Wyoming (0-0) at Illinois (0-0), Saturday, 4 p.m. ET (BTN)
LINE: Illinois by 10.5, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
SERIES RECORD: First meeting.
LAST YEAR: Wyoming capped off a 7-6 season with a win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, while Illinois went 5-7 in Bret Bielema's debut season in Champaign.
WHAT'S AT STAKE?
Bret Bielema announced Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito as Illinois' starting quarterback on Thursday. DeVito has a promising arm and the potential to boost the offense under first-year coordinator Barry Lunney Jr., hired from UTSA after the Roadrunners embarrassed Bielema's squad last year. The run-happy Cowboys lost quarterbacks Sean Chambers and Levi Williams to the transfer portal and brought in Andrew Peasley from rival Utah State and Evan Svoboda from Snow College. The result could hinge on which team's newcomers hit the ground running.
Illini defensive ends Keith Randolph and Johnny Newton could set the tone and rattle the Cowboys early if they can get into the backfield and speed up the quarterback. The visitors from the Mountain West Conference do have two hulking offensive tackles in 330-pound senior Eric Abojei and 315-pound Frank Crum, who have combined for 34 starts the last two seasons.
Wyoming lost defensive end Sabastian Harsh earlier this week to an unspecified, season-ending injury. Backup running back Dawaiian McNeeley is also banged up and receiver Gunner Gentry will miss his second-straight season after suffering a knee injury in camp.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Wyoming’s Easton Gibbs trailed only NFL draft pick Chad Muma in tackles (89) and tackles for loss (seven) as a redshirt freshman in 2021. ... Illinois LB Tarique Barnes has emerged as a playmaker in Ryan Walters’ defense after forcing two fumbles, making 80 tackles and six tackles for loss last year. ... WR Isaiah Williams has gamebreaking potential as a pass option and with his legs. He led the Illini last fall with 47 receptions for 525 yards and four touchdowns.
FACTS & FIGURES
Illinois RB Chase Brown averaged 5.9 yards per carry on 170 attempts in 2021, becoming the 14th 1,000-yard rusher in school history. ... Wyoming RB Titus Swen also averaged 5.9 yards per carry in 2021. ... Both players were named to the Doak Walker Award watch list. ... Wyoming enters as the third-youngest Bowl Subdivision team with 96 underclassmen on the roster, including 58 freshmen and redshirt freshmen. ... Illinois returns six starters on each side of the ball. ... Wyoming has reached a bowl in four of the last six years. ... The Cowboys ares seeking the program's second win over a Big Ten foe (Wyoming won 21-12 at Wisconsin in 1986). ... Wyoming is going for back-to-back wins against Power Five opponents following a 2019 win over Missouri.
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