Summer opponent preview: Illinois

BRR breaks down Nebraska's 2014 opponents. Today it's Illinois.

Illinois Fighting Illini – September 27 (8 p.m. CT)

Head coach: Tim Beckman (3rd season, 6-18 overall)

2013 Record: 4-8

Best Returning Offensive Player – Josh Ferguson, RB
A dual-threat running back, Ferguson combined for over 1,300 yards between the ground and the air last season, becoming a staple for Illinois on third down. Last season, the Huskers had a hard time keeping the Florida native in-check – letting him rush for 114 yards while racking up 82 receiving yards on eight catches. If Ferguson can get somewhere around 200 carries this year, a spike from last year, he will likely be one of the Big Ten's 1000-yard rushers.

Mason Monheim (Getty Image)

Best Returning Defensive Player – Mason Monheim, LB
A junior, Monheim has lots of experience getting to running backs, registering 183 tackles in his first two years. A middle linebacker, he will be expected to fill a leadership void left by the graduating Jonathan Brown. It will be hard to record more tackles than he did last season, but it's the little things when it comes to leadership.

Biggest Loss – Nathan Scheelhaase, QB
The four-year starter might have had his ups and downs over the course of his career, but he left the Illini's all-time leader in total offense. The last two seasons weren't exactly how he envisioned it, but he did lead Illinois to two bowl victories during his time in Champaign.

Last Meeting vs. Nebraska: October 5, 2013
Ameer Abdullah rushed for 225 yards and Tommy Armstrong was efficient, as Nebraska cruised to a 39-19 victory last year in Champaign. Illinois didn't find the end zone until the middle of the third quarter, which really allowed Nebraska's defense to build some confidence.

How they matchup based off 2013 stats:

Scoring Offense: Nebraska 31.9 (48th) / Illinois 29.7 (60th)
Scoring Defense: Nebraska 24.8 (49th) / Illinois 35.4 (105th)

Passing Offense: Nebraska 196.7 (97th) / Illinois 287.7 (22nd)
Passing Defense: Nebraska 214.6 (32nd) / Illinois 242.9 (82nd)

Rushing Offense: Nebraska 215.7 (19th) / Illinois 139.0 (93rd)
Rushing Defense: Nebraska 156.2 (54th) / Illinois 238.6 (118th)

Total Offense: Nebraska 412.4 (59th) / Illinois 426.7 (46th)
Total Defense: Nebraska 370.8 (40th) / Illinois 481.5 (112th)

Nebraska Player to Watch: Kenny Bell, WR
The good news for Illinois is they return a lot on defense. The bad news is the defense wasn't very good last year. That included the secondary, where they gave up almost 243 yards a game last season. Bell only caught four balls last in Champaign, but used his speed for over 16 yards per catch. Illinois didn't have an answer for him in 2013 and they won't in 2014.

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