This might be a matchup of the bottom feeders in the Big Ten West this season.
I'm predicting a surprisingly competitive season for the Fighting Illini, but that being said, Illinois still has a long way to go before it establishes relevancy in the conference standings.
Say what you want about P.J. Fleck, but the man clearly has skill as a head coach in this game, and did very well at Western Michigan before being hired at his current position. I fully expect him to continue that trend at Minnesota. However, there are several factors working against him this season, starting with the most important position on the field.
Your best bet for starting quarterback would be Tanner Morgan, a 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman from Kentucky. He's got some mobility and decent pocket awareness, but he has no starting experience at this level. In fact, not one of the four quarterbacks on the roster have started or played in a game for Minnesota.
The supposed incumbent starter for 2018, Demry Croft, transferred to Tennessee State in the off-season after completing less than half his passes in the last six games of 2017. He did flash some dual-threat capabilities, including a school QB record 183 rushing yards against Nebraska.
The cupboard became even more bare as JUCO All-American quarterback Vic Viramontes, who was set to transfer to Minnesota this recruiting cycle, reneged on his commitment at the last minute.
The talent level is slowly rising and there will be positions where Minnesota has the advantage, such as Rodney Smith at running back or Jacob Huff at defensive back, but give me A.J. Bush or Cam Thomas, or even one of the freshman quarterbacks on Illinois roster over anything Minnesota has at that position. That will prove to be the deciding factor in this contest.
While Minnesota has done well recruiting — especially with Fleck's connections in Illinois — the Illini have as well, and I believe this will be the most winnable game on the Big Ten schedule, and that’s taking into account a game against Rutgers.
In a matchup of rebuilds, this one favors Illinois. That might not be the case in a year or two.
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