Location: Champaign, Illinois
2018 record: 4-8
Head coach: Lovie Smith (Fourth year, 11-29)
2019 record so far: 2-2
Record against Ohio State since 2010: 0-7
What’s happened so far in 2019:
Illinois, coming off a 2018 losing season, entered 2019 with a strong start, winning its first two games against Akron and UConn, 42-3 and 31-23, respectively. The Fighting Illini suffered their first loss 34-31 in Week 3 against Eastern Michigan and added a second after Nebraska overcame a 35-21 deficit to beat them 42-38 at home in Week 4.
Key offensive player:
Redshirt senior running back Reggie Corbin was lightning in a bottle for Illinois a season ago, averaging 8.5 yards per carry to the tune of 1,085 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns. Corbin got off to a slow start this season, receiving just six carries in Illinois’ season opening blowout against Akron and none against UConn, but has followed up with back-to-back showings of 144 and 134 yards the past two weeks. Corbin is running for 7.1 yards a pop and scored a touchdown in every game he’s played.
Key defensive player:
On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker Dele Harding currently leads the team in tackles with 42, and tied for the lead in interceptions with one. The Maryland native has made the most of his time at Illinois, as he was made special teams captain in 2018. The Fighting Illini return 17 starters, and Harding has served as a starter throughout his first three seasons. After finishing top 10 on the 2018 team with 37 total tackles in just nine games, Harding already has 42 this season. Harding’s continued production will be vital if Illinois hopes to turn things around on defense.
As a team that went 4-8 a season ago, Illinois has several areas upon which to improve. Being in the Big Ten West division, depth and consistent play are a must. Teams compete against the likes of defending division champion Northwestern, No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 14 Iowa, to name a few. Since the beginning of the 2016 football season, the Fighting Illini have played a total of 39 games with 13 different starters at safety. Two safeties have not started three consecutive games together since Taylor Barton and Clayton Fejedelem back in 2015. Illinois began 2-2 a season ago before dropping six of eight to end the year. It will try to avoid the same fate this season.