Heading into the season the hot seat was as hot as any for Illinois head coach Tim Beckman. That seat hit a boiling point of no return last week, just one week prior to the first game of the season for Illinois. With Beckman losing his job amid controversy, Illinois looks to regain the focus on the field with Bill Cubit taking over as interim head coach with the Illini preparing to open the season Friday night against Kent State. Illinois has shown some signs of progress on the field and hopes to put the distractions behind them out of the gate.
Kent State at Illinois
Kickoff: 9 p.m. (Friday)
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Illinois -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How easily does Illinois move past the off-field distractions?
Losing your head coach a week before the start of the college football season surely has to have some impact on Illinois. Even if the removal of Tim Beckman is seen by many as a reprieve, the transition happening so quickly and so close to the start of the year presents some unforeseen concerns. Bill Cubit takes over as the interim head coach, and with no other changes to the coaching staff it would appear everything else should be fairly stable. Still, Cubit is now given some more tasks in addition to preparing the offensive game plan. Now he will be tested on some defensive situations and special teams work. How he handles it and how the players rally behind him will determine what level of success the Illini can have out of the gates.
2. How efficient is Illinois QB Wes Lunt?
Injuries turned what could have been a promising season for the former Oklahoma State quarterback into a bit of a mess. If healthy, Lunt has a chance to be one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the Big Ten. He will play behind an experienced offensive line, with three returning starters on his throwing side, but Illinois replaces both starts on his blind side. Quick passes will be the key for Lunt.
3. Does Kent State find an offensive flair?
Kent State’s offense was nowhere to be found a season ago and the offensive line has to replace three starters. Getting things off on the right foot may prove difficult, but having Trayion Durham back should add some muscle to the ground game. Kent State’s running game may have lost some sizzle with Dri Archer moving on, but the Golden Flashes can bring some thunder on the ground if Durham is having an impact.
Despite the negativity surrounding the program leading up to the first kickoff, Illinois looks to be a solid pick in this game. Wes Lunt could turn in a good performance to calm the nerves of the Illini faithful, and Cubit seems prepared for this opportunity in front of him. It may not be pretty, but Illinois gets it done to open the season.
Prediction: Illinois 26, Kent State 13
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.