Illinois will likely see Riley Neal taking snaps for Ball State during the teams’ Week 1 showdown in Champaign. Week 2 quarterback, Western Kentucky’s Mike White, is no Neal — he is far better.
While few wins have come easy for the Illini in recent years, those against the directional school seem to instill slightly more confidence into the team (just forget about Western Michigan in 2016). This season will not be full of cupcakes in the offseason, mostly due to WKU and South Florida’s QBs, White and Quinton Flowers.
Off-topic, but White actually spent his first two collegiate seasons, 2013 and 2014, with the Bulls before transferring to Western Kentucky.
However, today is not the day to worry about the well-known Flowers, arguably one of the nation’s top slingers, and Charlie Strong’s South Florida program. White has less name recognition among the college football landscape, but his video game numbers argue he should be a household name. White led a Hilltoppers team that led the nation in points per game last season (45.5), while he threw for more than 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns.
While White lost his head coach (Jeff Brohm to Purdue), his top halfback, two of his top wideouts and three all-conference offensive linemen, he still has the accuracy and ability to stand in the pocket and face pressure.
If the Illini defensive line steps up their game and is able to rush White into bad passes — he threw seven interceptions in 2016 — then Illinois may stay in the game. Otherwise, White’s pass-happy Conference-USA offense will rack up points, and it will be ugly in Champaign.