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Will Illinois improve on its 3-win campaign from 2016?

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How are things going for the Illini heading into Year 2 of Lovie Smith’s tenure?

Illinois v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It’s Illinois week, and while you’re discussing the Illini at a party with your orange-clad friends, and they’ve brought back several growlers of excellent beer from Tryptych Brewing in Savoy, Illinois. Feel free to pour yourself a pint of beer, kick up your feet and let’s talk the Fighting Illini!

Question: How do you see the Fighting Illini doing after a 3-9 season (2-7 in conference) this year?

WSR: If they’re lucky, 3-9 again. As a few other teams we’ve discussed have already said, Thank God for Rutgers. Scheduling WKU seems stupid, and making a trip to Tampa to play USF seems “Hey, let’s get NDSU on the schedule” dumb. Fortunately for all 7 of the Illini faithful, Indiana and Rutgers are making the trip to scenic Chambana. If you’re asking me to pick which 3 games they’ll win I’d just shrug and say “Maybe Ball So Hard State, Indiana, and Rutgers?”, but I’ve got faith in them to make it back to that lofty bar that Lovie set last year.

GF: I actually respect Illinois and its scheduling during the past five years. We get tasty little matchups with: UNC, Western Michigan, MTSU, WKU, Washington, Texas State, Cinci, Louisiana Tech

It’s like old school EA Sports on Playstation when you could make your schedule; “Hey let’s add a sweet matchup with a team we don’t see a lot of.” That said, Illinois is terrible at football and it might help them to schedule bunnies so they can make a bowl game... ‘tis life though.

Thumpasaurus: We’ve been trying. Our previous AD recognized the folly of scheduling the way Ron Guenther used to (series with Missouri in St Louis, constantly schedulig P5 schools, etc) if you’re a program like Illinois. Northwestern built its pre-2013 bowl streak by scheduling 4-0 nonconference slates. For a program looking to build momentum, this is what you have to do. We played the last of the Ron Guenther games last fall (originally scheduled as a road game at Western Michigan, bought out to be a home date). Unfortunately, we’ve been whiffing on our scheduling. We caught two very good years of UNC the past couple of times. Western Kentucky didn’t look that scary when we scheduled them and in fact in 2014 we beat them at home. USF was near rock bottom when we scheduled this series. Watch out for UConn and Kansas in the early 2020’s...we have them scheduled.

Really, 3 wins while not looking as foolish would be good in my book. It could very well be fewer.

Stew: I could see anywhere from 3 wins up to 6, maybe even 7. I do think the low end is more probable, but it’s certainly not a murderous schedule. Outside of OSU, there’s not a game on the schedule that is completely unwinnable. Think maybe there’s a chance that the team ropes Thump back in a little.

Townie: I always over-estimate Illinois. For some reason, I always put them in a tier above Purdue and Rutgers...then by mid-season, I realize that they actually should be there with their broken brethren.

I can see them going 2-1 in the OOC, with wins against WKU and Ball State, but losing to USF. In conference, I see two maybe three winnable games vs Rutgers, Purdue, and maybe a close one vs Indiana. Most likely, they win one of those three games (rutger) and finish the season with 3 wins...

If that’s the case, Lovie isn’t going to be happy at all. I’d say we start the NFL watch by October...

LPW: Anywhere from 3 to 6 wins. Not going bowling.

MNW: I prefer to get at least half a week of the Illini faithful wailing and gnashing their teeth before I give a prediction. I also like to learn a little about Illinois first rather than just generalizing on their schedule.

Given that I hear Chayce Crouch is on the inside track to start at QB for the Illini over Jeff George Jr...yeah, I really don’t know what to tell you yet. Have the Illini brought any good ‘croots in? (I know they’re not winning them in Illinois.) Has Lovie coached up that defense yet? (Will Peanut TIllman help them force 104893452 fumbles in 2017?)

Looking at Illinois in 2016 is pretty incredible—only once in a loss (against Purdue, a 34-31 loss) did they have a win expectancy of greater than 10%. TEN FUCKING PERCENT. That’s goddamn abysmal.

Now, when we look at the Illinois defense, I think their actual totals allowed belie some improvement and, dare I say it, competence. Their defensive S&P+ was good for 59th nationally, though their PPGA was 94th. Oh hey, look at that! They averaged allowing the 124th-worst field position in the country, a 33.4-ydline start. Holy shit that’s awful. It’s true the defense wasn’t terribly efficient, but they were decent at limiting explosive plays and appear to be as much a victim of positioning as they do their own gross terribleness.

On offense...that’s another matter. I remember the Bears. (And Illinois was 115th in finishing drives, couldn’t settle on a QB, was not ideal running the ball outside of maybe Kendrick Foster, and generally did everything wrong besides not allowing a shit-ton of sacks.)

So yeah, on the whole, I’d like to learn a little more about the promise of Illinois before I relegate them to another 3-9 season, especially because their defense might show some promise despite losing 5 of their front 7 (which I learned today—thanks, Thump)! Of course, weeks full of confirmation bias are a blast, too.

I could use another beer.

Aaron Yorke: There’s enough bad teams on the schedule that a bowl game isn’t out of the question, but I’m going to say four wins for Illinois in 2017. Two non-conference wins and two Big Ten wins. The Illini play Rutgers and Indiana at home as well as Purdue on the road. If anything goes right for this team, it will find a way to win two of those three games.

Poll

How many games will Illinois win in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    0
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    1
    (4 votes)
  • 10%
    2
    (22 votes)
  • 18%
    3
    (38 votes)
  • 25%
    4
    (53 votes)
  • 13%
    5
    (27 votes)
  • 3%
    6
    (8 votes)
  • 3%
    7+
    (7 votes)
  • 22%
    I cannot name more than 2 Illinois players and would like to vote again on Thursday.
    (46 votes)
207 votes total Vote Now