Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Illinois Fighting Illini 2016 outlook

                                Photo Credit: Geno Green

Illinois Fighting Illini

2015 record: 5-7, 2-6 Big Ten West

2016 schedule:

Sept. 3 vs Murray State
Sept. 10 vs North Carolina
Sept. 17 vs Western Michigan
Oct. 1 at Nebraska
Oct. 8 vs Purdue
Oct. 15 at Rutgers
Oct. 22 at Michigan
Oct. 29 vs Minnesota
Nov. 5 vs Michigan State
Nov. 12 at Wisconsin
Nov. 19 vs Iowa
Nov. 26 at Northwestern

In the last couple of seasons, the Big Ten Conference has become the place where the big boys play.

In this case, the coaches are B1G, no pun intended, but with Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Urban Meyer (Ohio State) and Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) running ship in the East division, it would only be fitting for the West division to get a coach with major NFL experience in Lovie Smith being named Illinois coach on March 7.

Smith's task could be daunting given the Illini's last appearance in a major came in the 2002 Sugar Bowl as the Big Ten Conference champions.

Players To Watch For (Offense and Defense)- Senior quarterback Wes Lunt:

The Illini's chances of making any headway this season could hinge on the back of Lunt.

The senior has shown the ability at times to play amongst the Big Ten's elite in the last couple of seasons.

Lunt produced a season-high 317 yards through the air in a 29-20 loss to eventual the Big Ten Conference Championship Game runner-up Iowa on Oct. 10, 2015.

Sophomore running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn:

With the departure of Josh Ferguson to the National Football League, Vaughn returns as the Illini's leading rusher from 2015 (723 yards on 4.6 per carry).

Vaughn's breakout performance came in the Purdue game on Nov. 7, 2015, where he rushed for 180 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns to help Illinois win 48-14.

Key Game- Sept. 10 vs North Carolina:

The Illini will be tested in the second week of the season as the North Carolina Tar Heels invade Memorial Stadium for a primetime meeting.

The Tar Heels came one game short of playing in the New Year's Six and possibly the College Football Playoff in a  loss to the Clemson Tigers in the ACC Title Game.

In the last meeting on Sept. 19, 2015 in Chapel Hill, NC, North Carolina led wire-to-wire in a 48-14 win over Illinois. The only bright spot for the Illini came courtesy of running back Josh Ferguson (now of the Indianapolis Colts) for 133 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Social Media:

Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.