Stephen Cohn: Illinois 27, USF 23
If you read on, which you should, you’ll notice a theme of Illinois not being picked to win. My life (and prediction) motto is “You’re undefeated until you’re not undefeated.” While the Ball State game — and the inability to run away from an opponent — sticks in the back of my mind, I also cannot stop thinking about how impressive the defense was against Western Kentucky. If the line contains Flowers as it contained White last week, the Illini definitely have a shot at pulling off the upset over a ranked-South Florida team, and it may even lead to some delirious AP voter throwing Illinois in his Top 25 rankings this week.
Michael Berns: USF 30, Illinois 24
I expected last week’s game against WKU to be a lot higher scoring than it was. USF and their quarterback Quinton Flowers are a lot harder to contain and they’re much better at running the football than Illinois’ opponent last week. At the time of this prediction, the Illini are 17-point underdogs to USF. I think the game ends up being significantly closer than that. Illinois stays in the game for the first three quarters before USF finishes the Illini off on their final drive.
Austin Jabs: USF 32, Illinois 29
I badly want to put Illinois in the win column here. So very badly. I just cannot bring myself to overlook the strong all-around game that USF brings to the table. The hope is that the Illinois defense can play as well as they did against WKU and shows more improvement. Can the Illini limit the damage that USF can do on the ground and force Flowers to throw the ball? Maybe. The USF defense is strong and will do their part in the takeaway game. I will be fine being wrong here and would love nothing more than an Illini victory on a primetime, nationally televised game. If the Illini do somehow win this game, I see them as a virtual lock to make a bowl game.
Ian Gold: USF 27, Illinois 16
Lovie’s young defense keeps raising the bar for Illinois’ season, but they haven’t seen anything like this before. Not only can Quinton Flowers hurt them on the ground (much worse than Ball State QB Riley Neal’s 41 yards in Week One), but he’s in Week Three of adjusting to a very advanced Art Briles scheme. I don’t think Flowers powers his team to the blowout Vegas invisions, but it will be more than enough for what we’ve seen Illinois’ offense is capable of. South Florida is very aggressive in the secondary, so Chayce Crouch is going to have to make downfield throws with accuracy to take the top off. Malik Turner and Mike Dudek are up to the task; is the rest of the offense? Plus, hurricane mojo and Friday night.
Brad Repplinger: USF 28, Illinois 20
Illinois has shown over the first two games that they can defend against the run. With USF running the football roughly 72 percent of the time, this should keep the Illini in the game all evening. However, this Illini team is young. VERY young. There’s anticipation that a late turnover will all but seal a win for the Bulls from this camp, but a valiant effort from the Orange and Blue will be something to hang your hat on.
Thumpasaurus: USF 17, Illinois 16
Does anybody else feel like a garbage human being for wondering if Hurricane Irma’s effects on the Tampa area will turn things in our favor from a football perspective?
With that out of the way, USF is a talented team with a new head coach who wasn’t savvy enough to succeed at Texas but is very well-liked. I don’t think Strong will do too much to mess with this team schematically vs. what they were doing last year, but with highly limited practice time, they’ll definitely be sloppy and give Illinois some opportunities. The Illini offense will convert these into several stalled drives. Crouch is going to be made to pay for throwing into coverage eventually. The defense will keep this one close and the offense will try to establish time of possession, but ultimately won’t do enough on the scoreboard to get a win.