Illinois College Football Preview

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Not many things went right for Illinois a season ago, although the Michigan State win looks nice. Still, the Spartans gave up on their season at that point and that ended up being the Illini’s only relevant win of three. Otherwise, this team was blown out by most others in the Big Ten outside of an overtime loss against Purdue.

Trying to reach a bowl Game is the first goal for Lovie Smith, but this team still has a long way to go. After scoring a putrid 19.7 points per Game last season, the offense might have even bigger questions at quarterback. Jeff George Jr. and Chayce Crouch were fighting for the spot in the spring, but JUCO transfer Dwayne LAwson is the guy that fans want to see, but he still hadn’t graduated before spring practices. If LAwson can come in and be a factor, that would be a huge boost. They lost a couple starters on the line and that group will continue to be a work-in-progress for a ground Game that has some pieces. Kendrick Foster (720 yards, 7 TDs) took over last season and he’s joined by the able Reggie Corbin (523 yards), so if there’s a place to start for this offense, it’s on the ground. At receiver, Mike Dudek is back from injury, which should be a big help, and he’s joined by last year’s leader Malik Turner (712 yards) and Desmond Cain.

Defensively, the Illini kind of fell apart as the season went along and that culminated in getting gashed on the ground late in the season. They gave up 31.9 points per Game and that number has to improve. The line loses all Four of its starters, so that’s a glaring hole with Jamal Milan and Kenyon Jackson expected to be the main guys. Tre Watson takes over as the top linebacker and has a lot on his shoulders with this inexperienced front seven. At the least, the secondary shouldn’t be terrible with a lot of familiar faces starting with senior corner Jaylen Dunlop, who’s helped by two solid sophomores at safety in Patrick Nelson and Stanley Green. No matter what, this defense has a long way to go.

To surpass last season’s three wins, it’s going to take winning at least two of their non-Conference Games and that likely means Ball State and Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have a high-scoring offense, so that’s not a great sign. In Big Ten play, there are opportunities for Illinois with Rutgers, Indiana and Northwestern at home. Otherwise, they’ll need to steal an upset from a better team, or win on the road against the likes of Minnesota or Purdue. There’s a path to six wins, but that means this team has to get better at almost every level.

The Fighting Illini come in with +16000 odds to win the Conference (at 5Dimes Sportsbook), which isn’t surprising. They’re slated to finish in the basement of the West division again with the same odds as Purdue.

2017 Illinois Fighting Illini Football Schedule

Sept. 2 vs. Ball State
Sept. 9 vs. Western Kentucky
Sept. 15 at USF
Sept. 29 vs. Nebraska
Oct. 7 at Iowa
Oct. 14 vs. Rutgers
Oct. 21 at Minnesota
Oct. 28 vs. Wisconsin
Nov. 4 at Purdue
Nov. 11 vs. Indiana
Nov. 18 at Ohio State
Nov. 25 vs. Northwestern

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