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Four Phil Steele Facts: Illinois Fighting Illini

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Numbers never lie. What do they tell us about Lovie Smith’s beard?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 24 Illinois at Northwestern Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Phil Steele puts out the best college football preview magazine every year. It’s not even a contest. In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of his first publication we at Bucky’s 5th Quarter are going to find four interesting facts about each team on Wisconsin’s schedule, including the Badgers, and break them down for you.

Phil, we love your magazine and we also love your mustache.

NUMBER 1: 10

Illinois has lost to Wisconsin nine straight times, and 19 of the last 22, by double digits. It doesn’t matter where the game is played or who the coaches are...this century Wisconsin owns Illinois. This year the game is in Champaign and is also the Illini’s homecoming weekend. Is this the year they finally snap the streak? Well,,,it hard to say but...no.

NUMBER 2: 26

The Illini averaged 26 points per game in 2018, the highest total of Lovie Smith’s tenure, and even beat a team they weren’t favored to beat (Minnesota)! Seems like the offense is headed in the right direction with seven returning starters and a highly rated freshman quarterback, Isaiah Williams, coming into the fold. Steele even rates the Illinois offensive line as the third best in the Big Ten! The Illinois offense should be average, which is an improvement for them.

Illinois v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

NUMBER 3: 5’9.5”

The aforementioned Williams is, how do I put this lightly so Bagel Boss Guy doesn’t yell at me, vertically challenged. 247Sports has him listed at this height and others have him at 5’10” but the point remains: Williams is not “ideal quarterback height.” Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that Williams’ height doesn’t matter. He is a dynamic playmaker in the open field but he also passed for over 8,000 yards in his high school career so it’s not like he’s some sort of triple-option style QB.

Do you think people will start calling him “Little Juice” since Isiah “Juice” Williams also played quarterback for the Illini? Maybe “Juice Box?” I don’t know. Let’s work on this before the game in October.

NUMBER 4: 39.4

While the Illinois offense is improving the defense is going the complete other direction. They allowed 39.4 points per game in 2018, the worst during Smith’s tenure and the worst over the past seven years total. They allowed three teams to score 63 points on them. THREE! AND ONE OF THEM WAS IOWA!!!! Defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson resigned during the season last year and Smith has taken the reigns, and play-calling duties.

The Illini have 10 starters back on defense and presumably with one more year of experience they will be improved. Still, this could be a game where Jonathan Taylor doesn’t see the field in the fourth quarter.