As of this morning, we are officially 8 months away from the season opener for 2016 Illinois football. Try and temper your excitement, I know it's hard to do. Still struggling with it? Here, this might help.
Look at Illinois’ 2016 schedule. Is 3-9 the ceiling? pic.twitter.com/dgoMDPkF9w— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) January 3, 2016
That's ... pretty bleak. All of Illinois' opponents have finished their 2015 seasons, so we can have at least a slight approximation of what looms ahead. In case the picture in Tom's tweet didn't work for you, here's the schedule with 2015 records and pre-bowl game S&P rankings when applicable. Illinois of course finished 5-7 and 58th.
9/3- Murray State Racers (3-8)
9/10- North Carolina Tar Heels (11-3, 30th)
9/17- Western Michigan Broncos (8-5, 54th)
10/1- @ Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-7, 43rd)
10/8- Purdue Boilermakers (2-10, 85th)
10/15- @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-8, 104th)
10/22- @ Michigan Wolverines (10-3, 6th)
10/29- Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-7, 35th)
11/5- Michigan State Spartans (12-2, 9th)
11/12- @ Wisconsin Badgers (10-3, 28th)
11/19- Iowa Hawkeyes (12-2, 34th)
11/26- @ Northwestern Wildcats (10-3, 45th)
Jesus. In case you forgot, 2016 is the year the Big Ten switches to a 9 game conference schedule. This is great if you're a fan of seeing Illinois play 69% of the conference every year. It's terrible news if you like watching Illinois go to a bowl game.
Illinois had a worse 2015 season than all but three of their 2016 opponents. That does not bode well. Hell, it bodes terribly. Let's look at some scenarios for this fall. I'm not going to predict injuries or defections, because I'm not that capricious.
Worst Case Scenario:
Illinois starts the season off with an uninspiring win against Murray State. And that's the season highlight. There's no shame in a loss to a strong UNC squad, but the torches start flaring up when Bill Cubit's replacement at WMU comes to town and beats the Illini. A winless conference schedule leaves the Illini sitting at 1-11 and the new athletic director (if one is ever hired) is forced into an incredibly easy decision.
Best Case Scenario:
Illinois goes 2-1 in the OOC. I'm sorry, but there's not enough Kool-Aid in all of Nebraska to make me think they'll start the year 3-0. The Illini beat their cellar-dwelling brethren from Purdue and Rutgers and sit at 4-2 halfway through the season. They catch Minnesota or Northwestern sleeping and have a quiet 5-7 season hopefully filled with less hell than the previous one.
Most Likely Scenario:
Illinois beats Murray State but gets routed by North Carolina. The Western Michigan game is a coin toss if we're being honest. I'm going to put it as a win for now, though I'm not really sure how much I believe it will end up as one. So we're looking at 2-1 or 1-2 before conference play. Illinois should beat Purdue and Rutgers. But they should have beaten Purdue back in 2014 and managed to bungle that. So I'm going to say they win one of those two. And that's it. There are no favorable games left on the schedule after the halfway point. We're looking at a 3-4 win season with Cubit entering lame duck status in his contract year.
It's going to be a long year.