Illinois Fighting Illini
Location: Champaign, IL
Coach: Lovie Smith (9-27@UI, 89-87 NFL) 4th Season at Illinois
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (Capacity: 60,670)
13th: Big Ten (7th West Division)
118th: Division I
2017 In A Sentence: A case could be made that under Lovie Smith there was some improvement in Champaign thanks to the Fighting Illini’s 4-8 record. A closer look however reveals some wins against subpar opponents (FCS Western Illinois, hapless Rutgers, awful Kent State, and bad Minnesota) and some humbling losses (63-0 to Iowa).
Biggest Shoes to Fill: Illinois’ true freshmen combined for 32 starts, with true freshmen combining for 25 starts on defense as well. One of Illinois’ few senios was LB Del’Shawn Phillips, who led the team in tackles with 95 and interceptions with 4.
Key Player: QB Brandon Peters, a graduate transfer from Michigan with two years of eligibility left, is intriguing. The odd man out in Michigan’s QB situation, he decided to transfer to a Big 10 opponent and is immediately in the mix at starter with QB A.J. Bush graduating and QB M.J. Rivers transferring.
Fearless Prediction: Can Lovie Smith transfer his way into bowl eligibility? With still an extremely young team, the transfer brigade can shore up a lot of holes that the Fighting Illini have – if everything works out. It looks a lot more likely that another four-win season is in the cards once again unless Illinois can spring a major upset or two along with their easy out-of-conference schedule.
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
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