Illinois Betting Odds Preview
The Illini won two games in their first season under head coach Tim Beckman two years ago, then four games last year. Can they continue that progression and return to a bowl this season? Or will the Illinois faithful start pining for the days of Ron Zook, whose 7-6 seasons at least included bowls?
Nobody seems to be able to get this program pointed in the right direction. The last time the Illini finished above .500 in Big Ten play was back in 2007. This year there are several winnable games on the slate, but Illinois will have to win 'em all, plus a couple, to return to a bowl.
Illinois started 3-1 last year, with an upset victory over Cincinnati and a tough loss at Washington. But the Illini proceeded to lose their first six Big Ten games, several in non-competitive fashion. They finally broke through with a win at Purdue, but lost at home to rival Northwestern to finish 4-8, 1-7 in Big Ten play.
And yet Illinois improved from going 3-9 ATS in 2012 to 6-6 ATS last year, including 4-2 ATS as a home dog.
This year the Illini returns 14 starters, two more than last year. Six starters return on offense, including four along the offensive line, but they'll have to replace three-year staring quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. They hope Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt can step in and take over.
And eight starters are back on defense, including six of the back seven, so it's hoped that unit can improve upon the 35 points and 480 yards per game it gave up last year.
Illinois begins this season with a couple of winnable non-conference home games, then plays at Washington. The Illini later play at Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Northwestern, and host Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State. Illinois has a good chance to start at least 3-1, but will probably have a very tough time on the Big Ten road.
Still, five wins looks doable, and with an upset or two the Illini would find themselves back in a bowl.
Big Ten Championship Odds at Bovada as of August 5
Ohio State 10/11
Michigan State 15/4
It seems like a hundred years ago, but Illinois played in the Rose Bowl as recently as 2007. Since then the Illini have gone 24-38, just 11-29 in Big Ten play. Last year, in its first season under new head coach Tim Beckman, Illinois went 2-10, winless in the Big Ten, and struggled just to be competitive. The Illini might rightly be expected to improve in their second year of the new coaching regime, but with multiple questions about the defense that's no guarantee.
Illinois had 14 starters back from a 7-6 team of 2011 for its first season under Beckman, so the final results came as a surprise. The Illini started 2-1, those two victories coming against Western Michigan and Charleston Southern. But with injuries at the QB position hampering the offense UI didn't win another game all season. The demise started with a four-touchdown home loss to Louisiana Tech, flowed through blowout losses to Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State, and ended with a 50-14 drubbing at the hands of in-state rival Northwestern. The Illini also ended up with an ATS record of 3-9, just 1-7 ATS in Big Ten play, thanks in part to a -12 turnover ratio.
Offensively Illinois got held to 17 points or less eight times and averaged less than 300 YPG, while the defense gave up 388 YPG, 194 YPG on the ground. This year the Illini returns 12 starters. Eight are back on offense, including three-year starter Nathan Scheelhaase at QB, leading rusher Donovonn Young, and three along the offensive line. But just four starters are back on defense, one on the defensive line and one in the secondary.
This year's schedule calls for home games with, among others, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Northwestern, road games at Nebraska, Penn State, and what should be a decent Indiana team, and a date with Washington in Chicago. The Illini are likely to be dogged in at least nine games, including each of their four conference home games, so getting off to a good start during non-conference play will be imperative to becoming bowl-eligible.
Big Ten Championship Odds at 5Dimes as of August 5
Ohio State -115
Michigan State +800