Illinois has one of the longest home-opener winning streaks in the nation, and our staff looks to see that continue this year against Ball State. Here are TCR staff predictions for the Illini’s season opener versus the Cardinals!
Stephen Cohn: Illinois 35, Ball State 21
The Illini have won season openers the past two years by a combined score of 104-6, and I really would like to believe Illinois can continue the trend of opening week blowouts in 2017. However, two things have come to mind. One, my roommate told me the score would be 35-21, which seems reasonable. Two, this Illinois team clearly is not like the teams of recent years. First-game jitters may be on the rise with one of the youngest teams in the country, and, while the Illini should (and will) come out on top against a lower-tier MAC team, it won’t be the cakewalk that fans in Memorial Stadium have gotten used to at the start of the year.
Michael Berns: Illinois 42, Ball State 10
Illinois gets off to a hot start like it did against Murray State a year ago. Ball State’s defensive end Anthony Winbush is a monster, but the Cardinals have to replace all of their linebackers from a defense that finished 126th out of 129 Division I teams against the pass last season. The Illini will use the run to open up the pass, and my guess is Malik Turner and true freshman Ricky Smalling have a field day against the weakest opponent the Illini face all year.
Thumpasaurus: Illinois 27, Ball State 17
I’m expecting some frustrations from this game. Illinois is the more talented roster and is the better team, but with freshmen poised for a lot of snaps on both the offensive and the defensive line, I expect to see some defensive lapses and quite a few frustrating stalled drives from the offense. The Illini would be wise to keep it simple on offense and get some game reps under their belt.
Austin Jabs: Illinois 47, Ball State 20
I think Illinois comes out firing on all cylinders, with a great offensive performance. I think the running game shines, as the team rushes for 375 yard. Dudek’s first games back starts slow, as he is held under 100 yards receiving. Overall, the defense plays well, netting three interceptions and 5 sacks. It's a solid game all around, and the Illini remain undefeated and still alive for the National Championship.
Brandon Birkhead: Illinois 45, Ball State 24
I think the Illini offense will have a huge day running the ball against Ball State and start building some confidence going forward for the season. I’m expecting a big day out of Chayce Crouch and Kendrick Foster. The defense will show some cracks with how young they are, but Ball State will never truly threaten the Illini.
Ian Gold: Illinois 41, Ball State 20
How frightening is it that the Las Vegas line touches Illinois -7? I hope it’s not a homer call to imagine Illinois can ground-and-pound against an overmatched MAC team, and splice in some deep shots to Malik Turner and Mike Dudek. Illinois has a young defense, but the talent difference should allow for some exciting freshman moments along the defensive front and in the secondary - which might be starting three true freshman.
Josh Greenberg: Illinois 38, Ball State 24
Two things are certain in life, the sun will come up in the morning and the Illini will win opening day getting Illini Nation hopes high. They have so for the last 7 years. I expect the Illini to run the ball a lot with their group of running backs. But my eye will be on number 18 Mikey Dudek. Nothing will make me happier than him in the end zone (and get through the game with no injury).
Steve Bourbon: Illinois 27, Ball State 23
I think this will be a fairly ugly football game as both teams work out an offseason worth of rust. Chayce Crouch and the Illini passing game will struggle to consistently complete passes although my crystal ball predicts a long touchdown for Malik Turner. Lovie will undoubtedly frustrate fans by punting on fourth and 1 from the Ball State 37-yard-line late in the game, but a Tre Watson forced fumble ends the Cardinals’ comeback hopes in the final minute.