FanSided College Football Round Table Presented by Site5 Hosting

FanSided.com’s network of 14 NCAA bloggers recently hosted a round table in anticipation of the upcoming college football season.

Each lead football writer provided answers to 7 prepared questions, some addressing his or her team and others exploring the state of college football in general.

Here are Writing Illini’s responses (courtesy of Illinois football writer Nick Houska) and the answers of FanSided’s other college sports bloggers in the inaugural College Football Round Table, which was helped made possible by Site5 Hosting.

Before diving onto the round table, here’s a little more information about Site5 Hosting. 

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Now to the heart of the matter.

Writing Illini Sits Down at the FanSided College Football Round Table

FanSided:

1. Which player on your team will be a household name by season’s end?

Writing Illini’s Nick Houska:

While starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and sophomore cornerback Terry Hawthorne are both poised for big seasons, running back Mikel Leshoure (#5) should become the name that all Big Ten fans know this year.

While he had big moments last year sharing the starting job with Jason Ford and Daniel Dufrene, Leshoure has emerged as the clear starter for this year’s squad.

After an astounding season finale against Fresno State last year where he ran for 184 yards on 11 carries (a 16.7 yards per carry average) and scored 3 touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 receiving), Leshoure is poised to have a breakout junior season reminiscent of when Rashard Mendenhall led Illinois to the Rose Bowl.

FanSided:

2. What game on your schedule doesn’t get talked about but should?

Writing Illini’s Nick Houska:

September 18th vs Northern Illinois.

The Huskies are no slouch this year, ranked ahead of Illinois in most preseason polls and favored to win their matchup against the Illini in Champaign.

Illinois cannot afford to drop this game to the Huskies, as it would give them two losses headed into Big Ten play (Illinois has not beat Missouri in the season opener in the past 5 meetings and it doesn’t look like the Illini will turn the series around this year).

If the Illini do not pull one out at home against NIU, they must begin their Big Ten slate against preseason National Champion contender Ohio State.

Illinois must not look past the Huskies, or it could find itself in as much trouble as 1-5 during the first half of the season.

FanSided:

3. Upon the first glance at your schedule, what’s your team’s record?

Writing Illini’s Nick Houska:

Illinois will surprise, going 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten, and playing in a bowl game. Here’s how I see things going down.

→ Illinois 10 – Missouri 28 (0-1, 0-0 Big Ten): Illinois has not fared well in this game, even when the team has been extremely talented. I don’t see the Illini doing any better this year. The Illini have too many new faces, both on the field and in the coaching box, to pull off the upset.

→ Illinois 28 – SIU 14 (1-1, 0-0 Big Ten): The first home game of the season is probably the safest bet. I predict that the team’s running game will come out in a big way, and with the pressure off of freshman quarterback Scheelhaase, his passing game will surface as well.

→ Illinois 24 – NIU 21 (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten): Expect a very close game between these two in-state programs. Illinois has to be very careful not to underestimate the Huskies. The Illini pull off a fourth quarter comeback in this game. If Illinois does not beat Northern, it’s a serious blow to the team’s confidence, and my predictions for the rest of the year take a turn for the worse.

→ Illinois 3 – Ohio St. 38 (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten): The Buckeyes handed it to Illinois last year, shutting out the Illini while posting 30 points of their own. This year, the Buckeyes are preseason contenders for the BCS championship game. Illinois is outmatched on offense and defense in this one, and it will show.

→ Illinois 13 – Penn St. 24 (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten): Scheelhaase’s first true road game at Happy Valley will be tough. While Penn St. has said it will not do a white house this year, the 110,000+ fans at Beaver Stadium will still be tough for the players to handle regardless.

→ Illinois 27 – Michigan St.24 (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten): This is my big upset pick. Michigan St. is predicted to have a stellar season this year, but as the 2009 Illini proved to us, preseason hype means nothing during the season. After the slow start for the Illini, the Spartans fall into the trap of looking past this game and pay the price. This win is a big confidence builder for an Illinois team coming off two losses.

→ Illinois 38 – Indiana 28 (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten): Losing to Indiana really signaled the beginning of the end for Illinois last season. In 2010 the Illini get a little payback at their homecoming game. The Illini run all over Indiana’s defense while Illinois’ defense feeds of the festive crowd to stop the Hoosiers’ offense.

→ Illinois 14 – Purdue 9 (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten): Last year, Purdue was soaring in confidence after beating Ohio State, and it showed the previous week against Illinois. This year, Illinois’ two-game win streak turns the tables as the Illini scratch out a W.

→ Illinois 21 – Michigan 38 (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten): While the last two seasons of Illinois football have been tough to watch for many reasons, one of the few bright spots has been the Illini’s two-game win streak against the Wolverines. Don’t think the crowd at the Big House will forget this development, and you can bet they remember how Illinois ruined the team’s homecoming two years ago. Both teams will be improved from 2009, but the young Illini once again have a hard time on the road.

→ Illinois 27 – Minnesota 17 (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten): Minnesota is coming off its toughest stretch of Penn St., Ohio St., and Michigan St. all in consecutive weeks. That bruising schedule, plus the fact that it is Minnesota’s second straight road game, help the Illini beat the Golden Gophers.

→ Illinois 17 – Northwestern 14 (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten): Last year the Wildcats beat Illinois after a questionable interception call went Northwestern’s way. This year’s game is played at Wrigley Field, and the Illinois running game helps steal this victory.

→ Illinois 24 – Fresno St. 45 (7-5, 5-3 Big Ten): Who can forget the mess that was last year’s 53-52 heart breaker? While the loss meant nothing to Illinois’ already crushed bowl hopes, the Illini became the laughing stock of that week’s highlight reels as a Fresno State offensive lineman scored on the winning two-point conversion. The Illini have to travel to Fresno St. this year, and the time zone changes added to the end of a very tough Big Ten schedule help an improved Fresno St. team jump all over the Illini.

FanSided:

4. What is your team’s biggest weakness?

Writing Illini’s Nick Houska:

Illinois’ biggest weakness this year will be its inexperience.

Illinois has a quarterback in Scheelhaase (#2) who has never played a college down, a group of new coaches, many of whom have never coached against the Big Ten foes they will face this season, and an entire new offensive scheme that the team is trying to learn.

Everyone is trying their best to get ready for the season opener against Missouri on September 4th, but it’s a safe bet that there will be a few wrinkles that need ironing out on both sides of the ball as the season starts.

The big question is how quickly the Illini can get everything sorted out.

FanSided

5. Which unranked team will be ranked at the end of the season?

Writing Illini’s Nick Houska

I like the way Purdue is looking going into the preseason. The schedule looks very manageable, and the news coming out of training camp surrounding the Boilermakers’ transfer quarterback Robert Marve is very promising.

Purdue’s first game at Notre Dame should be tough, but the rest of its non-conference schedule is extremely easy. With their first two conference games against Northwestern and Minnesota, it is not much of a stretch to see the Boilermakers starting the season 6-0.

I see no way that Purdue beats an Ohio State team in Columbus that is looking for revenge after last years’ upset.

While I also predicted Purdue losing at Ilinois, they finish the year with Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana at home and a game at MSU. I can see Purdue finishing the season at 10-3 with a bowl win if things go its way.

FanSided:

6. Which ranked team that isn’t named USC will look back and want to redo its season?

Writing Illini’s Nick Houska:

Given how high the expectations are this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Boise State has a disappointing season.

The Broncos start the season ranked as a top-five team, and even as high as third in some polls, with some listing them as a national-championship contender.

With three teams predicted to run the table this season (setting up another BCS championship argument that is sure to be the center of next off-season’s media coverage), an early loss would knock Boise State off the path to a possible Title Game appearance. And even if Boise State runs the table in the regular season, it conceivably could be left out of the title game for the second straight season, which would be a huge disappointment.

BSU’s opening game against Virginia Tech, a fellow top-10 team, has been talked about as the make-or-break game for its season, but I would not look past Oregon State either.

Last season the Broncos proved that they could win games while playing with a huge target on their back, but last year they also had the undefeated season to play for in 2009.

With the hopes of playing for the championship gone in 2010, Boise State will get the best shot of every team it plays but may not have the motivation to keep from another slip up somewhere farther along the season.

An 11-2 or even 10-3 season, something most teams would be ecstatic for, could leave Boise State dreaming about what might have been.

FanSided:

7. What is your season-end top 5?

Writing Illini’s Nick Houska:

Here is how I see the tip 5 rounding out at the end of the season.

#1: Ohio State (13-0). The Buckeyes run the table during the regular season and cap it off with a win in the BCS title game over Oklahoma as the SEC is missing from the title game for the first time in four years.

#2: Alabama (13-1). I see Alabama slipping up somewhere during its conference schedule. The Crimson Tide has the luxury of playing Florida and Auburn at home, but it must play LSU and Arkansas on the road, and I think Alabama will drop one on the road. Alabama will still win the SEC championship game and go on to crush Boise State in the Sugar Bowl.

#3: Oklahoma (13-1). Oklahoma’s toughest game this year will come at Texas Tech. Other than that, the Sooners play a relatively easy schedule and should be undefeated headed into the title game with Ohio State.

#4: Iowa (12-1). With Ohio State headed to the title game, Iowa moves in to the Rose Bowl. The Hawkeyes defeat a Stanford team that crumbles under their defensive pressure.

#5: Boise State (13-1).  Boise State again falls victim to the BCS, being beaten out by Ohio State and Oklahoma as the third team with an undefeated season. The Broncos take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl hoping to replicate their Fiesta Bowl victory against Oklahoma, but are outmatched by a larger, stronger Alabama team.

Other FanSided College Football Round Table Participants:

Topics: Alabama Crimson Tide, Alabama Football, Big Ten, Big Ten Football, Boise State Broncos, Boise State Football, Daniel Dufrene, Football, Fresno State, Fresno State Football, Illinois Football, Indiana Football, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Football, Iowa Hawkeyes, Jason Ford, Michigan Football, Michigan State Football, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Mikel Leshoure, Minnesota Football, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Missouri, Nathan Scheelhaase, NIU Football, Northern Illinois, Northern Illinois Football, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Football, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Ohio State Football, Oklahoma Football, Oklahoma Sooners, Penn State Football, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, Purdue Football, Rashard Mendenhall, Robert Marve, Southern Illinois Football, Southern Illinois Salukis, Terry Hawthorne

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