The 2018 prespring college football rankings, taking the first look at the Illinois Fighting Illini.
No. 76: Illinois Fighting Illini
Spring Practice Starts: March 5
Spring Game: April 7
Illinois Fighting Illini Prespring Status
Okay, Illinois. It’s time to at least start to become a little more competitive.
Lovie Smith went with a painfully young team throughout last season with disastrous results, losing its last ten games. The offense couldn’t score and the defense couldn’t stop anyone, but other than that, everything was great.
The payoff has to start to come with all of the underclassmen – Illinois started as many as 19 of them at times last year – growing into more mature, productive players.
Just about everyone is back on defense, the offensive line should be great when it grows up a little more, and now the skill players have to produce.
And the coaching has to be a whole lot better.
Smith is one of the most talented head coaches in all of football at every level, but this isn’t working. There has to be some sort of production now that his pieces are in place.
Illinois Biggest Depth Chart Battle
Running back. The Illini need to come up with a good starting five up front, and Cam Thomas has to become a factor at quarterback, but the ground game needs to be far better.
Leading rusher Mike Epstein is back, but he only ran for 346 yards and three scores before getting hurt. With second-leading rusher Kendrick Foster gone, there’s no reliable depth for a miserable ground game that finished with just 1,267 yards and 11 scores.
Illinois Biggest Issue
The offensive line has to be a whole lot better. The Illini were dead last in the Big Ten in scoring – averaging 15.4 points per game – partly because the baby-young line was horrible. It did nothing in pass protection, couldn’t generate anything for the ground game, and got dominated in game after game. The skill guys aren’t good enough to do much if they don’t have time to work.
Illinois Biggest Positive
Defensive experience. It hurts that LB Tre Watson transferred, but nine of the other top ten tacklers are back. Among the top 25 tacklers from last season, just three aren’t coming back. Of course, that doesn’t matter if these guys can’t play, but there’s no excuse when it comes to time logged in.
Really, Why Are The Illinois Fighting Illini Ranked Here?
With a rough quarterback situation after Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Jr. left, and after a year when the offense failed to score over 24 points, and scored 17 or fewer in eight of the last nine games. there’s a whole lot to work on.
The defense actually stepped up at times throughout last season. The overall stats weren’t there, but the D didn’t let most games get out of hand until the end. If the offense finally starts to work, it might be possible be at least three wins better.