The Future of the University of Illinois Fighting Illini
Lovie Smith has not had a very good start at the University of Illinois as he was faced with a major re-building project that has left him with a record of 5-19 in his first two seasons in Champaign, IL. There were reports of Lovie being "miserable" at the University of Illinois, per ESPN and after my visit to the fighting Illini campus and seeing how happy his players were, I believe he has either turned the corner or these reports were embellished. Lovie's recruiting class of 2019 is one of the best in the country in terms of landing big time prospects at a program that has notoriously struggled in Big Ten play. I believe Coach Smith's ties to the NFL and his overall demeanor is the main reason he has been able to land recruits like 5 Star recruit Isaiah Williams, who will get to sling the rock to4 star recruit Marquez Beason next season for the Illini. The key to landing Williams, who was offered by the likes of Alabama and many other Power 5 programs, was the fact that he will have the opportunity to play QB for the Illini, instead of lining up as a slot receiver, as other programs had offered.
New Coaches in Champaign
Bringing over offensive coordinator Rod Smith was a huge win for Coach Lovie Smith and the Illini football program, as Coach Rod Smith was the QB coach for WVU legend Pat White and Michigan's Denard Robinson. When you look at those two dynamic dual-threat QB's and what came out of that process of refinement, you begin to wonder how far Lovie and Rod can take this young man. We believe at College Football Today that Isaiah Williams is not only the best player in the State of Missouri, but if you plucked him from the ATH category and put him in the "Dual-Threat" category, Williams still would be atop that list. Williams will have one of his coaches on staff as well at the University of Illinois , as Lovie Smith hired Cory Patterson from Williams' high school football team, Trinity Catholic High School.
Deer going missing or question marks at QB?
With Deer statues going missing and being placed on Illini players rooftops in Champaign, this seems to be the biggest news coming this year, after ranking at the bottom of the Big Ten in recruiting last year. The big question is at the QB position heading into this fall, as the Illini had only sophomore Cam Thomas this spring with a slew of unproven freshmen. That being said, they do have former Nebraska and Virginia Tech QB A.J. Bush using his 5th year as a graduate transfer to hopefully bring the Illini some hope to the most important position on the field. The fact that the Illini have not had a 1,000 yard rusher since 2010 is a statement to their poor offensive line play and backs simply not running with any meaningful purpose. With a injury ridden backfield last year, four backs only were able to grind out 800 yards for a entire season, which has to improve if the Illini are to become bowl eligible in 2018. Nick Allegretti is the only senior on the offensive line and with four freshmen on the O-Line the bulk of the 2017 season, things can only look up with Allegretti's leadership and tenacity in the trenches.
The Fighting Illini Defense
Defensively the Illini have good edge rushers in last years freshmen Bobby Roundtree and Isaiah Gay who saw extensive time as freshmen towards the end of the 2017 season. Tymir Oliver is an inside force on the defensive line and will look to provide a blockade in the run game and hold up the interior linemen in order for linebackers (SR) Nickerson and Phillips who led last year's team in tackles. Bennett Williams was able to lead the defensive backfield for the Illini with 3 total picks in the 2017 season, in a defensive backfield that only had 9 interceptions total for the season. Stanley Green and Nate Hobbs will look to create more turnovers this season in order for the Illini to reach 6 wins for the 2018 season and become bowl eligible.
Australians can boom it!
Australian Punter Blake Hayes was quite a busy man last year with a total of 77 punts for a average of 42 yards for the season. Special Teams coach Bob Ligashesky expects this to improve over the course of his final three seasons in Champaign, as this young man has NFL potential. Kicker Chase Mclaughlin was perfect inside of 40 yards for the 2017 season and 12-17 overall on field goal attempts. He will be a very reliable leg for the Illini to count on this season in the loaded Big Ten conference. More production in both the kick and punt return game will be needed for the Illini to set up their offense with great field position, along with giving them the confidence they need to win in Big Ten play.
What does the future hold for the Fighting Illini?
In Conclusion, I think the Fighting Illini will be able to compete in Big Ten play this season and will look to no longer be the "door mat" of Big Ten Football. With the recruiting class that is coming next year, the Illini just need to show some improvement from the wretched 2-16 Big Ten conference play record to prove that next year they will be legit contenders in Big Ten conference play. With Lovie Smith's extensive professional and collegiate background, He certainly was and still is the man needed to rebuild the Illini to National Prominence, like in 2008 when they earned a bid to the prestigious Rose Bowl. At College Football Today, we would like to see nothing less than Coach Lovie Smith and the Fighting Illini of Illinois, to once again reign supreme in the Big Ten and wish him the best moving forward!
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