2019 Illinois Fighting Illini College Football Odds and Expert Betting Picks
2018 Record: 4-8
2019 Las Vegas Season Win Total: 4.5*
2019 Season Win Total Picks NCAA Football: 'Over'
When Lovie Smith took over the Illinois program, he didn't try any quick-fix schemes to fix this broken program. Smith has been playing the long game, trying to painstakingly grind while building up the overall roster strength and depth.
Smith has gone just 9-27 straight up and 14-22 against the spread in his first three seasons. That is pretty much par for the course, though, for a program that is 43-80 SU over the last 10 years and 39-59 ATS the past eight years.
Now Smith's first recruiting class is his senior class. He has his most experienced and most talented team to date, even if 15 of his players did decide to transfer this offseason. Smith has also been able to add some talented transfers.
Despite the older roster, Illinois's season may hinge on a freshman. Quarterback Isaiah Williams is competing for the starting job and would love to give a jolt of energy to an offense that has averaged just 20.3 points per game since Lovie came to town.
Lovie Smith was an alleged defensive mastermind when he was working in the NFL. That hasn't translated to the college game. The Illini were No. 123 in scoring defense and No. 127 in total defense. Yes, they have 10 returning starters and 18 of their top 20 tacklers back. But is that really a good thing?
Illinois was the No. 2 rushing team in the Big Ten last year. That's not nothing. They have four of their five offensive line starters back - three of which are three-year starters - and leading rusher Reggie Corbin is back in the mix. They have two other backs that ran for at least 400 yards last year as well.
Whether or not Illinois has the talent and the coaching to get to a bowl is open for debate. But they definitely have the schedule to get to a bowl game.
Illinois could - and probably should - start the season 3-0. They open at home against Akron, go on the road to face a horrific Connecticut team, and then come home to face Eastern Michigan. Considering that the Illini, as bad as they have been, have won at least two league games in four of the last five years, is promising for the 'over' for this team.
Where will those two wins come from? Illinois hosts Rutgers and Northwestern. They also shouldn't be overmatched at Minnesota and Purdue. I think that they can win at least two of those four games. And if they can somehow win three - or pull an upset at home against a team like Nebraska and Wisconsin - then the Illini could be back in the postseason for the first time since 2014.
I am not bullish on Lovie Smith's long-term viability in Illinois. I just don't think he's a very good coach. But I do think that he has enough on this roster to get to at least five games, and possibly six. I'll take the 'over'.
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