Friday, June 23, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois Fighting Illini
The Lovie Smith era did not exactly get off to a red hot start at Illinois, and it went so badly last fall that there were rumors that he was already looking for a way out. It may get worse before it gets better for the Illini and Smith, as this version of Illini football could actually finish in last place in the Big 10 West.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
There is a strength at RB for the Illini in 2017, with the return of Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin. The two combined for 1223 yards last fall in what was largely a lost season. Foster averaged 5.71 yards per carry, and Corbin averaged 6.08 yards per carry. They combined for nine scores, and if the Illini have a shot at finshing out of last place in the West, they will have to carry the day.
Malik Turner was the leading receiver last season, and finished with 48 receptions for 712 yards and six scores. He averaged 14.83 yards per catch. He will be the top receiver, and a necessary component in helping the new QB develop.
The line will return three starters from the season finale in Gabe Megginson (OG), Nick Allegretti (OG), and Christian DiLauro (OT). This should also be helpful in putting together a decent run on offense.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Wes Lunt is gone at QB, and only played in eight games as it was last fall. Jeff George, Jr. played a good deal in his place, but was fairly unimpressive. He completed just 40.4% of his passes, and averaged just 94 yards per game. He will be in a fight with Chayce Crouch, a dual threat QB who did not fair much better than George, and RS Freshman Cam Miller.
Turner is the only key receiver returning that had any real production. Sam Mays has a shot to start, but caught just 13 passes last season. With only five receivers on the spring roster, the Illini are not exactly enjoying a wealth of depth in the passing game either at QB or at receiver.
Two new starters must be found at C and at OT, with the Center spot effecting work with the new QB.
The PK job is back in the hands of Chase McLaughlan. He was not perfect last season, hitting just 12/17 FG attempts in 11 games last fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Two of three starting LBs from last season return in Tre' Watson and Julian Jones. Both started on the outside last fall. Watson finished with 102 tackles, which was good for second on the team last season. Jones finished with 32 tackles as he worked his way into more playing time as the season progressed. Justice Williams will be back as a sophomore, and saw time at LB as well.
Jaylen Dunlap and Stanley Green are both back in the secondary. Dunlap finished with 63 tackles last fall, and also finished with 11 PBUs. Green finished with 62 tackles, forced three fumbles, and will be the enforcer in the deep secondary.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The entire starting defensive line from the season finale must be replaced. Chunky Clements and Dawuane Smoot were both major stars who were drafted during the spring. This was a defense that already was giving away 31 points per game last fall, and also allowed 219.17 yards rushing per game. Having to replace the entire unit, and the two biggest stars on the team, arguably, will be a difficult task to perform.
Hardy Nickerson, the third member of the defensive star trinity, is also gone, and was the leading tackle on the team from his MLB spot.
Both Ryan Frain and David Reisner, both Punters, are gone. With a defense that will be missing their biggest stars from last season, finding a new Punter that can gain real estate will be a much needed find.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Ball State, 9/9 Western Kentucky, 9/15 at USF, 9/29 Nebraska, 10/7 at Iowa, 10/14 Rutgers, 10/21 at Minnesota, 10/28 Wisconsin, 11/4 at Purdue, 11/11 Indiana, 11/18 at Ohio State, 11/25 Northwestern
Final Overview
The current coaching staff would love to have a chance to advance out of the dark ages in Illinois football, but it is seriously not looking good for them this fall. The offense has questions at QB, and big ones at that, and at receiver. The defense is missing it's biggest stars from a year ago, and has to replace the entire line. These are items that are most difficult to overlook, and could very well dictate another very long year for Lovie Smith and company.

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