Stephen Cohn: 3 Wins
Three is more than two, right? Then this is improvement. Look, three isn’t great, and it obviously isn't much when the first two games are against Kent State and Western Illinois, but this still isn’t the year. I don’t know which game is the third win, but I’ll put my money on Penn State, just because that'd be fun.
I bet it sucked for Cubs fans to say that, too, in the earlier parts of this decade. It gets better, just not yet, so let’s deal with three for now and move on.
Thumpasaurus: 3 Wins
If 2015-17 was a three-year offseason, 2018 is like the preseason for 2019. We’re still going to lose a lot more than we win this year, but we need to break the conference losing streak if anybody is ever going to believe in the Lovie Smith era. Having an offense with a cohesive gameplan will help; I’m not saying Rod Smith is a miracle-worker, but he’s got a very low bar to clear for this to be our best offense since 2014 and I think it’ll happen. Tre Watson is a loss on defense, but certainly not a crippling one that will set the whole unit back substantially. The specialists remain the same and the quarterback depth chart certainly isn’t worse than last year’s.
Let me put it this way: If we lose either of the first two games, I’ll lose my mind and we’re gonna need to beat at least 2 conference opponents for me to regain it. To be fair, Rutgers started last season with a loss to a perennial MAC cellar-dweller in Eastern Michigan and collected three Big Ten scalps, so I’m open to a scenario like that.
If we win any of our last ten games, I’ll be elated. That USF win would do a lot to shut up the ignorant hot seat takes, but they’ll fire right back up after the Penn State game. A fourth win will make me happy enough that I won’t really care what else happens on the field this year. A sixth win will bring a euphoria beyond what any Alabama fan has ever experienced.
Michael Berns: 4 wins
Four wins may not look all that great or make Illinois fans particularly happy, but looking a little bit closer, doubling the win total from a year ago is improvement worth celebrating. The Illini win their first two games against Kent State and then Western Illinois.
I see two more wins on the schedule — versus Purdue on Homecoming weekend and then versus Minnesota in early November. The game against P.J. Fleck and Minnesota is particularly important — the Gophers are recruiting the state of Illinois well, too well — and I bet Lovie Smith and company are noticing that and wanting to shut Fleck and his loud ‘Row-the-Boat’ motto up.
Austin Jabs: 4 wins (praying for 6)
I was back and forth on this. I so badly wanted to say six wins and a bowl berth. I truly believe with the coaching changes this team will be much improved. Rod Smith is proven to be a great asset for young quarterbacks and should really help the stable of arms develop. Four wins feels like a sure thing, but with an improved offense and a generally solid defense, could the Illini find a way to get to .500? Wins over Kent State and Western Illinois are a sure thing, Rutgers and Minnesota feel like locks, could wins be stolen against USF,Purdue, Maryland, or Northwestern?
I do not believe it is that far fetched to say this team will be better than advertised in 2018. Also, I am a homer, so take that with a grain of salt.
Raul Rodriguez: 4 Wins (Maybe 5)
I see 4 wins on the Schedule. The Illini will roll Weeks 1 and 2 against Kent St. and Western Illinois, respectively. As much as I want them to beat USF, I don’t see it (I hope I’m wrong). Then everything stays status quo as the Illini lose their first 6 games in conference.
They finally breakthrough against Minnesota and PJ Fleck in a game where the Illini come in looking for blood after Fleck’s continual jabbing of Lovie everytime he gets an Illinois recruit. Then, I think the hope for the future is established when the Illini upset Northwestern in Evanston to close the season. I think Northwestern’s season is going to spiral out of control as I explain later in this preseason prediction series.
Mark Schaer: 4 Wins
I hate to go by the beat of (most) of our other writers’ drums, but this is still going to be a difficult year for Lovie & Co. With the exception of maybe Kent State and Western Illinois, there are really no “gimmies” for the Fighting Illini. Cam Thomas’ ability to throw is still very much in the air, and there is no position at which Illinois will have a big advantage over many B1G opponents. If Mike Dudek, Ricky Smalling, Louis Dorsey and Mike Epstein can stay healthy, and Cam can make throws when he needs to (his ability to run, as we’ve seen, is certainly Major-D1 caliber), this offense has a good chance to surprise some people. This will, of course, depend also on how the offensive line has progressed from last year.
Certainly Larry Body’s suspension does not help the matter (assuming he IS suspended), but expect to see improvements from the likes of Vederian Lowe (#815 shoutout), Doug Kramer and Alex Palczewski, and Nick Allegretti will of course be one of the best players on the team.
On the defensive side, Bennett Williams and Nate Hobbs will need to anchor a young secondary, with Tony Adams hopefully adding some depth if he can return to full strength after his injury.
Where are the other two wins coming from? USF is a long shot, but I would say the Illini will get two between the matchups with USF, Rutgers, Purdue, Minnesota, and Nebraska. No more, no less. Let’s just keep in mind Lovie’s first recruiting class will be sophomores in this, his third year as head coach.
Kyle Huisinga: 5 wins
I expect improvement. I demand it! Of course, with Illinois football, you don’t always get what you want.
In all seriousness, I truly believe that Illinois will be better on both sides of the ball, enough to compete against the rest of the Big Ten West. Enough for a bowl game might be pushing it, but I see us starting well against the non-conference (including a hard-fought win over USF at Soldier Field, calling it now). A blowout loss to Penn State will be a tough pill to swallow to start conference play, but potential wins against Rutgers, Purdue make a quality season much more palatable.
I don’t believe we finish well, but 5 wins could easily be within reach, with the possibility for 6 if everything goes right. Health and suspensions (possibly) could be the major bugaboo for this team, along with a new offensive system that will take some time to develop, but I expect that side of the ball to markedly improve under Rod Smith, and the defense to be fairly similar. That alone should be enough to pull us out of the bottom of the standings.
Time will tell. Time is all we have as Illini football fans.
Matt O’Neall: 3 wins
I want to say four. You don’t know how badly I want to say four. If Illinois won four games this year I would celebrate like a fan of another team would celebrate making a bowl game. As crazy as it sounds, four wins is a bit of a magic number for Lovie. It’s enough to sell the fans, media, and most importantly, recruits that their has been marked improvement under his regime.
Kent State and Western Illinois are wins because they have to be. The Illini will be better and older than they were last year, they will not go winless in the Big Ten. If forced to say four wins or two, I would choose two every day of the week. There will be a game that Illinois is not expected to win that they will pull out (i.e. Michigan State 2016, Minnesota 2014). I have Minnesota circled on the schedule as the surprise potential win.
The question is if they can beat Rutgers or Purdue early on in the season. The hope is they find a way to pull one of those out to secure a three win season, and then catch Minnesota napping in early November. I’m just very nervous that Illinois will start off 3-3, and all of Illini Nation will be holding out for that fourth win for the last six weeks of the year. And if I was a betting man, I would bet we don’t see it.
Ian Gold: 4 wins
Illinois has two certain wins on the schedule: Kent State and Western Illinois. Illinois also has two definite losses on the schedule: Penn State and Wisconsin.
The other eight games aren’t exactly toss-ups, but Lovie’s boys (if healthy) should have a puncher’s chance. The Illini will still be extremely young, so from those eight toss ups I imagine a record of 2-6. Anything north of four wins would be a major accomplishment and momentum builder for the future of the program, anything less...and a lot of that Littyville positivity is going to be a tough pill to swallow.
Matt Rejc: 3 wins
I wouldn’t be shocked by seeing anything from 2-4 wins out of this team. The squad is still just way too young and there are too many question marks for me to confidently say that they could win more games. Is it possible that Rod Smith finds his quarterback and supercharges the offense to six wins? Sure, but it’s just as likely that he’s no more effective than his predecessor and the Illini stagnate with 1-2 wins. We just don’t know enough about this team and, in particular, the offense. I think the Illini sneak past Kent State, blow out Western Illinois, and catch at least one conference opponent (or USF) napping.
Jacob Rajlich: 5 wins
I try to be an optimist when it comes to Illinois sports, and saying that the Illini will pick up five wins seems pretty optimistic to me. I see the Illini starting the season out 3-0, beating Kent State and Western Illinois as they should, before upsetting USF and, I believe they pick up a fourth win by taking down Rutgers on the road. That fifth win could really come against any Big Ten opponent, Wisconsin and Penn State excluded, but I believe that the Illini will take down Purdue during Homecoming to secure their final win of the season. If we do better than that and make a bowl game, I’ll be ecstatic.
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