Illinois coach Lovie Smith is heading into this week’s matchup vs. Wisconsin with some confidence coming off last season’s upset victory against the Badgers.

“I think we’re a stronger football team (than last year),” Smith told reporters on Monday.

Smith’s squad pulled off the upset vs Wisconsin in Champaign last season, winning a 24-23 thriller thanks to a game-clinching field goal by kicker James McCourt. However, prior to that upset, Wisconsin had won nine straight meetings in this series.

The victory sparked a four game winning streak for Illinois, a stretch that ultimately led to its first bowl game appearance of Smith’s tenure.

Smith also said he sees the lack of fans due to the pandemic as an advantage for the Illini and other visiting teams.

It’s not hard to see why Smith prefers the lack of fans on the road — the last time Illinois traveled to Wisconsin, it left with a 49-20 defeat.

Wisconsin is currently a 19.5-point point favorite at most books.

Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. ET on Friday night and will be the first B1G game of the season. The Big Ten Network will have the broadcast.