Stephen Cohn: 6 Wins
Let’s get nuts. Let’s do it. Akron and UConn. Slide by EMU. Minnesota on the road. Rutgers at home (breaking the streak of the road team winning). Michigan State. There we go. We did it. Amazing. I’m not sure how, but wow. We’re 6-6. Let’s go!!
Tristen Kissack: 4 Wins
My prediction all offseason has been 4-8. I think the talent level and the roster is headed in the right direction, but not quite where it needs to be to get over the hump. The defense was really, really bad last year. Losing Bobby Roundtree and Marquez Beason to injury certainly doesn’t help. And while I love Rod Smith and the transformation he’s made with the offense, I don’t think that’s enough to compensate for the defense this year. I don’t see the Illini having a problem in the non-conference, but outside of Rutgers, I’m not sure where another B1G win comes from. Purdue on the road? Maybe. There will certainly be some shootouts this year.
Michael Berns: 3 Wins
I like the Illini cruising to victory over Akron and EMU. I know a lot of us laugh at the football power that is UConn, and call me negative/pessimistic/’you’ll-eat-your-words-dummy, but I just have a bad feeling about whoever our inexperienced QB ends up being going on the road and winning a game 1,000 miles away. The lone conference win will come at home against Rutger. I hope I am wrong and we beat UConn and another Big Ten team or two (or three).
Kyle Huisinga: 5 Wins
I’ve had a hard cap of 5 wins for a while now. I think Illinois has improved depth and overall talent at several key positions, including defensive back, linebacker, and running back. However, the inexperience at wide receiver and, most critically, quarterback will be this teams downfall in trying for a bowl game. The non-conference sets up nicely, however who can we defeat in the Big Ten West? Who hasn’t gotten markedly better? I think we can compete with anyone outside of Michigan and Wisconsin this season. That being said, I don’t see us quite taking that step to bowl eligibility. I see Isaiah Williams starting by the halfway mark. I see progress, but so does every other team.
Matt Rejc: 5 Wins
I’ve been at four wins throughout much of the offseason, and maybe it’s just the August Syndrome kicking in, but recently I do think that this team has tangibly improved this offseason and will have a better team and better record in 2019. The rational side of me sees three (close) non-conference wins, and one win between Rutgers, Minnesota, and Purdue. But I think we’re due for one weird win this year. Something like knocking off Nebraska, Iowa, or Northwestern when they’re looking ahead a week or besieged by injuries. Will that be enough for Lovie to keep his job? Time will tell...
Jacob Rajlich: 5 Wins
As I said last year when I predicted a win over Iowa, I want to believe in Illinois football. And gradually, I am believing more in this program with every passing year. And this year, I see us just on the outside of where we really need to be. If the Illini can convert with a favorable non-conference slate and start the season out 3-0, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect two more wins out of the Big Ten slate. Rutgers should be one of those two, and I can’t really expect who that elusive fifth win would be against. Personally, I’m hoping the Illini take down Michigan, but I could see a Michigan State or Purdue win being far more likely.
Drew Pastorek: 6 Wins
I’m glad that at least somebody else is willing to be on this island with me. The Illini ought to win each of their first three non-Big Ten matchups, with Eastern Michigan giving them the most trouble. Pencil in a ‘W’ for the Rutgers game, as well. Where will the other two league wins come from? Even though the B1G West has improved as a whole, I don’t think any team in the division -- except Wisconsin -- has emerged as a clear-cut favorite. I see three conference games that Illinois will almost certainly lose (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan) but the rest could go either way in my mind. Admittedly, it’s hard to watch what happened last season and think, “Gee, they’re making progress,” but the Illini were THAT BAD defensively and still won four games. This year’s squad is vastly different from the 2018 edition. Lovie Smith and his staff finally have a roster that resembles a competitive Power Five team -- bigger, faster, stronger, more athletic. That should translate into a few extra victories. Like Jacob said, I want to believe. Don’t make me regret it.
Steve Braun: 4 wins
I’ve been writing about Illinois at SB Nation since the end of the 2014 season, and in all that time, I have yet to be unrealistically negative in my season predictions for football and basketball. I predicted Lovie’s first team would win six games and I predicted John Groce’s final basketball team to win 25, so after seeing how they respond when I boldly proclaim that the public is underrating Illinois, I’m challenging them to pleasantly surprise me for once. I’m going with four wins simply because eight teams on the schedule are substantially better than the Fighting Illini, and it’s more likely than not that all eight beat us. Of course I want to see us take on Michigan with a 5-0 record, but the question here is about what I think is most likely to happen, not what I want to see happen. This will be a much better 4-8 team than last year, but will that matter? I’m concerned that the run game will be a lot less effective than everyone thinks if our quarterback doesn’t pose a major running threat, and while the secondary should improve, the defensive line has yet to show that they can hold up against Big Ten competition, which makes playing defense really tough. If you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention to the other teams in the league.