USF strengths play squarely against Illinois’ biggest weaknesses. Quarterback Blake Barnett showed his dual-threat abilities in the Bulls’ 49-38 victory against Georgia Tech last week. He may be no Quinton Flowers, but he passed for 202 yards and 2 TDs, and led his team in rushing with 91 yards last week. USF receiver Terrence Horne made national headlines as he took two kickoffs to the house against Georgia Tech and scored a third on a screen. Illinois’ depleted secondary and shaky coverage teams seem especially vulnerable to USF’s athleticism, and I don’t think we can keep up in what figures to be a shootout. USF 52, Illinois 24
USF could win 10 games this season and few would be surprised. Players (Quinton Flowers, Auggie Sanchez, Marquez Valdes-Scantling) come and go, but USF consistently goes bowling and puts on an offensive show doing so. I watched most of the Georgia Tech/USF game a week ago when Terrence Horne did his thing and became an overnight sensation. His skills, and really the type of athletes USF has at all positions — and their ability to score a touchdown on any play — scares me. Sadly the Illini I’ve watched the last season-and-two-games won’t be competitive with USF at Soldier Field. If USF played Illinois’ schedule, they’d win nine-ish games. This game gets ugly and is over by halftime. USF 52, Illinois 14
It’s really a shame that Illinois is decimated by injuries and hampered by suspensions so early in season, but this one could have really been a measuring stick. Instead, I think it’s going to be a tough watch. Illinois has depth issues on the defensive line and in the secondary, and South Florida has dudes, NFL dudes. The Illini Walk-Ons served in admirably against Western Illinois, but if they have to chase around Tyre McCants and Darnell Solomon without pressure in the face of Blake Barnett, it’s going to be a frustrating afternoon. I expect the Illinois offense to have some tricks up their sleeve, after being relatively vanilla in its first couple contests. Most people have trouble stopping the Georgia Tech rushing machine, but USF looked at times disinterested. Whether AJ Bush is healthy enough to start might influence how long Illinois can stay competitive, as the greater advantage for the Illinois offense is on the ground. USF 45, Illinois 27
Illinois will be without Nate Hobbs and Bennett Williams due to suspension unless there is a big surprise there we aren’t hearing about. Tony Adam may be out yet again with a hand injury. Cameron Watkins will be out for the first half with a targeting suspension. That’s a potential of four starters in the secondary out, leaving Illinois to start walk-ons and true freshman in their place. USF has a very good QB in Blake Barnett who is off to a great start in the passing game for the Bulls. Illinois struggled against a less talented QB in Woody Barret in Week One. Barrett also had less talent around him than Blake Barnett has. USF is going to have a field day in the passing game unless the Illinois defensive line plays like no defensive line in Illini history has ever done before.
Oh, and on offense Illinois will be very thin at wide receiver even with the likely return of Ricky Smalling. The offensive line has done poorly in the first few weeks. AJ Bush may be out again leaving Illinois with true freshman MJ Rivers or Matt Robinson to play in his place. I don’t see a way Illinois can keep this close. It will be ugly and it will be the last straw for many fans for the Lovie Smith era -- even though that may be unfair at this point. USF 43, Illinois 13
Coming into this season, I thought the USF was a much more winnable game than last year. The leaders of both the offense for USF, in Quinton Flowers and Auggie Sanchez, have departed. They also lost their two leading rushers. Illinois, on the other hand, is a year wiser and returns more than a handful of starters. Add AJ Bush to the mix, who looks to be a very serviceable dual-threat QB, and we have a game on our hands. Only a few things have changed since then, but they are significant. Dudek went down to injury, Boyd has taken an “academic redshirt,” and Nate Hobbs, Bennett Williams, and Lou Dorsey are all sitting out on suspension and look unlikely to return for the game at Soldier Field. At full strength, I think this is a close loss, with a chance at an upset for Illinois. Without these players on the field, I think the passing game will struggle early and the secondary will have trouble stopping Blake Barnett and Tyre McCants through the air. The offensive line is still suspect, too. I think the game is close at halftime, but probably out of reach by the end of the third quarter. USF 41, Illinois 20
Add Cameron Watkins to the list of players who will be sitting out (at least the first half after that targeting call), and I’m afraid we’re looking at a long afternoon in Soldier Field…
Might be a good game to bring everyone back from suspension. USF 48, Illinois 19
In what could have been a close game for the Illini, it seems that the gaps in Illinois’s roster due to injuries and suspensions will make the difference this week. USF is a good team, and with Illinois not at their best, I don’t think they stand that great of a chance of pulling off an upset to start the season 3-0. With AJ Bush hopefully returning as QB this week, I do think the offense may have some good moments, but I don’t think that the Illini have the pieces needed to pick up their first win at Soldier Field. USF 41, Illinois 17
The USF offense has put up a ton of points he first two weeks and Illinois’ defense hasn’t been impressed me yet, and they are still missing a lot of key players to suspension in the secondary. If AJ Bush is hampered at all and can’t run and cut at full strength, that’s going to hurt Illinois on offense quite a bit. I’ll stick to the prediction I made earlier in the week, but it may be a lot worse. USF 45, Illinois 20
Earlier in the week, some idiot in Vegas put Illinois as 8.5 point favorites. Now, that guy is probably out of a job and they still didn’t get the line right. As now ten point underdogs, this game may get out of hand fast. With a good line on both sides of the ball, USF will push the Illini around all afternoon. Add to that the lack of depth facing the Illini due to injuries and suspensions, and you have the recipe for disaster. Expect the Illini to pull starters sometime in the second half and for Illini fans to spend their Saturday sad. I encourage the Illini to prove me wrong. I am ok being wrong here. I want to be wrong here. USF 35, Illinois 10
I said on Oskee Talk this week that Illinois will lose 31-10, and the Illini’s only chance is if AJ Bush plays like a Heisman candidate with a line that backs him up and the walk-ons play as well as they did against Western Illinois. I still believe that result is inevitable because the following thoughts aren’t very likely, but someone has to be a little positive on the Illini. It’s a ‘HOME’ game. USF can’t be any better than last year (right??). I’m going to change my podcast prediction and give the Illini a little love as they cover the spread, but don’t win the game. USF 28, Illinois 20
Presumably still without Bennett Williams and Nate Hobbs, and missing Cam Watkins for a half, the shorthanded Illini defense will be in a big predicament against the athletic Bulls. The 2018 Illinois team as a whole has already shown a penchant for slow starts, so the Illini could find themselves in a huge hole if they come out of the gates flat again. South Florida will bring a major college football pass rush, which the Illini offensive line has yet to see this year. It will be a trial by fire under center (and in the gun), regardless of who starts at QB. USF 38, Illinois 13
It’s odd that a program that has only been in existence 20 years, such as USF, is much better than a a Big Ten program that’s been around for over a 100 years, but that’s the reality for the Illini. Willie Taggart left USF in great shape and Charlie Strong has used the same philosophy he used at Louisville, recruit two and three star high school players from Florida and get blue chip cast offs from bigger programs, to mold USF into his type of program. The combo of former blue chippers in Running Back Jordan Cronkrite and Quarterback Blake Barnett will be too much the Illini. However, USF’s defense stuggled mightily against Georgia Tech so expect the Illini to move the ball with AJ Bush playing out of his mind. USF 41, Illinois 31
Well I suppose I should backup my prediction about the surprise early win. I think Illinois can do it too. They just need to give the ball to Mike Epstein 50 times and hope that the young defensive secondary doesn’t get completely torched. Getting Tony Adams and Ricky Smalling back will help, and the offensive line looks like they can at least open a crack for Epstein to explode through. The Bulls are pretty shoddy against the run so far this year, and the best way to keep the ball out of Blake Barnett’s hands is to ground and pound, which Lovie gets off the bus doing. High scoring shootout, fun exciting Illinois victory (here’s hoping). Illinois 45, USF 42
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