Our “how you doing” feature is back for year two.
Each week we at B5Q will review how each of Wisconsin’s opponents has fared heading into their contest with the Badgers.
Up first, the Illinois Fighting Illini.
With no football in the record books yet for Illinois in 2020, we instead will dive into the happenings of fall camp for a team hoping to improve upon their first bowl appearance under head coach Lovie Smith a year ago.
Results thus far:
As previously mentioned, no games have been played by anyone in the Big Ten.
Therefore, Illinois (0-0 overall, and 0-0 B1G) still boasts a blemish-less record.
First and foremost, Illinois is relatively healthy heading into the opener. The Illini have not been hit super hard by camp setbacks on the injury front. An interesting subplot going into the game however is that the university does not share COVID testing information, so there is no telling how the team is coronavirus wise.
From the coach:
With head coach Lovie Smith bullish on his team this season, saying this off-season that he feels as though his team is more talented this year than in 2019. Considering the Badgers fell to Illinois last year, the idea that Smith has greater confidence in his program in 2020 is notable.
Status of the offense:
Illinois returns the majority of their key offensive pieces from a year ago. Quarterback Brandon Peters is entering year two under center, and has earned positives marks in fall camp. With a solid receiving corps surrounding him, the senior signal caller has Illini fans optimistic.
While there still remains questions around which tailback will emerge for Illinois this season to replace the production of Reggie Corbin, the offensive line returns the majority of the starters from a year ago. Sophomore Verdis Brown (a former four-star recruit out of IMG Academy) is expected to win a starting spot to join a senior laden group up front.
Last up in terms of hype this off-season out of Champaign is the tight end room. Talented sophomore tight end Luke Ford, a transfer from Georgia, gets most of the press clippings, but it will be interesting to see if he can live up to the lofty expectations.
Status of the defense:
The identity of any Lovie Smith defense is predicated on turnovers. Last season Illinois was one of the best in the conference, and country in general, at generating takeaways.
This off-season, Smith has continued to hammer home that idea, and he has spoken glowingly about linebacker Jake Hansen’s ability to do so. Hansen is one of the key members of the defense, and one of the better linebackers in the conference.
The defensive line of Illinois is definitely the weakest subsection of the defense, but the secondary and newcomer Marquez Beason has been spoken of highly this fall. The former four-star redshirt freshman appears to be living up to his status coming out of high school.
Illinois has rejuvenated their roster nicely by bringing in some talented transfers the past few season. The Illini have a lot of newcomers on both sides of the ball this season that could impact the course of the season for Smith and his crew. How those players have gelled with the returning players will be an interesting nuance to keep an eye on as their season progresses.
At this point, with a lack of in-person observations to rely on to dive into the status of the program, it is a crapshoot though. Friday night should help shed some clarity for both the Badgers and Illini, after an abbreviated off-season.