It's prediction season, where hundreds of bloggers yank up their prognosticating pants and wave the magic wand of divination to conjure up the most inaccurate drivel one can possibly imagine.
With the Kent State game beginning later tonight (!!!), I bring to you the finest drivel I could possibly devise. Here are some of my best hot takes and predictions for the 2015 Fighting Illini season.
29 Illini Football Predictions for the 2015 Season
- Wes Lunt will throw for 3,000 yards. A couple of these predictions will completely go by the wayside if Lunt gets hurt. That's just the cost of doing business though. I have to expect Lunt to play in all 12 regular season games, and if he does, I think the Illini will have no problem averaging 250 passing yards a game.
- Wes Lunt will throw double digit interceptions this season, but his TD/INT ratio will still be 2:1 or better. Lunt showed early last season that he can be prone to some bad decisions. I think he averages about an interception a game, on a high number of attempts, but ultimately makes up for it by throwing a plethora of touchdowns.
- Josh Ferguson will break the record for career all-purpose yards by an Illini football player. Fergie is currently sixth on the all-time all-purpose yards list (3,486), around 1,250 yards behind Robert Holcombe. I'm betting Ferguson breaks that record and nearly reaches 5,000 career all-purpose yards, putting him in the conversation for the best career an Illini running back has ever had.
- Geronimo Allison will have greater than 900 yards receiving. If GMo stays healthy all season, this could be a low bar for the six-foot-four, 200 lbs athlete to clear. Some of the more experienced receiving options on the team, Justin Hardee and Mike Dudek, are injured to start the season and Geronimo will be heavily relied upon to keep the offense moving. If he and Lunt have perfected the back shoulder fade, as it looked in Rantoul, then Bill Cubit has a virtually unstoppable play to call whenever he needs yards in a big way.
- Desmond Cain will have better receiving statistics than Dionte Taylor by the end of the season, but he’ll still lag behind Allison, Hardee, Malik Turner, and...
- Dudek, who will return close to/for the Iowa game and finish the season with over 300 receiving yards. There have been rumors for weeks now that Dudek could miss the entire season, but I find it hard to believe that he won't come back at some point, given his competitive nature. If he's still out after the Iowa game, then I'll start to believe he's not going to return.
- Josh Ferguson will finish third on the team in receptions this season, behind Allison and Turner. I expect the Illini to do a lot of the same dink-and-dunk stuff they did last season, and Ferguson is always the main recipient of that. Hopefully we see Fergie in the slot as well with Vaughn/Enyenihi in the backfield. Ferguson looks like he could be an absolutely devastating mis-match for linebackers trying to cover crossing routes. Get this man the ball in space.
- Ke’Shawn Vaughn will start a game at running back. This one is sorta weird, because I just have a feeling that with all the work Ferguson will put in, he may have to sit out a game or two due to minor injuries. I hate to make predictions based on health, but I think we'll see a small preview of 2016 as Vaughn takes the majority of the snaps for at least one regular season game.
- Gabe Megginson and all other freshmen on the offensive line will redshirt the 2015 season. Megginson is really the only one with a decent chance of playing his way into the two-deep, but I figured I'd lump Zeke Martin, Adam Solomon, and the others in there anyway. I think this staff does their best to keep Megginson off the field, choosing instead to bolster the interior with Chris O'Connor, Nick Allegretti, and Connor Brennan. Megginson won't get any snaps at tackle either, where Pat Flavin and Jordan Fagan will step in if necessary. It's a testament to Beckman's roster building that Illinois has the ability to redshirt this many promising guys. This prediction relies on health a bit, but oh well. #RedshirtMegginson2015 #Please #ForTheChildren
- Chris Boles will not start all twelve regular season games at left guard. This one is gonna be interesting. For some reason, I just can't shake the feeling that Zach Heath or Nick Allegretti start a game at left guard. Whether due to injuries, which often occur on the offensive line, or to performance-related benching, I think somebody other than Boles gets a start at LG in 2015 (I lean towards Heath, but Chris O'Connor is also a possibility I suppose).
- Chayce Crouch will not have more than 20 passing attempts. This one relies on Wes Lunt health, and I'm comfortable with that. There's a little bit of reasoning behind not thinking Lunt gets injured-- most of it is because the offensive line has two pass-blocking specialists on the outside this season when for most of last year they had guys who struggled in that area. I also think that, even if Lunt misses a game, we'll see the Reilly O'Toole/Aaron Bailey package for Crouch and he'll likely throw fewer than 20 passes anyway.
- Chayce Crouch will have more than 10 rushing attempts. Speaking of the Reilly O'Toole/Aaron Bailey package, I expect Crouch to see the field a decent amount this year in short yardage situations and when the offense needs a little boost from the running game. Crouch can run the read option more effectively than Lunt, and we'll see him do so. I know Cubit likes to have one quarterback running the show, but I still think we'll see enough of Crouch for him to average at least one attempt a game due to read option and QB power plays.
- Illinois will convert over 80 percent of their red zone attempts into scores this season (74 percent last season). Illinois really struggled in the red zone last season, mostly due to the kicking woes. 80 percent is around the national average for red zone performance, and I'm projecting Illinois to be a good offense. They'll get to 80 percent.
- Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips will tie for the team lead in sacks. Jihad Ward is a good candidate here, but Smoot and Phillips should take advantage of the weak side of the line on passing downs to get to the quarterback. This is what the LEO does best, and I think Phillips sees enough time in a back-up role (almost entirely on third downs) to end up tied for the lead with Smoot. Illinois needs to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season and it'll rely heavily on these two to do so.
- Ward will lead the team in tackles for loss, but Rob Bain will be right on his tail. Bain is a good pick for a break-out player this season. He's the best nose tackle Illinois has seen in a hot minute, and should be able to break up some plays in the backfield with his athleticism (Bain is the strongest player on the team). Jihad Ward is also good, but you already knew that.
- Mason Monheim will lead the team with over 120 tackles. The fantastic mainstay of the Illini defense for four years now, Monheim should have a great season behind an improved defensive line that might actually be able to keep blockers away from him for the first time in his career. What a revelation that would be.
- T.J. Neal (second in tackles) and Rob Bain (second in TFL) will be the two breakout players of the season on defense. We've already covered Bain. Neal's biggest problem last season was an inability to slow the game down and make a form tackle in the hole. Another season of experience in this system should allow him to feel more comfortable making reads and being conservative in his decision-making, while still making aggressive plays on the ball. Neal has been talked about less than just about any other member of the defense this season, because people seem to think he's a known quantity at this point. Just beginning his junior year and his second season of starting experience, I don't believe that's the case. T.J. Neal is primed for a great 2015.
- V’Angelo Bentley will score an offensive touchdown this season, be it rushing, receiving, or passing. Cubit loves his trick plays, and Bentley is a likely beneficiary as one of the speediest dudes on the team.
- Jihad Ward and V’Angelo Bentley will be drafted in the fourth and seventh rounds of the NFL Draft. Ward is an athletic freak, but I don't think his production will be quite impressive enough to be drafted in the first three rounds. Somebody should take a flier on V'Angelo as a returner/back-up slot corner, and they likely will after he returns at least one kick to the house this season (bonus prediction!!).
- Ted Karras, Mason Monheim, Clayton Fejedelem, and Geronimo Allison will be picked up in the NFL as undrafted free agents. One of them will make a 53-man roster next fall. It was tough to omit these guys from the draft predictions, but I just don't think any of them has enough hype from scouts at this point. Even putting Bentley in the seventh round was a bit of a stretch, but I likely underrated Ward so it balances out. Of these four, I think Karras and Fejedelem have the highest chances of being drafted, with Monheim and Allison not far behind.
- Illinois will finish fifth in the Big Ten in tackles for loss per game, behind Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin (in that order). The Illini finished seventh last year, behind Indiana and Michigan State plus the above teams. With an improved d-line and Tim Banks' aggressive schemes still in place, I think the Illini jump up a couple spots this year.
- Illinois will not finish last in the Big Ten in total rushing yards allowed. Despite doing so for the last two years. Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana, and Purdue will all finish behind the Illini in this category. Rutgers in particular almost certainly will-- they were the only team in the B1G to allow more yards per carry than Illinois last season.
- Illinois will have double digit defensive interceptions this season. Once again a product of extra pressure on the quarterback from the line and the experienced secondary, I think Illinois finally puts it together and gets to 10-plus interceptions for the first time since 2011. One or two of these turnovers, by the way, ensure that...
- Illinois will beat Iowa in Kinnick Stadium this season. Iowa has been a tough match-up for Illinois, but I think they're vulnerable after the loss of an underrated Jake Rudock who did the best he could with the lack of weapons around him. Iowa's offensive line wasn't very good last season, and they lost an All-American tackle in Brandon Scherff. Illinois gets them early, where they likely won't have completely gelled yet on the line, and I think the Illini are able to pull it out at one of the best road atmospheres in the B1G.
- Illinois will lose to Ohio State by more than 14 points, and nobody else. Last season, Illinois lost to Washington, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Iowa by more than 14 points. I think Illinois has improved enough this season to avoid those devastating losses to anybody except Ohio State, which is an unstoppable killing machine bent on the destruction of our galaxy. It is known. llinois has the pieces to at least compete with Nebraska and Wisconsin at home, and Minnesota and Penn State on the road. All of those games stay within two touchdowns, but Illinois still loses all four. Which means...
- Illinois will finish with a final record of 6-6 in the regular season. This includes three non conference wins, plus a 3-5 record in the Big Ten including victories over Purdue, Iowa, and Northwestern. I'm staying relatively conservative with the pick this year, I think. I don't really foresee the Beckman firing affecting this team in the way others do, because I don't really think Beckman ever had much of a positive impact on the team's performance on the field. I have been thinking either 6-6 or 7-5 for a while, but it's pretty difficult to find that seventh win. North Carolina probably has too many athletes for Illinois to win on the road and Minnnesota/Penn State have good enough defenses to pull those games out. I think Iowa is vulnerable as discussed earlier and Purdue/Northwestern are both rebuilding this season and likely a step below the Illini. A home win over either Nebraska or Wisconsin is possible, but neither is one I'm comfortable predicting. Illinois will be noticeably better than last season, but its regular season record will be the same, leading to much hand-wringing from fans. One encouraging difference compared to 2014 though, will be when...
- Illinois wins its bowl game.
- Bill Cubit will not be retained as head coach in 2016, but he will stay on with the new coaching staff in some capacity. I really like Bill Cubit, but I don't think the schedule sets up well enough for him to get to the nine-or-so wins he'd need to be strongly, strongly considered for the head coaching job long-term. He's an older guy, and I foresee Illinois making an effort to move on with a younger, up-and-coming head coach. Which is why...
- Illinois will hire Justin Fuente from Memphis to be the next head coach of Illinois Fighting Illini football. I think Fuente has everything Illinois is looking for in its next head coach. Some are unsure that Illinois is enough of an upgrade for Fuente to consider the job desirable, but I think being at the head of a Big Ten program is exactly what an aspiring coach from the AAC would want. Please make this happen, Mike Thomas or whomever conducts the coaching search.
Bonus non-Illini predictions:
- Michigan goes 8-4 in its first year under Harbaugh. I am writing this after the Wolverines’ loss to Utah, just so you know.
- Nebraska struggles, relative to expectations, in its first year under Mike Riley. The Huskers finish 8-4 and third in the Big Ten West behind Minnesota (8-4) and Wisconsin (9-3).
- Ohio State beats Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, advancing to the College Football Playoff for the second-consecutive season.
- Baylor and UCLA (with a true freshman quarterback!) also advance to the College Football Playoff.
- Alabama wins the 2015 College Football Playoff. Roll Tide.