggesting that Akron will pull off the outright upset and win straight up as they certainly have a ton of their own issues to address as well. Still, they should get a bit of a bump from the new coaching staff and manage to do enough on both sides of the ball to cover this healthy spread. Give me the Zips!