Net Takeaways / Giveaways: Even
Over: One of the reasons the Illini defense took a big step forward last season was its ability to win the turnover battle. The Illini were a plus-four in turnover margin last season, improvement from a minus-3 in 2014 and minus-10 in 2013. Expect the Illini to continue the positive trend in that category given that Lovie Smith's defensive identity is built around takeaways. Plus, quarterback Wes Lunt takes care of the ball, carrying a 28-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio as an Illini into this season.
Passing yards, Wes Lunt: 3,000
Under: Lunt (2,761 passing yards) should've thrown for more than 3,000 yards last season if it weren't for all his receiver drops. While I expect Lunt to be more efficient (more yards per attempt), I expect Illinois to pass the ball less often this season (among FBS teams, only Washington State passed the ball more frequently last season), so I expect his attempts (481) to go way down. Now, Ryan Mallett did throw for more than 3,000 yards twice under Garrick McGee, but those Arkansas teams had much more talent around Mallett than Illinois has around Lunt. I'm hemming and hawing (can you tell?) on this one. I think it'll be close, but I think the Illini offense will struggle so I'll take the under.
Ke'Shawn Vaughn rushing yards: 1,000
Over: I'm sprinting to the over on this one. I expect Vaughn to get anywhere between 20-30 touches per game. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry behind a suspect offensive line last year, so I expect that rate to grow a little bit more. I think he finishes top-3 in rushing yards in the Big Ten, behind Saquoon Barkley and Justin Jackson. He's the workhorse and should be the first Illini back since Mikel LeShoure in 2010 to rush for quadruple digits.
Malik Turner: 700 yards and 7.5 TD's
Over and Under: I'll take the over on the yards because someone has to be the go-to receiver and Turner has a lot of similarities to Geronimo Allison, who had 882 yards and three TDs last year. Turner is big, physical, athletic and really nimble on the sidelines. Expect a lot of back-shoulder throws to Turner from Lunt. Turner also has good athleticism and solid speed so he's got some big-play threat to him as well. He can go over defenders and make a big catch down the field. Two of the top receivers in the Big Ten last season, Jordan Westerkamp and Aaron Burbridge, had seven touchdown catches so that's a pretty high number of touchdowns.
Games Dudek plays: 5.5?
Over: The six-month mark from injury is usually the time when doctors consider clearing players coming off ACL tears. For Dudek, that's Nebraska week (Oct. 1). I wouldn't expect him to play then, but recovery has gone well to this point. He's still very limited and hasn't started going against contact. So that 5.5 mark is a good line. As of now, I'll side with him suiting up at Michigan (Game 7) on Oct. 22 and for the rest of the season. I'm hesitant to set that expectation for fans because it's really unfair to the kid and the process. But I know Dudek wants to play, and if doctors clear him, I don't see anyone stopping him. He's definitely no longer concerned about preserving eligibility. Even if he doesn't play more than five games, I expect him to play at some point. We just don't know how effective he will be when he returns.
Total sacks by D-line: 25?
Under: I love this defensive line, but half of teams don't get 25 sacks -- let alone just a position group. I do think this group will push over 20 sacks, but 25 just looks like such a big number. Attainable, though? Sure. But for reference, Illinois had 19 sacks total last season, with the defensive line accounting for 13 of those.
Wins against top 25 teams: 0.5?
Over: I just think they'll have so many chances that it'll likely happen. North Carolina, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern could all be in the mix for top-25 when Illinois plays them. I'd expect Illinois to pull off one of them. I also think they'll probably lose a game some fans expect them to win.
Sideline reporters asking Lovie the difference between NFL and college: 1.5
Under: Sideline reporters to me would mean in-game either at halftime or immediately after a game, not in a pregame interview or feature. This question is a popular one (though, it is a legit one), but it doesn't add anything in the middle of or after the game to ask this question.
Average rush yards per game: 150.5?
Under: About 25 percent of Illinois' rushing yards last season came at Purdue last season (382 yards). The Illini averaged 106.3 yards per game in their other 11 games. The more eye-popping numbers: the Purdue game accounted for 42 percent of the Illini's rushing yards during Big Ten play, and they averaged just 74.4 rushing yards per game in the other seven conference games. The 150.5 yards per game mark would put Illinois about ninth or 10th in the Big Ten based on last year's stats. Garrick McGee will commit to the run more than Cubit, but does Illinois have the personnel to be more effective? I think Illinois will put up better rushing totals and come close to this number. But I don't think they'll take quite as big of a leap as they want.
Kendrick Foster carries: 60.5
Over: That number means he's averaging just more than five carries per game. Illinois absolutely needs that from Foster to take some hits away from Vaughn. He showed enough during training camp to earn that load. What makes this interesting is Louisville's backup running back earned exactly 60 carries last season. But the Cardinals also had a mobile quarterback. In 2014, Louisville had three backs with 90-plus carries.
Times Lovie is approached for an NFL job: 0.5 times
Under: NFL coaches rarely get three chances to be a head coach. Smith is 58 years old with a great, six-year contract at Illinois. I'd surprised if he isn't here through the end of that contract.
KeShawn Vaughn touchdowns: 12.5
Under: I'm a big fan of Vaughn, but only one Big Ten running back had more than 12 touchdowns last season: Ezekiel Elliott.
Zach Grant catches: 25.5
Over: This was about the number I had for Dionte Taylor last season after a strong training camp and he went under (22 catches). Turner and Justin Hardee are the main options, and Desmond Cain is a trusted Lunt option, but Grant had a strong camp and looks like a solid 30-catch guy.
Missed field goals: 7.5
Under: Illinois missed nine last season. McLaughlin had a strong camp, but it's tougher to do it in front of thousands of fans and on national television. But most Big Ten teams miss between four and seven field goals, so I'll go with the average and go under.
Touchdowns for RB's other than Vaughn: 1.5
Over: Foster should get some goal-line touches and Reggie Corbin could break a long one at some point.
Attendance for North Carolina game: 54,999.5
Under: I'd heard last week that the number was hovering around 50,000. The crowd should be fired up with a top-25 team in town for a primetime game. The Lovie bump is in effect but that only goes so far. Last year's Ohio State game drew only 51,115, so Illinois probably needs to win games like UNC to draw 55,000-plus.
Number of 4+ stars signed in 2017 class: 4.5
Under: At least based on this site's rankings. Ricky Smalling is a legit, immediate impact 4-star prospect. Some other sites have Carmoni Green as a four-star but I think he's correctly listed on this site as a high 3-star. Larry Boyd could be close to the 3-/4-star level but probably will remain a 3-star. The Illini aren't in the mix for many 4- and 5-star prospects. I don't think Russ Yeast will pick Illinois. But the number of four-star commits doesn't make or break this class. Boyd, Owen Carney or even a Chase Hayden should provide four-star worthy excitement if Illinois can land them, in my opinion.
Punts less than 30 yards or out of bounds combined: 25
Under: Senior punter Ryan Frain doesn't have an elite leg, and he will have some stinkers (most do). But he's not this big of a concern for me.
Kickoff returns into our opponents territory: 5.5
Under: The Illini lost a potential game-breaking returner in V'Angelo Bentley (though he didn't have a great return year as a senior) and Lovie has been concerned about the return game since he got here.
Kickoff returns by opponent into our territory: 5.5
Under: The Illini have some good athletes on their special teams units and a former NFL special teams coach taking over a unit that allowed about 20 yards per kick return last year, so I'm not expecting much.
Under: I hear North Carolina will be a good crowd, more than 50,000, but will not approach sell-out territory. Homecoming against Minnesota should be a great crowd and could approach sell-out territory if Illinois is somehow 5-2 or better at that point. Purdue could be a great crowd if Illinois is somehow 4-0 (coming off UNC or Nebraska wins). The Illinois fan base is excited. There will be more crowds over the 50,000 mark, but remember, the Illini averaged 41,342 at home games last season. It'll take some winning to get more fans to make the trip and buy tickets.
Defense/Special Teams touchdowns: 2.5
Over: Illinois had three of these last year: Fejedelem blocked punt return, Murdock blocked punt return and Monheim interception return. Given Lovie's philosophy, I expect them to at least match that. I'm all-in on a Chris James interception return for a touchdown out of the nickel at some point.
Tight end catches: 30
Over: It'll be close but the Illini tight ends had 18 catches last season, and they were barely on the field (due to injury and lack of depth). Garrick McGee has featured the tight ends extensively during training camp, and I definitely see this group getting more than three catches a game -- even if they don't average a ton of yards per catch. Expect a lot of rollouts, drop offs into the flat, etc.
Fumbles Forced: 19.5
Over: Just slightly. Illinois forced 14 fumbles last season (recovering nine), so this is a big step up. 20 forced fumbles (or 1.7 per game) would rank in the top 25 percent of college teams, so this is a bit of a gamble to say the over. But this is Lovie's identity. Recover 60 percent of these and Illinois' turnover margin should look great.
Nickerson tackles: 103
Over: Middle linebackers rack up tackles in Lovie Smith's defense and Nickerson is a proven tackling machine (112 last season in the pass-happy Pac-12). He should rack up tackles in a run-heavy Big Ten West.
Longest Field Goal attempt made: 47.5 yards
Under: Starter Chase McLaughlin has been very accurate during camp, but even he admits he doesn't have the strongest leg. Smith sides on conservative so expect him to try to pin opponents deep in their own territory rather than take a gamble on 50-plus yard field goal attempts
Dropped Passes: 33.5
Over: I hated typing that and expect some of you just had nightmare flashbacks to last season's 60 drops (which likely cost Illinois a bowl bid). I expect the drops to be much closer to this over/under line than last year's total, but I still saw too many drops during fall practice -- though receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker doesn't seem as alarmed -- to feel that they have cured their case of the drops. The receivers are a talented group, just mighty inconsistent.
Unsportsmanlike Penalties 5.5
Under: Lovie has what all parents want: his players fear disappointing him. Lovie is a players' coach but is pretty strict. He may send players to their (locker) room if they commit these kind of penalties.
Turnovers by opposition 23.5
Over: Illinois forced 11 turnovers in 2013, 19 turnovers in 2014 and 21 turnovers in 2015. With the pressure this defensive line creates and with how much more aggressive these defensive coaches are, I do envision this team averaging two takeaways a game.
Delay of game penalties 9.5
Under: This really was a problem in the past, wasn't it? There really is no excuse for these. But I expect this staff to keep these kids focused on the details.
Times Lovie throws a tantrum: 0.5
Under: I don't think Lovie knows what tantrum means. You might get a few disappointed sighs though.
Taylor Barton interceptions: 3.5
Under: This is a tough one. Barton had four interceptions last season and three of them came in the first two games. Barton is more of the safety blanket in this defense, usually as the one deep safety. I expect the corners and nickelback to be the more aggressive pass defenders.
Longest touchdown: 55.5 yards
Over: Chalk me up for a huge Justin Hardeee play or two. He might be inconsistent as a receiver, but he sure can take the top off defenses with his elite speed -- something the Illini lacked last season. Fun fact: Illini had two touchdowns over this mark last year. If you had Ke'Shawn Vaughn (78-yard rush vs. Purdue) and Mason Monheim (58-yard interception return vs. Northwestern) as your answers, you win the showcase.
Under: Vegas has this over/under at a 4.5. I'd put my money on the over there. This line seems more apt in my mind. I do think Illinois has a chance to clinch bowl eligibility. If you could tell me they won't suffer any major injuries, I'd pick the over here. But they are one key offensive injury away from exposing a real lack of depth. I like the coaching staff. I like some of the top-end talent. I just don't think Illinois has the depth to remain a strong team through a 12-game season.
Bowl game appearances: 0.5
Under: If bowls accept more 5-7 teams, Illinois is in great shape given its great APR ranking, so the previous over/under does not necessarily have an effect on this one. But this week's Fact or Fiction covered this one.