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Rutgers at home likely a winnable Big Ten game for Illinois

The Illini welcome the Scarlet Knights to Memorial Stadium in Week 7

Illinois v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Rutgers’ 2016 Final S&P Rk: 114

Rutgers’ 2016 Off Rk: 125

Rutgers’ 2016 Def Rk: 56

One of the few moments where Illinois football fans were able to breathe easily in a trying 2016 season was on the road in Piscataway, New Jersey. Illinois took care of Rutgers, as was expected, 24-7, last October in the first matchup between the teams since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten three years ago.

Now Illinois will be the one welcoming Rutgers to Memorial Stadium as a member of the Big Ten for the first time this October during a Week 7 matchup this season — one of the few games Illini nation feels confident in the Orange and Blue being able to pull off in 2017.

Rutgers is expected to be better, or at least more competitive, in Year Two under head coach Chris Ash after a 2-10 campaign. After nine bowl appearances — and six wins — in 10 years, the Scarlet Knights have won six games over the past two seasons and missed the postseason each year.

While fans of both programs may not want to admit, Illinois and Rutgers actually have a lot of similarities and unknowns entering this season. Rutgers’ top deep threat, Janarion Grant, is returning from injury, like Illinois WR Mike Dudek, and both can provide much-needed firepower to the passing game. The Knights and Illini each have one of the top linebackers in the conference — Trevor Morris and Tre Watson — and an unproven quarterback.

No game is going to be too winnable for Illinois this season, but Rutgers definitely is one of those chances for the Illini to take at least one conference game just because it is at home and the Scarlet Knights are, until proven not to be, the laughingstock of the conference.