We’re just days away from the beginning of the 2018 Illinois Fighting Illini Football season, and we here at Illini Scoops are just as excited as you guys are. That being said, how will the Illini Football team fare as compared to last year, going winless in the Big Ten?

With a freshly upgraded roster (nearly all-around), and a stable QB room that will look to improve under new Offensive Coordinator Rod Smith, how much improvement can Lovie Smith and the Illini make from their season just one year ago?

Below, our staff gave their season predictions for the Illinois Football Season, and each gave what they believe to be a key to the Illini having some success.

Nate Williamson’s Season Prediction:

I expect some improvement from the Illini, to say the least. Illini fans should be looking for a four or five win season, but for my predictions, I’m going to go with the Illini football team winning six games, and dropping six games. Taking a brief glance at this schedule, it’s one of the easiest schedules the Illini have faced in many years. A schedule without Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State bodes well for the young Illini.

I have the Illini starting at 3-0, with blowout wins against Kent State and Western Illinois. They’ll follow these games with a tight win against the University of Southern Florida. They will drop to 3-1 after a loss against Penn State, beat Rutgers and Purdue (homecoming), before dropping a game to a stacked Wisconsin team that will be in contention for the National Title. A win against a Maryland team in an interesting situation at the moment secures a bowl birth for Illinois, before they move on to losses against Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern to end the season, before they are announced to a bowl.

Key to the season: Health. The team has to keep it’s playmakers and best players healthy. A team that isn’t as deep as it would like to be, and for the Illini to succeed and achieve the wins above, they’ll have to keep positions like the offensive line, running backs, their main quarterbacks, and their linebackers all healthy. A handful of key players going down hurt the Illini greatly last year, and they’ll have to avoid that this year to succeed.

Aarman Sethi’s Season Predictions

This should be a fun year for Illini football. Head Coach Lovie Smith has announced AJ Bush as the starting QB and I definitely expect some offensive fireworks this year.

Regarding the Illini’s overall record this year I fully expect them to qualify for a bowl game. Here’s how they get there. The Illini should have a comfortable start to their season with wins over Kent State, Western Illinois, and USF. Next is a tilt with Penn State in Champaign. Penn State has too much talent currently and might be heading to the college football playoff. That’s a loss, but Rutgers and Purdue are next up and I believe Illinois will be victorious in those matchups.

This puts the Illini at an unfathomable record, for most fans, 5-1. Great start to the season, but can they finish it off? The road tilt against Maryland and the home tilt against Minnesota are the two matchups remaining that I believe Illinois can get that sixth or seventh win. That would be a remarkable season for the Illini and really bring the buzz of college football, back to Champaign.

Keys to the Season:

Skill players. Yes, the QB position is vital for an Illinois football team that will rely on its offense to pull out victories this year, but if the skill players produce, they could make AJ Bush’s year a lot easier. Expect the household Illini football names, Mikey Dudek, Ricky Smalling, Mike Epstein, Louis Dorsey, etc. , to produce big time if their team is to have a successful season.

Matt Moore’s Season Predictions

The third iteration of Lovie Smith’s Fighting Illini will roar out of the gate with a remarkably improved offense. I look for 50-plus points to be scored in each of the first two games against Kent State and Western Illinois. If the Illini aren’t putting up pinball machine type numbers in the first two games, it could be a really long season once again.

The neutral site game in Chicago versus South Florida will be a stern test. South Florida will have the team speed to run all over the field with the Illini skill players. It will be time for the Illini to just make more plays than a good, but not as good as last year USF team. Just because I WANT the Illini to show good improvement, I will say that a 37-36 win over USF will begin to build some positive vibes around the program.

Ryan Evan’s Season prediction

I think it’s safe to say that Illini Scoops strongly believe in the rebuild of the Illinois football program and it’s new pieces. USF is the pivotal game that could swing a big season for Illinois. Illinois will at least double it’s win total from last season, but in my opinion, they will win all the home games they are supposed too plus steal a road game. I see Illinois winning 7 games this season and upsetting Maryland or Nebraska.

Having a Quarterback with 5 tools and quality leadership isn’t something Illinois has had in many seasons. A.J. Bush will make life so much easier for everyone and adding another year for a young but talented O-Line will be priceless. Confidence and that taste of winning for a program turning the corner will fill memorial stadium, something the players are thirsty for. Illinois wins 7 and goes bowling for the first time in 4 years.

Key to the season: Defense

This is the year Illini fans truly see what Lovie has patiently been building. He has Maulers up front on the defensive line, and many of them. Calvin Avery and Verdis Brown will help talented upperclassmen Tymir Oliver, Kenyon Jackson and Jamal Milan greatly. All 5 of those men are nasty warriors in the trenches. With the maturity and weight added to Bobby Roundtree and Isaiah Gay along with Owen Carney and Lere Oladipo, this defensive line is set for years to come. Having a healthy Jake Hansen to match with Delshawn Phillips will be critical for success this season at the weakest position of depth and experience. Dele Harding and Khalan Tolson will be names to watch as well.

Illinois already will have a top 5 secondary in the BIG once the season is over with year. Instinctual, hard hitting and relentless describes what you will see from Hobbs, Adams, Green, Watkins, Williams, Martin ,Walker, Joseph and Brown this season. Ballhawks. The Year of Lovie defense has arrived in Champaign

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