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Illinois’ 2018 Most Winnable Game Countdown: No. 5 - Purdue

Jeff Brohm has injected new life into the Boilermakers program, but can Illinois emerge victorious on Homecoming?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois’ 19-point defeat in West Lafayette last season was something of a watershed moment. Any inkling that this team was going to turn things around and finish 2017 strong faded that afternoon, and the Illini proceeded to limp across the finish line as they dropped the last few games of the season.

The 2018 Battle for the Purdue Cannon will take place in Champaign this season, and the Oct. 13 matchup has been designated as Illinois’ Homecoming game.

Last season, first-year head coach Jeff Brohm and the Boilermakers rode a bevy of seniors to a 7-6 season and a dramatic bowl victory over Arizona. Purdue will lose much of its experience advantage in 2018, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Put in numbers, Purdue made a total of 629 tackles last season, and 62 percent of those tackles were made by players who are no longer on the roster.

Purdue added some impressive athletes in the recruiting class of 2018, especially in their wide receiver corps. Four-star (per 247) WR Rondale Moore joins the Boilermaker receivers as a freshman, along with other highly rated newcomers Amad Anderson and Kory Taylor.

The Boilermakers return talent on their offense as well, including RB Markell Jones and quarterbacks Elijah Sindelar and David Blough. Sindelar had ACL surgery at the end of last season, so he may be brought along slowly, but he does bring considerable ability if he is able to play by the time they meet up with Illinois:

The Homecoming ambiance should add more fuel to the fire for the Illini in this game, and it represents one of the season’s best opportunities for Illinois to notch a conference victory. So much of Illinois’ improvement in general is tied to Rod Smith’s ability to score points, or at the very least keep the defense off the field.

With that unknown variable being a key factor in this matchup, it’s hard to predict an Illinois win outright, but I could see one happening especially if the right players for Illinois (AJ Bush, Mike Dudek, Mike Epstein, etc.) stay healthy.