Call me optimistic. Call me a homer. I don’t really care. Illinois Football is going to get to six wins this season. There, I said it.
The safe bet among most outlets has been 5-7, and I get it, but I just have this strong feeling that Illinois is getting over the hump this season behind an explosive offense and an improved defense. In all honesty, if I was feeling really crazy I could see this schedule producing 8 wins, but for now, with this program, I’m going with a simple breakthrough to bowl eligibility.
So, how are they going to get there?
It starts today with a waxing of FCS Youngstown State. Illinois shouldn’t overlook the Penguins, but they shouldn’t exactly fear them either. Yes, the SIU game last year was much tighter than expected, but that opener showed some of the issues the defense would struggle through all season. I don’t expect the defense to see those same issues this season.
Win number 2 in my projection? WKU. WKU hung a lot of points on Bowling Green last night, 59 to be exact, but BGSU isn’t the defensive world beater they were a year ago. They returned their top 2 tacklers but lost their next 4 in their top 6 and only returned a total of 5 players on defense. WKU also surrendered 31 points. Illinois will do better.
Win number 3 will come from Texas State. They only return 4 defensive starters from a year ago, and lose their top 2 tacklers. Illinois is going to hang a boatload of points in this game, and should finish their non-conference schedule 3-1.
So, we’re halfway there. Where are the other 3 wins going to come from?
Well, the way I see it, Illinois is going to triple their Big Ten win total from a year ago and those victories are going to come from Purdue, Minnesota, and Penn State.
We all saw Purdue a year ago. They might be a little better, but Illinois gets them at home. It should be a win.
Minnesota just beat EIU 42-20, but EIU shot themselves in a foot a bit in that one, and they are in a major transition year after losing their head coach and New England Patriot Jimmy Garoppolo. Minnesota didn’t exactly crush the rebuilding Panthers. Illinois can get this win at home on Homecoming.
That brings us to the final third of the schedule with Iowa, Penn State, and Northwestern. This is where I could see Illinois getting to 8 wins if everything breaks right, but it’s also where I see Illinois getting that magical sixth win when they lock up with the Nittany Lions in the last home game of the season.
Penn State only returns 5 starters on offense, but one of them is Christian Hackenberg. He might be the best QB in the Big Ten. So, getting this win won’t be easy by any means, but it’s doable. Illinois showed they could hang with them in Happy Valley a year ago, dropping a tight one in OT. This year they get them in Memorial Stadium, and I have visions of a full stadium with bowl eligibility on the line.
The bottom line here is this, it all starts today, and the defense must be improved for this prediction to come to fruition.
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