2017 Prespring Rankings: No. 76 Illinois Fighting Illini
The 2017 prespring college football rankings, taking the first look at the Illinois Fighting Illini
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No. 76: Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois Fighting Illini Prespring Status
Lovie Smith’s first season went into the tank over the second half of the season, bailed out a bit by the win over Michigan State. Fine, Illinois needed to turn things around, but the offense wasn’t supposed to be the fifth-worst in the country and the defense was supposed to do something, anything, considering the new coaching staff in place.
It’s still going to take a bit for Smith to get his guys in place, and he came up with a good recruiting class in February, but the team needs to be stronger. That might be a bit of an issue with seven starters gone on offense, and five starters done on D including …
Illinois Fighting Illini Biggest Issue
All the good defensive linemen. Dawuane Smoot – an early NFL pick – along with Carroll Phillips, Jarrod Clements and Gimel President combined for 54.5 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. Throw in leading tackler Hardy Nickerson, and the top five guys who got into the backfield are gone. Now, seven of the top 11 tacklers have to be replaced.
Illinois Fighting Illini Biggest Positive
The offensive weapons are going to be sneaky-good. Can WR Mike Dudek stay healthy? 2014’s leading receiver hasn’t been able to catch an injury break, and now he’s back along with top target last year, Malik Turner. The top running backs return, QB Chayce Crouch should be an interesting option coming back from a shoulder injury, and Jeff George Jr. has a little experience.
Really, Why Are The Illinois Fighting Illini Ranked Here?
The guys who are gone were the best players – that’s not good. Is Smith ready to turn into the coach Illini fans were so ecstatic to get? He’d better be considering this might be even more of a rebuilding season than 2016, especially on defense. There should be an improvement and there’s a chance at going bowling, but there has to be a massive shift from the way the team looked over the final six weeks.