Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Lovie Smith
Illinois 2018 Betting Odds
- To win the National Title: +750000
- To win the Big Ten: +20000
- To win the Big Ten West: +4000
- Win Total: 4 (under -130)
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Illinois 2018 Schedule, Betting Odds
The Action Network Projected Wins: 3.2
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Illinois Win Total Under 4 -130
UPDATE: A.J. Bush Jr. was named Illinois’ starting quarterback after publication of this story.
My projections mathematically make the Illinois win total 3.2, but beyond the first two games, it’s tough to see a third win on this schedule. Kent State is in my bottom five for FBS power ratings. Western Illinois is an interesting game, as it made the FCS playoffs and actually finished higher in USA Today’s Sagarin ratings than Illinois last season. The Leathernecks have a new coach and some notable player turnover, but the upset is certainly on my radar.
The X-factor for the Illini is quarterback Cam Thomas, a three-star dual threat from the Chicago area. He got some playing time in 2017 and showed flashes of what a functional Illinois offense can do — something we haven’t seen since 2014.
Lovie Smith has long been a defensive-minded guy, even before his days as the Chicago Bears’ coach. He’s handed the offensive play-calling to new offensive coordinator Rod Smith. FootballScoop.com named it one of the 15 most important hires of the offseason.
Although Smith’s name may not ring a bell, some of the players he has coached might. They include Denard Robinson (Michigan), Pat White (West Virginia) and Khalil Tate (Arizona). Smith spent years in the Rich Rodriguez system, but now finds himself at Illinois with some talent he should be familiar with coaching.
We are cautiously going to take the Under 4 on the Illinois win total. While there is not a clear third victory on this schedule, the Illini have plenty of depth on the offensive line and skill positions, so a skilled dual-threat quarterback like Thomas could make some noise. There should be a hedge situation for the season-ending game against Northwestern, as Lovie Smith could be coaching for his job while the Wildcats may have wrapped up bowl eligibility.
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What else you need to know about Illinois
Illinois has taken in some money in a Westgate Game of the Year. Specifically, the Penn State -28.5 opener has moved to -27. I have the game power-rated at 24, so any Illinois number above +24 deserves consideration. The Under 4 mentioned above should be safe, but there is potential for Illinois to vastly improve and be competitive in conference play. Grab the current Illinois +27 against Penn State if you stop by the Westgate.
- Illinois is 6-0 to the under after a bye since 2014
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