1. ILLINOIS WIN TOTAL PREDICTION: WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN
This isn’t the 13th year of rebuilding with some sort of a youth movement, but it certainly seems like it.
Yes, Illinois actually went to a Rose Bowl after the 2007 season. Yes, Illinois actually went to the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2001 campaign. Yes, the program was annihilated in both big bowls, but it got there.
And yes, since 2000, Illinois has suffered through 15 losing seasons in the 19 years, and it hasn’t known a winning season since beating a UCLA team with a losing record in your 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Lovie Smith was supposed to come in and change all of that.
If nothing else, he was expected to be a strong recruiter and a big name to build around for a fat nothing burger – at least over the last several years – of a football program. But he has only won nine games, with two of them against FCS teams, two against the MAC, and with just one win over a team that finished with a winning record.
In Year Four, this is really and truly when this thing is supposed to start to work. But the Illini have to hope experience turns into production after finishing 128th in the nation in total defense, and there needs to be a sign that the rebuilding is finally creating something positive.
Set The Regular Season Win Total At … 6
Akron, at UConn, Eastern Michigan. Nothing is a given with the Illini over the last several years, but assume a 3-0 start.
Rutgers has to come to Champaign, and so do Nebraska and Northwestern – both of those are more winnable than it might seem. Throw in a shocker somewhere in the mix – watch out for any of the road games at Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan State and Iowa – and six wins isn’t asking for the world.