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Chattanooga vs. Illinois Football Prediction: Fighting Illini Host the FCS Mocs on Thursday Night

A win would give Illini their best start since 2015.
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Week 4 of the 2022 college football season brings a first-time meeting as the Illinois Fighting Illini wrap up their non-conference slate at home on Thursday night against the FCS Chattanooga Mocs.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 4

The Mocs (3-0) are still unbeaten after last week's 41-14 thrashing of North Alabama, while Illinois (2-1) should be fully rested after a bye week. The Illini defeated Virginia in their last game two weeks ago, and they have a chance for their first 3-1 start since 2015. 

Illinois has never lost to FCS opposition and will look to continue that success on Thursday.

Chattanooga at Illinois

Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: N/A
Tickets: As low as $4 on*

When Chattanooga Has the Ball

The Mocs are led by quarterback Preston Hutchinson who's completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 752 yards and five touchdowns in three games. Not only does he have a 165.4 passer efficiency rating, but he's also only taken one sack and thrown two interceptions. Hutchinson can also move his feet when needed (80 rushing yards, 5.7 ypa, 4 TDs). His favorite targets in the passing game are wide receivers Sam Phillips (8 rec., 146 yds.), Javin Whatley (6, 105, TD), and Jamoi Mayes (9, 99, TD). 

The most important player in this offense, however, is running back Ailym Ford, whose abilities as both a runner and pass-catcher (434 total yards, 6 total TDs) give this offense an extra layer. And with stellar offensive line play to top it off, it's no wonder why the Mocs are in the FCS' top 20 in both scoring offense (36.7 ppg) and total offense (435.7 ypg). But they'll be facing their toughest test to date with an Illinois defense that's held each of its opponents under 25 points so far.

Illinois limited Virginia to just a single field goal two weeks ago. The Illini defense is led by defensive lineman Jer'Zhan Newton (13 tackles, 2 sacks), linebacker Seth Coleman (9 tackles, sack), and defensive backs Sydney Brown and Devon Witherspoon (combined for 29 tackles and 8 pass breakups). 

When Illinois Has the Ball

Quarterback Tommy DeVito is 10th in the Big Ten in passing yards (622), tied for fourth in touchdown passes (6), and seventh in passer rating (137.2). The Syracuse transfer has made a seamless transition to Champaign, which has been highlighted by the wide receiver trio of Isaiah Williams (19 rec., 157 yds., TD), Pat Bryant (7, 147, TD), and Brian Hightower (10, 88, TD). Adding balance to this offense is running back Chase Brown (two rushing TDs), who leads the conference in rushing yards (496) and tied for fifth in yards per attempt (6.6). The Illinois offense averages 439.0 total yards per game and owns the Big Ten's fourth-best rushing offense (224.0 ypg).

They'll be taking on a Mocs defense thanks ranks 10th in FCS in total defense (266.7 ypg), sixth in scoring defense (11.3 ppg), and fifth in sacks (10.0). They'll try to take advantage of an offensive line that's already given up six sacks. The Chattanooga defense is led by linebackers Ty Boeck and Kam Jones (41 combined tackles), defensive lineman Ben Brewton (2.5 sacks), and defensive back Kameron Brown (8 tackles, 2 pass breakups).

Final Analysis

This will be the second time that these schools have competed against one another during this calendar year. Back in March, both schools met on the basketball court during the NCAA Tournament, which was a 54-53 win for the Illini. But this will be the first time these teams have met on the gridiron. The Mocs have lost four in a row to FBS teams (Kentucky in 2021, WKU in 2020, Tennessee in 2019, LSU in 2017). Illinois is 17-0 all-time against FCS teams, and with home-field advantage, I don't see them ending their unbeaten streak against the division any time soon.

Prediction: Illinois 28, Chattanooga 21

Podcast: Week 4 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread

— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.

*Price as of publication.