Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois finished the 2017 season with a 2-10 overall record and lost the last ten games of the season. They were 4-8 against the spread. This is the third year for Lovie Smith and he is clearly on the hot seat after two awful seasons. The team returns 16 starters from a bad squad, but many of last year’s starters were Freshmen, so some improvement is expected.
The offense is led by graduate transfer AJ Bush who came over from Virginia Tech. The expectations are relatively low. The running game is very poor and not much improvement is expected despite having four back in the mix. The receiving corps is probably the most impressive unit on this team, with several athletic and capable players. Ricky Smalling is likely the best of this group amassing over 500 yards as a true freshman last season. Senior Mike Dudek returns after two consecutive seasons with ACL injuries, but was effective in his Freshman season.
The defense is poor and the only benefit at this point is continuity as 8 starters return, many of which are Sophomores. Players generally make big leaps from year one to year two, so some improvement is expected.
The total over/under wins for Illinois is 4 and the odds to win the Big Ten might as well be a million to one. We do not expect Illinois to win more than 2 or 3 games this season and feel comfortable with the under.
The season begins with a home game against Kent State of the MAC. Kent State was 2-10 in an inferior conference last season and will be outclassed even by the Illini. Expect a 3 touchdown win in Week 1.
Week #2 is a home game against Western Illinois of the FCS. Illinois will have an easy time disposing of this team and there will not likely be a point spread.
Week #3 is a neutral site game against the University of South Florida. USF was 10-2 and ranked in the top 25 last season. USF will likely win in this spot by 3 touchdowns.
Week #4 is a home game against Penn State who is one of the elite teams in the Big Ten. Expect Penn State to win by 4-6 touchdowns in this spot. Week #5 is a bye week.