1) Who is the most important player on offense this season?
If you paid any attention to Illinois Football at all last year, you were over the moon to hear Reggie Corbin announce he was returning for his senior season after putting up almost 1300 yards from scrimmage in 2018. Corbin ranked third in the nation with 8.5 yards per carry to go along with nine rushing touchdowns, a nation best four rushes of over 70+ yards... and was somehow named Third-Team All-Big Ten?
Regardless, No. 2 is back and has been named to both the Maxwell Award preseason watch list and the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list. You can say what you want about preseason watch lists, but you can’t argue the fact this man is electric.
We’re stoked to see Corbin back for another year, and you’ll be able to check him out Sundays starting next fall.
2) Who is the most important player on defense this season?
With so many question marks surrounding the defense this year, the one guy I expect to perform at a high level week in and week out is Nate Hobbs.
A three-star recruit out of high school, Illinois was the only Power Five to offer Hobbs, who was originally committed to Jeff Brohm at Western Kentucky.
As a freshman, Hobbs appeared in all 12 games making 10 starts at corner. His 48 tackles, two pass breakups, forced fumble, and sack were good enough to earn him BTN.com All-Freshman Team honors.
After missing the first three games of the 2018 season due to suspension, Hobbs played in the next nine games, including seven starts. He collected 22 tackles (3 TFL), an interception, and a pass breakup.
He’s had an excellent offseason, excelling in the weight room...
Triple crown winner! @based_nvte puttin in work this summer! 1) 1050 lb club 2) #3bluecrew 3) #speedfreak ⚡️! Hard work pays off! @StrengthIllini @S_Whitlock17 @IlliniFootball #BR97 pic.twitter.com/nRNJCG6SDL— Illini Football Strength (@StrengthIllini) July 13, 2019
pestering his quarterbacks in training camp...
Nate Hobbs does a flip into the end zone on his pick six (he picked Brandon Peters who had locked in on his receiver) and somewhere Vic Koenning felt a pain in his side.— Robert (@ALionEye) August 2, 2019
and representing the team along with Corbin and junior offensive lineman Alex Palczewski at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.
3) What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?
Besides being able to buy beer? I’ll say it’s probably the offensive scheme. I don’t anticipate the defense taking that much of a step forward this year, but going from AJ Bush to Brandon Peters will be interesting.
Now in the second year of a new transfer quarterback, there are significant differences between the two. Bush rushed for over half as many yards (733) as he threw for (1,413), ran for eight touchdowns and completed a mere 53.9 percent of his passes. In his defense, the receiving corps last year struggled mightily. He also threw for more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (7). He wasn’t perfect, but he was a better fit for the offense Rod Smith wants to run.
With Peters, the Illini will look to air it out a little more. In his sophomore season at Michigan, he was used sparingly before starting in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina. That would be the last time he threw more than one pass in a game before he takes the field on Aug. 31. A former four-star recruit and top-70 player in the country, Peters has the potential.
I should also note that the wide receiver position is much improved this year. With Ricky Smalling back, Edwin Carter cleared from injury, and USC transfers Trevon Sidney and Josh Imatorbhebhe, the Illini should average more than 165 yards passing.
4) What is the most important game on this schedule, and why?
Oct. 5 at Minnesota. Illinois should have no problem with the non-conference schedule. The Eastern Michigan game will probably be closer than most of us think, though. Big Ten wins are tough to come by recently. Outside of Rutgers, Minnesota is the one of the best bets to to pick up a conference victory. The Illini will be fresh off a bye with plenty of time to prep for the Fighting Flecks. Win this one, and suddenly, Illinois is sitting at 4-1 with opportunities against Rutgers, Purdue, and Northwestern still left on the schedule to get to bowl eligibility.
5) What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?
Despite what I just said in the last paragraph, I don’t think the Illini find another win in the Big Ten outside of Rutgers. The entire Big Ten West is improved, and I don’t like thinking about what Rondale Moore is going to do to Illinois’ defense in his second year. 4-8, no bowl games this year.