Nebraska is off to an excellent start, beginning the year 4-0 and rising to No. 15 in both major polls this week. The Huskers now have what ought to be a straightforward matchup against Illinois on Saturday, as they try to pile up wins before hitting the hardest part of their schedule in a few weeks.
So far, this has been so good. Nebraska has only played one good team, and even that win against Oregon looks lesser if the Ducks don't rebound from their current 2-2 record. But the Huskers have looked solid and beaten all the teams they've had to beat, appearing to be much improved on the group that went 5-7 in the regular season last year.
Illinois is 1-2 and hasn't given us any reason to think 2016 will be a good year in Champaign. After a season-opening romp against FCS Murray State, the Illini have gotten trounced against both Western Michigan and North Carolina. The Huskers are a similar caliber opponent as the Tar Heels, and doing anything but getting blown out should be viewed as a relative positive this week.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2. The broadcasters are Dave Lamont, Kelly Stouffer and Paul Carcaterra.
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: Nebraska opened as a 21.5-point favorite.
Make friends: Get to SB Nation's team blog chats for this game at The Champaign Room (for Illini fans) and Corn Nation (for Husker fans).
Three big things to know
1. Illinois hasn't beaten anyone good in a while. The last Illini victory against anybody in the top 25 was against then-No. 1 Ohio State in 2007. Since then, Illinois has lost 13 in a row against ranked teams, part of a longer run of 22 out of 23. This isn't to dredge up old Illinois demons, which have nothing to do with Lovie Smith or his staff. It's to point out that Illinois hasn't gotten the kind of win that could be a program springboard in some time. Smith has a rebuilding job ahead of him, and beating a Big Ten West foe like Nebraska would go a long way toward helping.
2. This game has an NFL feel that's rare in the college game, sort of. Thee Smith-Mike Riley matchup is one of only two games in the country this season that will pit two former NFL head coaches against each other, with the other being Smith-Jim Harbaugh when Michigan plays Illinois. Smith and Riley have combined to spent 20 years coaching the pro game, and that's reflected in how their teams play. This game will have a pro-style look and feel to it.
3. The Tommy Armstrong Jr. renaissance keeps up. The senior Nebraska quarterback ran for 132 yards and threw for 246 against Northwestern last week, skipping interceptions and staying consistently efficient. He's struggled in that regard before, but Armstrong's having a really nice year. This is a chance to keep the train chugging.