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Illinois’ 2018 Most Winnable Game Countdown: No. 2 - Kent State

Can new (and young) head coach Sean Lewis breathe life into a lifeless program?

NCAA Football: Kent State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Since you are reading this blog, I can safely assume you are an Illinois fan. Perhaps you are a Kent State fan. Either would make sense. As a message to the fans of Kent State, I understand what you are going through.

Three years ago, the Fighting Illini were a fledgling dumpster fire run into the ground by Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit. We made a hire knowing with certainty that a complete roster overhaul and program rebuild was about to take place.

Kent State, we sympathize with you. The journey you are embarking on is not fun. It is not enjoyable watching your team lose week in and week out, reminding yourself that this is all a part of the process.

With one of the most anemic offenses in college football in 2017, the Golden Flashes have a ton of work to do in order to build up an offense that can run the kind of system that first-year head coach Sean Lewis desires to run. Lewis, 31, learned under Dino Babers at Syracuse and as co-offensive coordinator pushed the Orange to run 85.6 plays per game, best in the nation. In contrast, Kent State ran 62.8 last season, good for 116th.

Woody Barrett, the expected starter for Kent State, has the talent to be one of the best in the MAC. Barrett was at one time a potential starter at Auburn, who after finding himself buried on the depth chart, chose to transfer somewhere he would be able to play football. Barrett has the legs and the arm to run Lewis’ offensive system, yet he may not have the other pieces he needs in place just yet to help.

On defense, youth is the name of the game here. The Illini faithful are all too familiar with the youth movement. Jim Jones was First Team All-MAC last season; Elvin Hines and Darryl Marshall have the talent to be some of the conferences best corners; and Nick Faulkner, who plays linebacker and defensive end, could have a breakout season if he stays healthy.

Kent State is a program that may soon find itself on the rise under Sean Lewis. That time, however, is not now. The Illini should find themselves with their first win of the season after Kent State comes to town on Sept. 1, barring the Ball State travesty of opening week last year.

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