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An Optimist’s Guide to 2017

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A game-by-game look at how Illinois will run the table this season. It could happen.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

As a new draft pick marches a storied football franchise down the field in a professional football preseason game, it’s warranted some preseason college football hype from another orange and blue fanbase (it IS early August). With preseason camps starting and fans witnessing the 2017 Fighting Illini in action, we figured a decent argument for the Illini running the table needed to circulate through the vast spaces of the internet.

Grab a tall glass of orange kool-aid y’all, here’s the extreme optimist’s view of 2017.

vs. Ball State 9/2 11:00am CT

The Illini open the season against a fairly easy opponent in Ball State. Chayce Crouch begins his run at Big Ten Player of the Year with a 28/35, 330 yard, 5 touchdown performance in three quarters of football before he’s pulled to give Jeff George Jr some reps. Mike Dudek makes his triumphant return to the gridiron with a pair of touchdown catches, and the Illini rout the Cardinals 53-3.

vs. Western Kentucky 9/9 7:00pm CT

Saturday night football in Champaign creates a great atmosphere at Memorial Stadium, as the Illini take the field in all orange looking to make a statement against the Hilltoppers. Mike Stanford’s team isn’t quite as unified as season’s past under Jeff Brohm, and Hardy Nickerson’s defense takes center stage with 4 turnovers in the game including a pair of interceptions by Jaylen Dunlap. Kendrick Foster runs for his second straight 100+ yard game, and Illinois holds off the Hilltoppers 41-35.

at South Florida 9/15 6:00pm CT

One of the biggest games of the season for Illinois, and the first of two consecutive Friday night games for Lovie Smith’s Illini. Defense surprises the Bulls and holds USF to only 21 points in this one, but the offense struggles to gain any momentum. Foster rushes for 171 yards, including a 65 yard touchdown that gives Illinois the lead with 4 minutes left. Quinton Flowers throws a pick with 2 minutes left, and the offense takes the field in swim trunks and water wings to kill the clock. 24-21 Illinois wins.

vs Nebraska 9/29 7:00pm CT

Flashback to 2015 when Illinois drove the ball down the field in :41 seconds to beat the Huskers. Chayce Crouch leads Illinois down the field with two HUGE pass plays to Malik Turner and Sam Mays to set up a game winning field goal by Chase McLaughlin to beat Nebraska 17-14. Bo Pelini is spotted in the East balcony wearing an orange hoodie and holding a flask.

at Iowa 10/7 11:00am CT

Before the game, it is reported that the Iowa home locker room has been painted all pink and the team is distressed with the sudden change. It later determined that the Iowa training staff had accidentally set up the team’s equipment in the visiting team’s locker room. Amidst the confusion, the Hawkeyes struggle to break through the Illini defense as Akrum Wadley and the one dimensional Iowa offense gains only 184 yards the entire game. Chase McLaughlin goes 4-4 in field goals, and Illinois defeats Iowa for the first time in Iowa City since 1999 by a score of 12-9.

vs Rutgers 10/14 TBA

Playing with a chip on their shoulder after the national media snubs the 5-0 Illini of a Top 25 ranking, Chayce Crouch lights up the Scarlet Knights with three passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. Kendrick Foster runs for 331 yards to set a school record (one more than Mikel Leshoure did in Wrigley Field), and the Illini roll to a 63-10 win. Lovie conducts the Marching Illini in a postgame rendition of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

at Minnesota 10/21 2:30 -or- 3:00pm CT

Illinois FINALLY makes the Top 25 with a #19 ranking as they travel to Minneapolis to face PJ Fleck and the Gophers. Del’Shawn Phillips has a breakout game with a total of 5 sacks, and the Illini defense holds Minnesota to 101 yards in the first half. Kendrick Foster continues to run wild, and a pair of touchdowns gives Illinois a 14-10 lead at the half. PJ Fleck rides Goldy Gopher’s segway onto the field in the second half, and Minnesota puts up two touchdowns early. The Illini mount a comeback though, with Crouch firing two touchdown passes to Mike Dudek to give Illinois a 28-24 lead inside of 2 minutes. A late interception by Cameron Watkins seals the victory, and PJ Fleck snaps an oar over his knee heading off the field.

vs Wisconsin 10/28 11:00am CT

Garth Brooks rolls into town to play in Grange Grove before the game, and the homecoming crowd is buzzing with excitement as the Illini carry their #14 ranking into the game against the #10 ranked Badgers. Bradrick Shaw fumbles twice after James Crawford and Jamal Milan strip the ball on back to back possessions, which both turn into Malik Turner touchdown catches. After Wisconsin struggles to mount a comeback in the second half, Sam Mays seals the victory with a 77 yard touchdown grab. The Wisconsin band (who made the trip south from Madison) starts playing taps in the south endzone as the clock runs out. Illinois improves to 8-0 after a 31-17 win.

at Purdue 11/4 TBA

Jeff Brohm has finally cracked the code on David Blough’s ability, and Purdue lights up the Illinois secondary in the first half for three touchdowns. After puting 10 points on the board, Chayce Crouch and Mike Dudek cut the Boilermaker lead to 4 midway through the third quarter. Both teams trade touchdowns until the 7 minute mark in the game when Blough fumbles the snap and Illinois recovers. Malik Turner pulls in a 21 yard touchdown pass to give Illinois a 3 point lead late in the game. Purdue drives the ball to the Illinois 25 yard line, where Lovie ices Purdue's kicker with 3 consecutive time outs. The game tying field goal attempt sails wide right, and Illinois escapes West Lafayette with a 37-34 win.

vs Indiana 11/11 TBA

Tom Allen’s Hoosiers are an EASY target for the now ranked #9 Illini. A 38-10 lead for Illinois causes Martin O’Donnel to leave the radio booth and suit up for a few reps late in the fourth quarter, and Lovie Smith receives a congratulatory text from Tom Crean as he trots off the field.

at Ohio State 11/18 TBA

In a battle of undefeated teams, ESPN’s College Gameday is in Columbus to feature the game of the week between the #7 Illini and the #1 Buckeyes. Lee Corso ends the show dressed as a replica of the Red Grange statue holding a football and screaming “OSKEE!!!” on national television. JT Barrett struggles to get into a rhythm as the Illinois defense holds the Buckeyes to 14 first half points, and the offense finds the endzone twice to tie the game at the half. Josh Whitman comes out of the press box to give the team a pep-talk with Dick Butkus and the Ghost of Red Grange standing with him in the locker room, and the Illini win the game on a pick 6 late in the fourth quarter. Kirk Herbstreet’s head explodes in the booth. 28-24 is the final.

vs Northwestern 11/25 TBA

Illinois takes the field ranked as the #3 team in the country for senior day after knocking off the Buckeyes in Columbus. The game starts off as a defensive slugfest as both teams fail to find the endzone, and leads to a 10-10 tie at the end of regulation. On the first play from scrimmage in the overtime, Jaylen Dunlap steps in front of a Clayton Thorson pass and takes it to the house for the win. Fitzy trips over the line judge trying to chase Dunlap down the field.