Game-By-Game Predictions for Illinois' 2014 Season
Tim Beckman came in to replace the fired Ron Zook after two straight seasons in a bowl game, but the Fighting Illini are 6-18 in the Beckman era with only one conference win – against even lowlier Purdue.
There is some excitement in Champaign with the arrival of quarterback Wes Lunt. The Oklahoma State transfer should make a seamless transition from the Nathan Scheelhaase era, but is there enough surrounding Lunt to make a splash this season?
8/30 vs. Youngtown State
Enjoy this while you can Illini fans. The Big Ten won’t allow teams to schedule games against FCS teams anymore. This isn’t Jim Tressel’s waddle of Penguins, who will likely melt in the hot August sun in Champaign.
9/6 vs. Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers are making the jump to Conference USA this year. Western Kentucky may not be a household name, but last year its resume included wins against Kentucky, Army and Navy. Hopefully the most entertaining thing about this game for Illinois fans is WKU’s red blob mascot.
9/13 at Washington
This has all the makings of an absolute blowout. Washington is a team on the rise, and with new coach Chris Petersen coming from Boise State, you know the Huskies are going to have a high-powered offense. That is bad news for an Illinois defense that gave up about 35 points per game last year. Enjoy the scenery in Seattle, because that may be the only good part about this trip.
9/20 vs. Texas State
Another walkover against sub-par competition in Champaign. Texas State is not good. Last season, its first in FBS, the Bulldogs managed six wins, but two of them were against two of the worst teams in all of college football. This is a feel-good win for Illinois heading into B1G play, when there won’t be many good feelings.
9/27 at Nebraska
So you want a big stage to open conference play? How about a primetime matchup in one the greatest stadiums in college football? Illinois at Nebraska. The Huskers could have the best rushing attack in the Big Ten. Illinois gave up 362 yards on the ground in Lincoln last year. Do you sense a theme? Give the ball to Ameer Abdullah. Give the ball to Imani Cross. Rinse. Repeat.
10/4 vs. Purdue
Remember how I mentioned the Illini have only one conference win in the last two seasons? That came against Purdue. If there is a team in the B1G struggling to put the pieces together more than Illinois it is the Boilermakers. Make that two conference wins in the Beckman era!
10/11 at Wisconsin
If there is a team in the Big Ten with a better ground game than Nebraska it is the Wisconsin Badgers. Despite a few departures Bucky is stacked in the backfield and up front. This has all the makings of another punch in the mouth for Illinois. The only reason people will stay to the fourth quarter at Camp Randall is to jump around. Then it’s onto State Street.
10/25 vs. Minnesota
With Wes Lunt and the return of nine starters on defense, I think the Illini have two chances to surprise someone in the conference. The first is against Minnesota. The Gophers are improving from the level of conference doormat, but they enter the season with questions at quarterback and on defense. Not only that, but Minnesota has a road schedule straight out of a horror flick. Illinois could very well set a trap these Gophers will walk right into. That all being said, we’re going to chalk this one up as a win for Goldy.
11/1 at Ohio State
Illinois may be the only team in the conference to challenge Minnesota for toughest road schedule. The next trip is to Columbus, Ohio, to take on the Buckeyes. This one is another night game under the bright lights of the Horseshoe. Poor Illinois.
11/15 vs. Iowa
Great time for a bye week after getting rolled by Ohio State. Illinois gets the chance to regroup just in time for Iowa to come to Champaign. The Hawkeyes opened a lot of human eyes last year by going 8-5; none of those were bad losses. If Iowa continues the turn around it started last year, this could look like a fight straight out of the Nintendo Classic “MikeTyson’s Punch Out”… and Illinois is Glass Joe.
11/22 vs. Penn State
I’m running out of creative ways to say Illinois is going to lose. Granted, Penn State is still reeling from the sanctions handed down out of the Sandusky situation, but the Nittany Lions are starting to shape back into form. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is everyone’s super sophomore darling, and new head coach James Franklin promises to bring a lot of excitement to Happy Valley.
11/29 at Northwestern
This is the other opportunity for Illinois to grab an unexpected conference win. The Illini could be fighting for Beckman’s job by the time they travel up the road to Evanston. Northwestern will be trying all season to fix a defense that leaked like a sieve a year ago. And even though this isn’t the sexiest of B1G rivalry games, it’s still a battle of in-state teams, and it could be the last game of the season for both teams. I’m predicting Northwestern by a scoche.
Tim Beckman recently told the Chicago Sun-Times that “...winning football games is the bottom line to everything, and we’ve got to be better." Yeah, coach, about that. 4-8, with just one Big Ten win, isn’t going to cut it – even in Champaign where expectations are incredibly low.