It's finally here. The 2016 college football season has kicked off and Illinois is set to take on the Murray State Racers Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. For all the turmoil that has occurred over the past calendar year, Illini fans can rejoice as they're finally able to witness Lovie Smith pacing the home sideline. Below we've got all the information you need to get you set for kickoff.
Game Day Information
Your guide to @IlliniFootball GAMEDAY this weekend #Illini pic.twitter.com/Rw0Avxpoen— Illini Athletics (@IlliniAthletics) September 2, 2016
Fighting Illini Uniforms
The first uniform combination of the 2016 season was revealed Thursday night. Lovie Smith's squad will be going with the classic look of orange helmets, blue jerseys and orange pants.
UNIWATCH GAME 1 #Illini #WeWillWin pic.twitter.com/CdaWvrqVXb— Illini Football (@IlliniFootball) September 2, 2016
Murray State Scouting Report
Murray State, coached by Mitch Stewart, went 3-8 in 2015 and finished seventh overall in the Ohio Valley Conference standings. It's their fifth consecutive season with a losing record. Illinois has never played the Racers before, but Murray State has faced Big Ten opponents three times in their program's history; they've lost all three.
The Racers are aptly named. Last season they finished the season with the twelfth-ranked offense in the FCS at 466 yards per game. Senior quarterback K.D. Humphries led the nation in completions for the second year in a row. He has also boasted the FCS lead in passing yards and passing yards per game for two straight seasons. On top of all of that, Humphries is also now the all-time single-season leader in passing yards at Murray State. He is by far the Racers' most potent offensive weapon.
Their running back situation is more complicated. Their leading rusher from last season, Roman Clay, was arrested back in January for burglary. He was promptly suspended from the team for an undisclosed period of time. While it's unclear whether or not Clay will get the nod this weekend, the Racers ground game is certainly not as dangerous as their air attack. Their best wideout is actually their tight end, Jesse Blackburn. He was named to the Preseason All-OVC team last month, and will undoubtedly be hauling in a lot of receptions from Humphries. Blackburn led the team in touchdown catches in 2015 as well.
You might be wondering how an offense that potent managed to finish 3-9 last year, but the defense is a different story for Murray State. The Racers' D gave up an average of 37 points per game in 2015 including a season-high 57 points allowed at Northern Illinois. They were on the wrong end of a lot of shootouts. Their best player on this side of the ball is linebacker Jonathan Jackson, who led the team in tackles in 2015 and might be their best returning defensive player. Defensive linemen Bishop Woods and Toby Omli are two players to watch for in the trenches, but overall this Murray State defense shouldn't give Wes Lunt and the Illinois offense too many problems.
Illinois Fighting Illini 48, Murray State Racers 14
This is going to be a drubbing. The Racers defense will simply not be able to keep up with Wes Lunt, who will throw for over 300 yards. Ke'Shawn Vaughn should have ample opportunities on the offensive side of the ball as well. Lovie Smith's college head coaching career will start out with an emphatic victory. On to North Carolina, which will be a huge Week 2 test.
What are your predictions for the game? Make sure to cast your vote below and watch the hype video at the top of this page!