With Returning Starters, the Fighting Illini Will Find a Way to Sneak 'Over' 4.5 Wins

Ross Benjamin

Friday, July 24, 2015 6:18 PM GMT

Friday, Jul. 24, 2015 6:18 PM GMT

Our professional college football analyst continues on his plight to provide us with another Big Ten team preview. This time it will be the Illinois “Fighting Illini” that’s featured. 

2015 Illinois “Fighting Illini” Preview
Illinois certainly showed some progress last season that they can build on in 2015. After going a combined 6-18 in the first two years under head coach Tim Beckman, the “Fighting Illini” qualified for a bowl game last season. Unfortunately they were blown out 38-15 by Louisiana Tech in the “Heart of Dallas Bowl” which dropped their season ending record to 6-7. Despite that bowl defeat, and final losing record, it was positively a step in the right direction.

 

Fifteen Returning Starters
The good news for Illinois is they return 15 starters from last season’s bowl squad. Contrarily, the Big 10 part of their schedule will make it extremely difficult to qualify for their second consecutive postseason appearance.

The offense has eight starters returning led by junior quarterback Wes Lunt. The former Oklahoma State starter hasn’t been able to stay consistently healthy in his first two years of eligibility. Last season Lunt missed four games due to injury. He still managed to pass for 1763 yards while completing 63.5% of his attempts, and tossed 14 touchdown passes versus only 3 interceptions. Senior running back Josh Ferguson is coming off a 2014 campaign in which he was the leading rusher (735 yards/8 TDS), and also had 50 pass receptions (427 yards/2 TDS). Both Illinois starting wide receivers in 2014 will be back as well. Junior Mike Dudek led the team with 76 receptions good for 1038 yards and 6 touchdowns. Senior Geronimo Allison also returns, and he had 41 catches for 598 yards and 5 touchdowns a season ago.

The defense brings back seven starters but it comes with an asterisk. This was a unit which allowed 34.0 points and 456.4 yards per game last year. If the “Fighting Illini” is going to have a realistic chance to reach another bowl game, they must improve dramatically on this side of the ball.

 

The Schedule

9/5

Kent State

9/12

Western Illinois

9/19

at North Carolina

9/26

Middle Tennessee

10/3

Nebraska

10/10

at Iowa

10/24

Wisconsin

10/31

at Penn State

11/7

at Purdue

11/14

Ohio State

11/21

at Minnesota

11/28

Northwestern (Chicago)

The non-conference portion of the Illinois 2015 schedule appears conducive to a fast start. They should come away with home wins over Kent State, Western Illinois (FCS), and Middle Tennessee State. They will be in tough on the road during a week three game at North Carolina. I would forecast at this juncture that there’s a high probability of a 3-1 start to the season if all plays true to form.

Last season the “Fighting Illini” was able to dodge both Wisconsin and Michigan State in their Big Ten slate. They once again won’t have to face Michigan State but weren’t so fortunate in alluding Wisconsin. Their conference home itinerary is brutal with games against Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and a season finale versus Northwestern. The Northwestern contest is officially deemed as a home game, despite it being played at Soldier Field in Chicago. Considering that Chicago is in close proximity to the Northwestern campus in Evanston, Illinois, it will more resemble a neutral site. My original intuition tells me that they’ll be lucky to win one of those four official home tilts, but I’m more inclined to predict a 1-3 mark in those contests.

Illinois won’t have nearly as imposing of a Big Ten slate on the road against Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, and Minnesota. They’re more than capable of earning a split in those four games.

 

Final Analysis
When looking at the Illinois futures at BetOnline.com, they have a posted regular season win total of 4.5. Placing a wagering on going over 4.5 wins comes at a money line price of (+100), and going under 4.5 wins is priced at -130. I’m going to have a small lean toward the “Fighting Illini” surpassing the win total of 4.5 as one of my college football futures picks. I’m very confident in Illinois being able to go 3-1 in non-conference games, and considering their plethora of returning starters, they should be able to somehow carve out two wins versus conference opponents.

College Football Pick: Illinois over 4.5 (+100) wins at BetOnline

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