Did you catch Saturday's game? Of course you did, it was Lovie Smith's debut as head coach of the Fighting Illini, and man, did his squad pass the initial eye test. The Orange and Blue dominated Murray State in every phase of the game on their way to a convincing 52-3 victory.
But how does that initial result impact Illinois' 2016 outlook? Prior to kickoff, just about every season projection had the team finishing somewhere between 4-7 wins. Now? There's only one possible outcome: the Fighting Illini are on the verge of an undefeated season. Here's how it'll happen.
Week 2 | North Carolina
The first test of the young season has finally arrived, and Illinois will continue its winning ways. After Mitch Trubisky throws three interceptions in the first quarter, North Carolina begins to cycle in backups to get some experience. Illinois never looks back, winning handily 42-10. In shame, the Tar Heels admit they are bad, bad cheaters while giving Illinois the 2005 NCAA Basketball Title trophy. Dee Brown proudly accepts, and a parade begins immediately following the final whistle.
Week 3 | Western Michigan
P.J. Fleck -- fresh off an upset victory over Northwestern -- brings his high-tempo offense to Champaign. Ke’Shawn Vaughn rushes for 331 yards, narrowly breaking Mikel Leshoure’s six-year-old record en route to another big victory. Block I puts on a stellar card stunt, and the stands are becoming noticeably more full; the atmosphere begins to show similarities to the days of old when football tickets were hard to come by. Lovie Smith goes 3-0 in his first non-conference slate, and blue chip recruits begin to take notice.
Week 4 | BYE WEEK
Illinois gets a much needed week off, and Mrs. Lovie Smith invites the team over for a cookout. She also invites all the writers from The Champaign Room to taste-test some killer apple turnover. I become best friends with Coach Smith. Luke Butkus and I discuss our ideas for simplifying the tax code.
Week 5 | @ Nebraska
The Nebraska fans are already longing for the days of Bo Pelini, and Mike Riley continues to prove that he's not the long-term answer. Riley will eventually try to slip into Lil’ Red’s suit, shielding himself from the chorus of boo’s and chew filled dip cups that will be hurled in his direction after the Illini establish a 24-point lead. The Orange and Blue continue to turn heads across the college football landscape, and they enter the national polls for the first time at No. 22.
Week 6 | Purdue
What's up, Purdue. The Boilermakers are still searching for their second win of the season upon arriving in Champaign. Spoiler alert: it won't happen. Darrell Hazell gets fired mid-game in an unprecedented move. Soon-to-be-replaced AD Morgan Burke initiates plans to raffle off the coaching job, which promptly gets won by Sally Fulmer, a 73 year old homemaker who enjoys quilting.
Week 7 | @ Rutgers
Illinois is starting to get bored, and who can blame them with this portion of the schedule. Luckily, Lovie Smith is using the Rutgers game as valuable preparation for Week 8's potentially program-changing game against Michigan. Wes Lunt (400 YDS, 5 TD), and No. 14 Illinois will sit at 6-0 prior to their appearance in Ann Arbor.
Week 8 | @ Michigan
The beautiful fall foliage creates a beautiful backdrop against Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines will take a lead into the second half, but the Illini defensive line will stand tall and force three fumbles to help edge Michigan 35-33. Lunt, who will quickly be moving up the Heisman ranks at this point, finally cracks the projected top 5 with a 27/4 TD ratio. Walking human brain aneurysm Jim Harbaugh will likely begin sacrificing live wolverines after the game at midfield in an attempt to figure out what went wrong and appease the football gods.
Week 9 | Minnesota
Have you ever been to Minnesota? It's bad. The campus is essentially snow, ice, and an annoying accent. Tracy Claeys fits that description rather well, too. The Golden Gophers will surprisingly pull to within 7 during the fourth quarter following an uncharacteristic Ke'Shawn Vaughn fumble. Luckily, Minnesota will be unprepared for that ensuing offensive series because Claeys is busy eating dilly bars. Illinois takes advantage, gets the ball back, and puts the game out of reach with a 63-yard bomb to Malik Turner.
Week 10 | Michigan State
Michigan State has been fantastic in the Big Ten lately, but that's all over now. With the reemergence of Michigan and the Ohio State Buckeyes in the same division, State would be wise to hope for third place from here on out. With no legitimate quarterback to lead the team, the Spartans will rely on Gerald Holmes to carry the offense. That won't happen against the Illinois defensive line. Illinois wins again, 21-10, and the national media clamors for more Lovie Smith.
Week 11 | @ Wisconsin
Along with Illinois, Wisconsin will be one of the nation's biggest surprises at this point in the year. They did defeat No. 5 LSU in their first game, after all. So Illinois will aiming to crush the hopes and dreams of the red-clad faithful upon arriving in Madison. Of course, they do so by a final score of 40-14 because this is a team of destiny. Any glimmer of hope Wisconsin had for a Rose Bowl berth vanishes, and Illinois vaults to No. 2 in the country behind Alabama.
Week 12 | Iowa
2015, What a time to be alive! Thanks to a cakewalk schedule, the Hawkeyes stumbled into a 12-0 record before falling to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Iowa was relegated to the Rose Bowl, however Stanford managed to quickly nuke them off the face of the map and everything returned to normal. C.J. Beathard will get beat hard as Dawuane Smoot, Carroll Phillips, and Hardy Nickerson Jr. combine for 10 sacks on the afternoon. Illinois wins putting some more pressure on the Crimson Tide in the process.
Week 13 | Northwestern
Finally, we come to the ‘rivalry’ game that will cap off Illinois' perfect regular season. Despite an opening loss to Western Michigan, the Wildcats enter the final week with a surprising record of 8-3. So, obviously, this will be the most important LOLHat game in history. After Wes Lunt's third touchdown of the first half -- which includes one to the resurrected Mike Dudek -- the crowd in Evanston begins to quickly dissipate. Illinois ultimately shuts out Northwestern 37-0 to advance to their first-ever Big Ten Championship. Oh, and that stupid Wildcat roar won't be played a single time.
Week 14 | Big Ten Championship | Michigan (Indianapolis, IN)
Jim Harbaugh was obviously fired after sacrificing live animals, so it'll be up to interim head coach Jim Tressel to halt Illinois' perfect season. Unfortunately, he'll be forced to leave at halftime in order to tend to urgent academic business at Youngstown State. The Wolverines will be in complete disarray, allowing Justin Hardee to set all kinds of receiving records. The Fighting Illini are Big Ten champions, and they secure their place in the College Football Playoff.