Illinois heads into the 2016 season with a new head coach at the helm, but he is far from inexperienced. Lovie Smith is taking control of an Illinois football team that went 5-7 (2-6 Big Ten) last season.
The offense maintains one of its most valuable assets with quarterback Wes Lunt, as well as running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn. The Illinis will be thin at the recevier position after losing its best target, Mike Dudek, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
Lovie Smith, a defensive coach at heart, will come into a solid defensive situation. Illinois finished ranked No. 30 in the nation in total defense and No. 15 in the nation against the pass.
Dawuane Smoot returns to the defensive line 2016, making both the Bednarik and Hendricks Award watch lists. Smoot came up with eight sacks last season.
Illinois does not get any breaks with its schedule. Tough road games for the Illinis include Nebraska, Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern. The team also faces off against Michigan State and Iowa at home.
The tone-setting game will be against North Carolina in week two. Smith should get a good feel of far the team has to go to be a contender in the Big Ten based on this game.
QB: Wes Lunt
RB: Ke'Shawn Vaughn
DE: Dawuane Smoot
WR: Geronimo Allison
WR: Mike Dudek (Injury)
For more on Illinois football's upcoming season, check out Joe Quinn and Nick Handley talk with Matt Daniels, beat writer for Illinois football at The News-Gazette, on Omaha Sports Insider on AM 590 ESPN Omaha.