The dog days of summer are nearing the halfway point, and the Illinois football season starts in just over a month. Even though the Fighting Illini improved their overall record in 2013, fans are just as anxious leading into the 2014 campaign. This is because the Orange & Blue are close to returning to the postseason, and many fans want to see the Illini earn a bowl bid in 2014. It all starts with game one for Illinois. So let’s start breaking down the schedule game-by-game. First up: the Youngstown State Penguins.
2013 Record: 8-4 (5-3 in the MVFC)
Key Losses: QB Kurt Hess, LB Teven Williams, DE Kyle Sirl
Key Returners: RB Martin Ruiz, WR Andre Stubbs, SS Donald D’Alesio
Player to Watch: RB Martin Ruiz
In almost every single loss last season for the Fighting Illini, there was one offensive position that absolutely killed the Orange & Blue defense. That position would be the running back of the opposing offenses. Because of that fact, Martin Ruiz is not to be taken lightly by the Illini defense (even though Youngstown State hails from the FCS). Ruiz led the Penguins in both rushing yards and touchdowns a year ago. He ran for a total of 1,129 yards and fifteen touchdowns on 192 carries. The sophomore running back also can be used as a receiver out of the backfield as he tallied 256 receiving yards in 2013.
Prediction: Illinois 35 – Youngstown State 24
Both offenses for Illinois and Youngstown State will have one thing in common coming into this game. They will both be without their starting quarterbacks from a season ago. For Illinois, the new Illini starter will be debuted, and the front runner with the Illinois faithful is Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt. Although Scheelhaase was new to the Cubit offense coming into the 2013 season, I expect the Illini offense to take a minor step back as the new pieces try to fit together. The defense for Illinois will be able to hold the Youngstown State offense at bay in order for the Illini to start the 2014 off win a victory.
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