Stephen Cohn: Illinois 52, Akron 3
This is the score of Illinois’ opening week games when we expect the Illini to win. This year we expect the Illini to win, so this should be the score of the game.
On a serious note, it shouldn't be like last year’s Kent State game. It can’t. If we want progress, Illinois needs to thump the Zips. So 52-3 it is. The One also will make his debut.
Michael Berns: Illinois 35, Akron 17
This is a hard one to predict because A. We don’t know yet what to expect from Brandon Peters in Rod Smith’s zone-read/QB run-heavy offense, and B. What Akron really has as far as potential playmakers outside of QB Kato Nelson. The Illini defense will be/has to be better, and even if it is — it’s still going to be shaky. Nelson won’t wow you at all, but he is capable of putting together a couple of drives. This game is somewhere between comfortable and close; not a nailbiter and not a blowout W.
Steve Braun: Illinois 21, Akron 17
Illinois will move the ball, but fall behind early due to some mistakes at the worst possible times. For instance, watch Illinois bust out runs of 9, 6, 18 and 7 yards to start the game, run play action from midfield but have a miscommunication on the route and have a ball fired into the end zone with nobody there to catch it. A second down run brings up 3rd and 4, and a missed blocking assignment sees Peters roll out and throw under pressure, where Barker snags it just past the sticks. Illinois gets back to the run game, but gets cute inside the 30 and winds up with 3rd and 7 after some predictable plays go nowhere. Peters throws a post that should be an easy touchdown but the receiver got confused and peeled back outside, and it gets picked off at the 4.
Akron stays out of their own end zone but fails to advance the ball until Calvin Avery gets a 15-yard hands to the face penalty on 3rd down. Akron runs no-huddle and catches Illinois with 10 men on the field; Quan Martin bites a route too hard and Akron takes a 7-0 lead on a busted coverage. Illinois muffs the ensuing kickoff and falls on it at the 6 yard line. At some point, Akron punts for a first down after an Illini returner misjudges the trajectory of the ball and muffs it. Illinois looks like the superior team, but trails 10-7 at halftime. A restless crowd starts to file out as Akron takes the first drive of the second half down the field for a touchdown, helped out by a 3rd down facemask and a targeting penalty against Stanley Green. The Illini trail 17-7 midway through the third quarter. Lovie Smith raises his voice very slightly, but enough that it’s audible over the now-familiar hush of a cross-armed, eye-rolling Memorial Stadium.
Illinois finally gets it together and produces a touchdown to cut the lead to 3 on a long Corbin touchdown run, seemingly breaking the will of the Zips, but they won’t go away just yet. The pass defense continues to almost-but-not-quite break up plays, giving the quarterback way more time than anyone expected. A fumbled exchange on the next drive puts a frustrated defense back on the field with the third quarter coming to a close. Illinois finally puts the game away with a late touchdown drive and a stop, leading to an uncomfortable clock-killing drive. Peters takes every snap by necessity. Vederian Lowe limps off the field on the last drive and nobody knows why; Lovie denies that this ever happened. For the 3rd straight year, Illinois narrowly escapes the worst team in the MAC.
Want me to quit writing things like this? Prove me wrong. This is exactly the kind of game Lovie Smith’s Fighting Illini have opened the last two seasons with, putting up what could be the most embarrassing wins in our history and single-handedly killing August Optimism Syndrome in our fanbase. Until the team proves me wrong, this is what I’ll assume will happen in every single opener.
Tristen Kissack: Illinois 41, Akron 20
I don’t really see Illinois having a problem this weekend. The offense should be pretty good this year, and I think we’ll see a couple shootouts. The defense will look rough at times, but this is a team Illinois should just out-talent. Peters solidifies himself as the starter, Reggie grabs a pair of touchdowns, and the Illini head to Connecticut 1-0.
Matt Rejc: Illinois 24, Akron 14
Early season home games against MAC opponents are rarely quick and easy wins for the Illini, and I doubt this will differ substantially from recent games like those against Kent State last season and Ball State in 2017. Illinois will struggle to execute its defensive schemes early, leading to a tie game at half, and the offense will sputter in most of the second half. Ultimately, the superior athleticism of the Illini will result in a long Reggie Corbin touchdown late in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
Jacob Rajlich: Illinois 45, Akron 14
Illinois has to beat Akron, there’s no way around it. And I don’t see how they don’t. Then again, the MAC has never been kind to Illinois, at least in my time as a student. Between the Western Michigan loss and last year’s game against Kent State, I could find a lot to worry about. But that needs to change, and I think it will this year as Illinois easily takes down the Zips, destroying the spread in the process.
Drew Pastorek: Illinois 31, Akron 20
The sixth-place team in the Big Ten West hosting the fifth-place team in the MAC East. If that doesn’t get your blood pumping...WHAT WILL? Like many of my colleagues have said, I think this will be frustrating to watch early on. Offensively the Illini are far superior, and there shouldn’t be any doubt about that. But I expect the defense to struggle in the first half. Kato Nelson is an experienced QB running a pro-style system -- he’ll find holes in the defense but will get greedy late in a close game and make the fatal mistake. Illinois wins, but fans might need to keep the Alka-Seltzer close by.
Raul Rodriguez: Illinois 38 Akron 14
In year 2 of Rod Smith’s offense, I expect to see a crisper offense with a QB in Peters that will have a good grasp of where to distribute the ball. This means that the Illini will rely on the run. I expect Epstein and Corbin to run wild in this one. As for the defense, I’m in “prove it” mode with Lovie running the defense. However, I think Akron will have a hard time overcoming the fact that this the first game of a new regime. So, I don’t expect the Zips to do much on offense.