Preview 2018: Previewing and looking ahead to the Illinois season with what you need to know.
Preview 2018: Illinois Fighting Illini
– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
– Top Players, Key Game, Fun Stats
– What Will Happen & Win Total Prediction
– Illinois Previews 2017 | 2016 | 2015
Photo Credit: University of Illinois Athletics
It might not have been fun, but this is how the whole experiment was supposed to work.
The desperate hope was that Lovie Smith would come in and make Illinois a big-time player in the Big Ten right away – mainly because he’s Lovie Smith.
He was the splashy hire at a time when the program needed something to rally around, but going 5-19 in the first two years after finishing 5-7 in 2015 was tough.
But it might have been necessary.
Smith obviously wants better results right now – gone is offensive coordinator Garrick McGee for former Arizona OC Rod Smith – but the last two years have been about going young, developing the talent, and creating the base of players to start working around.
There are growing pains, and there’s what Illinois had to go through in its 2-10 season. By the end of last year, almost 20 underclassmen became major factors in the starting rotation, and the depth was all baby-young, too.
Experience doesn’t make up for a lack of talent, but it matters when everyone is so young. It matters when the coaching staff is trying to do something special. Now, the hope is for this to be a case of tearing it all down to build it back up.
The last two years are over and what’s past is past, but now Smith has to come up with a solid year to show that he really is a fantastic pro coach who can handle the college game, too. There might have been a calculated plan to go young, but this veteran team has to start winning games.
The worst offense in the conference needs the line to grow up and be good – now.
With the addition of Virginia Tech grad transfer AJ Bush to hold the seat warm for 2019 star recruit Isaiah Williams, there are more options at quarterback. The backs are in place, and the receiving corps is quietly good. Now they all need the Rod Smith spread offense to make a difference, and they all need the blocking to be there.
The defense is also loaded with experienced players who dealt with all the problems of the last few seasons. The secondary should be a plus, but the front seven has to be far more disruptive.
Now this is Smith’s program. These are mostly his players, his vision, and his ideas all in place.
This is when Illinois has to start being better because Lovie Smith is the head coach.