Illinois Fighting Illini 2016 College Football Preview, Schedule, Prediction, Depth Chart, Outlook
Illinois Fighting Illini 2016 Preview
Odds to Win National Championship 500-1
Thanks to new head coach Lovie Smith, there’s a positive buzz in Illinois surrounding the 2016 Fighting Illini. Smith and the Illini likely won’t be playing for a bowl bid this season, but we should see vast improvements on both sides of the ball as the team builds itself into a perennial contender within the Big 10.
Offense: Coming along with Smith into new territory is offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, who has stints with Louisville and Arkansas on his resume. Illinois will have a solid passing game with Wes Lunt at the helm, who is coming off 14 scores and six picks a year ago alongside 2,761 yards. Unfortunately the team is very thin at receiver (Mike Dudek is out for the season with a knee injury), however Lunt should be able to make his supporting cast shine. We should see notable contributions from Desmond Cain, Malik Turner and Justin Hardee as the season unfolds. Illinois also needs a big step forward from running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Last season Vaughn put up 157 totes for 723 yards and six scores to lead the team, and will take on the lion’s share of the rushing responsibilities in what the Illini are planning to be a balanced offense.
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Defense: Ball-control aficionado Smith will enjoy his veteran defense, anchored across the board by a host of returning junior and senior names. Leading DB Clayton Fejedelem (74 solo tackles) is gone, but SS Taylor Barton should be able to step in and help with coverage on the back end. Look for LB Tre Watson to be a sneaky contributor as well under new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson.
Special Teams: Junior Ryan Frain will be handling the punting duties in 2016, while David Reisner will come in again as the team’s placekicker. Darius Mosley is slotted in as the primary punt returner, and Caleb Day will earn his keep as the kick returner.
Outlook: Illinois still has an uphill climb to make in order to get back into bowl contention, but with a solid coaching staff in place that could happen sooner rather than later. Six wins seems a realistic target for this team, but it will be difficult for Illinois to put up any big scoring this season with their skeleton crew of receivers.
September 3 vs. MURRAY STATE Champaign, IL (Memorial Stadium)
September 10 vs. NORTH CAROLINA Champaign, IL (Memorial Stadium)
September 17 vs. WESTERN MICHIGAN Champaign, IL (Memorial Stadium)
October 1 @ NEBRASKA Lincoln, NE (Memorial Stadium)
October 8 vs. PURDUE Champaign, IL (Memorial Stadium)
October 15 @ RUTGERS Piscataway, NJ (High Point Solutions Stadium)
October 22 @ MICHIGAN Ann Arbor, MI (Michigan Stadium)
October 29 vs. MINNESOTA Champaign, IL (Memorial Stadium)
November 5 vs. MICHIGAN STATE Champaign, IL (Memorial Stadium)
November 12 @ WISCONSIN Madison WI (Camp Randall Stadium)
November 19 vs. IOWA Champaign IL (Memorial Stadium)
November 26 @ NORTHWESTERN Evanston IL (Ryan Field)