Over/Under 3.5 Wins () vs Illinois Fighting Illini ()Date : 09/01/2018
Time : First Game: Kent State Golden Flashes @ Illinois Fighting Illini 12:00 PM
Location : Memorial Stadium Champaign
Pick, Prediction, & Preview:
Over/Under 3.5 Wins vs Illinois Fighting Illini
There was hope that a proven coach like Lovie Smith would get this Illinois football program back to the top of the Big Ten West but that has gone to be a disaster as the Fighting Illini have only won 5 games in 2 years and to cap that off they did not win a game last season in Big Ten play. Illinois may be scratching their head once again this season as Lovie Smith still has a roster full of young players as well as a gaping hole at the quarterback position. Lovie Smith made it a priority to get his offense back on track this season as he hired a new offensive coordinator as well as signed 3 freshmen QBs. The defense got shredded in 2017 as they were going through growing pains but they should be better this season as they return 7 of their 11 starters. Illinois is a tough place to recruit for as they don’t have the big facilities or the history like many of the other Big Ten teams and we saw that this year on the recruiting trail as the Fighting Illini ranked 12th out of the 14 teams in terms of signing classes. Although Lovie Smith ranked so low in recruiting this past offseason he was still able to pick up 2 4-star recruits. Illinois is heading towards another last-place finish in the Big Ten West which could lead to a complete rebuild in terms of the coaching staff as they can’t be satisfied with 2 win seasons.
Over/Under 3.5 Wins's Latest Performance :
Illinois failed to make a bowl game for the 3rd straight season last year but the Fighting Illini have bigger problems to worry about as they failed to record a win in conference play which was the second time they went winless in the Big Ten since 2012. Lovie Smith will have his young guys competing for starting spots in camp this season but given their current QB situation oddsmakers set the win/loss total low at 3.5 wins.
Can They Win A Big Ten Game?
The Fighting Illini is 2-16 against conference opponents in the Lovie Smith Era but don’t expect a much-improved record as Illinois will be stuck at the bottom once again. Illinois should have no problem at the beginning of their season as they host Kent State who only won 2 games last season as well as an FCS team in Western Illinois. Illinois will get to play a neutral-site matchup on their home turf as they will play at Soldier Field in Chicago but that matchup will be no walk in the park as they will go against a really good USF team. Illinois will not see Ohio State or any of the Michigan schools this season but they will still have their matchup against Penn State and Wisconsin. Two games that the Fighting Illini can win in Big Ten play are their home matchups against Purdue and Minnesota or a road matchup against Rutgers. Expect another long year for Lovie Smith and company as their youth will not be enough to compete in the Big Ten West.
Illinois Fighting Illini's Latest Performance :
The quarterback position was one of the downfalls of this team as they couldn’t only find a consistent arm but they at one point had only one healthy scholarship guy at that position. Jeff George was the starter for most of 2017 but he wasn’t really good as he only threw for 1273 yards and threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (7). The only guy with experience at Illinois is sophomore Cam Thomas but he was terrible in his freshmen season as he only completed 42.4% of his passes as well as threw 5 interceptions compared to 0 touchdowns. Illinois has failed to have a 1000 yard rusher for a 7th consecutive year and the top back this season was way off as Mike Epstein rushed for only 346 yards. The top 4 running backs from 2017 dealt with injuries all season but they will all return for at least 1 more year which should boost the run game this season. If there was one positive on the offensive side of the ball it is the fact that they received a good year out of freshmen pass catchers who will all return with more experience. Ricky Smalling and Lou Dorsey were the top two guys for the Fighting Illini last season as they combined for 905 receiving yards and 5 TDs. Another example of the youth in the offense is the fact that 4 freshmen started on the offensive line but that should play as an advantage this season due to the chemistry they can build with the younger QBs. Defensively the Fighting Illini should be better off as they are not going through the coordinator turnover like the offense. Defensive Coordinator Hardy Nickerson will return some of his top young players from 2017 as he brings back his tackle leader, sack leader, and interception leader. Del’Shawn Philips was solid from the middle linebacker spot last season as the senior led the teams in tackles with 85 and given his leadership he should be the leader of this young defense. Bennett Williams was arguably the most important freshmen last season for the Fighting Illini as the starting safety was a ballhawk with 3 interceptions. Luckily for Nickerson, most of his talent were true freshmen last season and given the experience and the same scheme they will be much improved this year.
Player To Watch
Mike Dudek, WR, Sr.
Illinois has very little experience at their skill positions as they contain a bunch of underclassmen but the one guy who has bridged the gap between the youth and veterans is Mike Dudek. Dudek is seen as a warrior for this team as the senior missed two straight seasons with a torn ACL but the wideout proved last year that the injury didn’t phase him. Dudek was able to record 262 yards on 24 catches last season but expect a much bigger year out of Dudek. Lovie Smith is digging for senior leadership on this team as that is the best thing for the youth and there is no better guy than former 3-star recruit, Mike Dudek. Dudek should be able to crack the 500-yard mark if he stays healthy.
How Over/Under 3.5 Wins & Illinois Fighting Illini Matchup.
Vegas Odds, Offshore Odds, & Odds ATS:
Over 3.5 Wins -Even
Under 3.5 Wins -120
In-Depth Analysis of each team:
9/1- Kent State- W
9/8- Western Illinois- W
9/15- USF- L
9/21- Penn State- L
10/6- @ Rutgers- L
10/13- Purdue- L
10/20- @ Wisconsin- L
10/27- @ Maryland- L
11/3- Minnesota- L
11/10- @ Nebraska- L
11/17- Iowa- L
11/24- @ Northwestern- L
Overall Record- 2-10
Against The Spread Selection: Under 3.5 Wins - Even
My reason for the pick :
Illinois does not strike anyone as a football powerhouse but unfortunately for them, they reside in a league with a whole lot of tradition something Illinois has lacked. No one knows who will take the snaps at the quarterback position this season which concerns me considering that its the most important position in football. Whoever starts for Illinois will have a rough season against the good Big Ten defenses as they are too inexperienced and lack the necessary weapons around them. Illinois will go winless in the Big Ten once again as they will rattle off 10 straight losses which could prompt the firing of Lovie Smith. There is no way that the Fighting Illini crack the 4 win mark as there are just too much questions in important positions.