With just about the same number of days as teams left until the start of the 2014 football season, it’s time we stop talking ice buckets and start talking gridiron. The drill is simple, we give you the schedule and we give you how the season is going to play out.
14 weeks, 12 games and all sorts of twists and turns are in front of us. So, as we take a look at each team we’ll give you a simple win/loss prediction and reason for each week of the season. We’ll start with the Big Ten West and look at the Illinois Fighting Illini (it also helps that they are first in the Big Ten alphabet).
So, let’s get the ball rolling and start putting our money where our mouths are!
2014 Illinois Schedule:
Aug. 30 – vs. Youngstown State: WIN
A rousing rendition of “Build Me Up Buttercup” goes well with this matchup. Last season the Penguins faced Michigan State and it didn’t go so well. A 55-17 scoreline in week two proved that. However, this is a team hungry to prove critics wrong after closing out the season with three straight losses. Illinois’ talent level should get them by in this game, but we’ve seen stranger things happen before.
Sept. 6 – vs. Western Kentucky: WIN
The Hilltoppers come in to this game as newcomers to Conference-USA, but it could be an uphill climb (pun intended) for this team in 2014. It barely finished over .500 and that was with the wonder-coach Bobby Petrino at the helm. It will be new head coach Jeff Brohm’s second game in charge and playing in a Big Ten atmosphere may be a bit overwhelming. Watching for Beckman’s men to get off to a quick start against one of the worst defenses in FBS football…and never look back.
Sept. 13 – at Washington: LOSS
Last season these two teams met at Soldier Field and the scoreline read 34-24 in favor of the Huskies. Things are much different in Seattle, with Steve Sarkisian off to USC along with most of the staff, plus there’s no Bishop Sankey or Keith Price to lead the offense. This will be Washington’s first test of the season and it will be the Illini’s as well. If the defense is even 25 percent better than it was last season, then Illinois can pull the upset. However, this is a road game against the Pac-12 and that’s almost been an automatic loss for the Big Ten as of late. Sorry, no upset happening here.
Sept. 20 – vs. Texas State: WIN
Personally, this game does scare me a bit. While Texas State didn’t light the world on fire offensively, it wasn’t a half-bad defense for most of the season. The Bobcats offensive skill position players are all still young, but gained a ton of experience in 2013. However, it’s a long way from 2-5 in the Sun Belt to winning on the road against the Big Ten. While Dennis Franchione has done some nice things in San Marcos, this team still isn’t ready to play with the bigger boys.
Sept. 27 – at Nebraska: LOSS
Speaking of stepping up and playing with the bigger boys…Nebraska comes a calling for a 3-1 Illini team. The record says it won’t be good for the Illini, who have a 2-8-1 record all-time against the Huskers. Last season it was a 39-19 beatdown by the Huskers in Lincoln and frankly it’s hard to see how this doesn’t play out similarly in 2014. Illinois defense may be better, but so will the Nebraska offense with some stability and experience at quarterback. Look for more of the same as the Illini fall to .500 quickly.
Oct. 4 – vs. Purdue: WIN
If the Illini want to win a second Big Ten game under Beckman this would be the perfect opportunity for it to happen. However, looking at these two teams over the course of fall camp, this could be the decider for who takes the basement spot. I like that this game is at home for Illinois, but Purdue has a lot of talent to work with on the offensive side of the ball — perhaps more so than Illinois actually. Even so, I believe the defenses will matter more and the Illini appear to be ahead of the curve defensively and that means a close win at home — something like 35-27 or so.
Oct. 11 – at Wisconsin: LOSS
These two teams have played some interesting games over the last few years, but it hasn’t ended well for the Illini. Wisconsin is currently on a four game win streak and have won eight of the last 10 matchups dating back to 2002. With Melvin Gordon, an improved passing game and a defense that could be more attacking than it was a season ago. Last year the Badgers went off for 52 points on the road, at home…ain’t no way Wisconsin’s losing to the Illini minus Nathan Scheelhaase.
Oct. 25 – vs. Minnesota: LOSS
A few years ago this would’ve been a good game to toss a coin in the air over. However, the Gophers and Illini have gone in two different directions over the last three years. While Beckman’s bunch have been stuck in neutral, Kill and the gang in Minneapolis have gone to two-straight bowl games and won eight games last season. While this game has the potential to be interesting, the Gophers are just too talented and have too much confidence as a program to not win this game.
Nov. 1 – at Ohio State: LOSS
Ohio State is a favorite to not only win the East Division, but also take the Big Ten championship for a reason. While this may be a rivalry game with a horrible trophy, this is also a night game at Ohio Stadium and that means one thing — Ohio State doesn’t lose. The Buckeyes have an 11-3 record in home night games and as long as Braxton Miller is playing quarterback there’s no way Illinois is going to go in to the Horseshoe and pull one out at night. If it does, it may be the biggest upset we’ve ever seen in the Big Ten.
Nov. 15 – vs. Iowa: LOSS
I like what Iowa brings to the table on both sides of the ball, and even if they aren’t great at anything this team will be consistently good enough to at least win this road contest. Although, road games at Memorial Stadium in November can be tricky…However, this could be tricky for Beckman as by my account his record will have run to 4-5 and that means winning out to have a shot at a bowl game. We all know it’s bowl game or bust for the Beckman era and this is going to be a pivotal swing game if the Illini ever want to make a big statement in the West division in 2014.
Nov. 22 – vs. Penn State: WIN
Remember that pivotal moment I spoke of earlier? Well, I also see a point in the season where the injuries begin mounting and Penn State has trouble fielding a quality offensive line. That’s never good come November when you need all the help you can get. Sure, James Franklin is a damn good coach, but when you’re throwing walk-on offensive linemen out against scholarship defensive players it usually doesn’t end well. Penn State is loaded on skill position talent, but it won’t matter if the line is in shambles. That’s what I see happening here, and it’s the only way the Illini beat Penn State.
Nov. 29 – at Northwestern: LOSS
The Wildcats may be reeling from losing star RB Venric Mark and WR Christian Jones this offseason, but that won’t matter come the final game of the season. See, the difference between Northwestern and Illinois right now is that the Wildcats are in a position where they’ve got the parts to replace players like that. Take away Josh Ferguson from the Illini offense and picture what happens…it isn’t very pretty in my mind. It’s that depth that matters in what has become a very heated in-state rivalry game. It also could be Beckman’s final one thanks to this loss.
Overall Record: 5-7
Big Ten Record: 2-6