The Big Ten football season is finally here and it’s finally happening. We get you ready with a quick overview of every team before it all starts up on Friday.
Illinois Fighting Illini
– The Illinois offense wasn’t exactly a smoothly run organization. The running game was okay at times, and the passing attack came through late when it had to in a few huge upsets, but for the most part, it was a struggle.
The Illini finished 112th in the nation in total offense, but it made the yards count with a not-awful 26.7 points per game. However, the O almost never had the ball – long, sustained drives were a rumor – and the attack fell flat late in the season.
There’s hope for a boost, though, with four starters back on what should be a good line, a deep group of quarterbacks to play around with, and with almost all of the key targets back.
– It’s been one of the stranger disappointments in the Lovie Smith era. He’s an elite defensive football coach who crafted some killers in the NFL, and yet he hasn’t been anything special at Illinois. It’s his D – he’s the coordinator – and it’s been great at forcing takeaways and getting into the backfield – but it’s been blasted too easily against the run and it’s been way too inconsistent overall.
Fortunately, the linebackers are great and the secondary is going to be a plus. Now the thump has to come from the interior.
– The offense quietly started to work really, really well. It might not have been able to keep up enough to overcome the occasional defensive issues, and the firepower wasn’t there to do anything against the Ohio States and Michigans of the world, but at least the attack was able to keep things moving.
The running game needs to be stronger, but the passing attack was the second-best in the Big Ten. With the potential of eight starters returning – along with some parts that missed time last year – the league’s No. 3 offense should be every bit as strong under rising star QB Michael Penix.
– The defense couldn’t handle the better offenses, and it struggled too often late in the year, but it was hardly awful. It allowed 352 yards and 32 points per game, was serviceable at getting into the backfield, and it didn’t have any one glaring issue other than not being able to pick off enough passes.
The D line needs to be better at getting to the quarterback, but there’s a nice blend of bulk and experience across the front four.
NEXT: Iowa Hawkeyes, Maryland Terrapins
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