Big Ten: Illinois Fighting Illini
Enough is enough, Illinois. Start winning already under Lovie Smith.
The program’s last winning season was 2011, and it only won seven games. That Rose Bowl run under Ron Zook in 2007 seems like a gajillion years ago now.
The program needed a massive rebuild, and that’s what Smith has tried to do over the last three seasons. It’s been ugly and generally unproductive with just nine wins so far and just one victory over an FBS team – last year against Minnesota – that finished with a winning record.
Smith and the coaching staff went hard after transfers this offseason, but it also went very, very young over the last few years in an attempt to build up the base. This is when the payoff has to come.
The quarterback situation is stronger now with star recruit Isaiah Williams ready to give MJ Rivers a push. Four starters are back on the offensive front, almost all the top skill players return, and the defense is loaded with experience. All five starters are back in the secondary, and all four main men return on the defensive front.
The schedule helps. The Illini should beat Akron, UConn and Eastern Michigan to start out 3-0, and that should be just enough of a run to get the team up to speed with a home game against Nebraska to kick off the Big Ten season.
No, Illinois isn’t going to win the Big Ten West, but it can beat Rutgers, it should be able to at least challenge Northwestern, and it’ll pull off an upset or two in conference play to finally get back to a bowl game – and bother the rest of the conference.
– Illinois Schedule & Analysis