2016-17 Football Previews – (Big Ten) – Fighting Illini
Looking for 2016 Illinois Fighting Illini predictions? There is excitement around Illinois’ football program this season with a big splash new coach (former Chicago Bears head man Lovie Smith), a veteran QB and a talented RB.
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2016-17 College Football Preview – Illinois Fighting Illini
Head Coach: Lovie Smith
2015 Record: 5-7
Illinois Odds to win 2017 FBS Championship: +50000
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The optimism is maybe as high as it has been since Illinois’ 2006-07 Rose Bowl appearance against USC, back when now retired Rashard Mendenhall was toting the rock for the Illini.
But, Illinois has a lot of work to do and it won’t be an overnight fix for Smith and his staff.
Illinois Fighting Illini Predictions: Team Strengths
New offensive co-ordinator Garrick McGee had success with a pocket passer-type QB at Arkansas with Ryan Mallett; he now has the chance to work the same magic with 6″5, 225-lb senior pivot Wes Lunt.
Lunt was a highly-touted recruit out of high school, signing initially with Oklahoma State before transferring in 2013 to Champaign-Urbana. He had 2,761 pass yards and 14 TDs last season, decent numbers – though he can work on his efficiency (only 56% completion).
Expect better numbers across the board from Lunt this year in his last kick at the can and with McGee’s tutelage.
Also on offense, Illinois features capable RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who had 723 rush yards and six majors as a freshman in 2015.
He’ll be running behind a veteran offensive line, especially seniors Joe Spencer, Austin Schmidt and excellent junior OT Christian DiLaurio. Vaughn will get plenty of work, as Lunt will have to carry the passing game with only average WRs.
Defensively, the studs are on the front four, especially senior DTs Rob Bain and Jarrod “Chunky” Clements. Senior pass rusher Dawaune Smoot had eight sacks a year ago, too.
Illinois Fighting Illini Predictions: Team Weaknesses
Overall, Illinois’ talent level is not up to par with some other Big Ten programs, which is saying something because the Big Ten as a conference has slipped in national prestige.
Coach Smith and his staff need to hit the recruiting trail hard; with the notoriety he has locally as the former Bears coach and with the pipeline of Chicago in his backyard, he should make strides.
This will bear fruit after 2016, however.
The pass catchers are not great, especially with possession-type Mike Dudek tearing his ACL in the spring. Illinois has some freshman help coming, especially at TE, but you can’t expect much yet.
The team also loses seven of its top eight tacklers from last season, so expect some brain farts on that side of the ball.
Illinois also were only ranked 112th nationally in special teams last year, so the Illini have to get more out of senior K David Reisner and P Ryan Frain.
Finding some explosiveness in the return game would help, as well.
Illinois Fighting Illini 2016 Prediction: 5-7
I do think Illinois will be improved, they are at least as good as last year’s ballclub – probably better if Lunt progresses – but they have a gauntlet of a schedule this season.
The Illini have five conference road games, they draw Michigan and Michigan State out of the East division and also host North Carolina in non-conference play.
This is tough sledding for a program that is trying to put something together.
Six wins this year would be a really good campaign, and seven victories would be an absolute revelation.
With only three winning seasons since 2001, the Fighting Illini are finally trending in the right direction, but it’s going to take patience in the Chi-town suburbs.
2016 Illinois Fighting Illini Football Schedule
- 09/03/2016 vs. Murray St. 3:30 pm
- 09/10/2016 vs. North Carolina 7:30 pm
- 09/17/2016 vs. Western Michigan 4:00 pm
- 09/24/2016 BYE
- 10/01/2016 at Nebraska 3:30 pm
- 10/08/2016 vs. Purdue TBA
- 10/15/2016 at Rutgers Noon
- 10/22/2016 at Michigan 3:30 pm
- 10/29/2016 vs. Minnesota Noon
- 11/05/2016 vs. Michigan St. TBA
- 11/12/2016 at Wisconsin 3:30 pm
- 11/19/2016 vs. Iowa TBA
- 11/26/2016 at Northwestern TBA
What do you think about our 2016 Illinois Fighting Illini predictions? Please leave us a comment below telling us how you think they’ll do in 2016!
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