Illinois has seen their win total decline each of the last three years and has just one season with more than seven wins since 2001. An opposing Big Ten coach doesn't see their luck changing anytime soon.
After going 3-9 (2-7 in the Big Ten) in his first season as head coach, Lovie Smith returns only six upperclassmen starters and will rely heavily on youngsters in 2017. While they do have some top-end talent at a few positions, including Malik Turner at running back and Kendrick Foster at running back, the two-deep is laced with question marks.
"It's Year 2 for (fans) also," Smith said about the slow process and tempering expectations. "They knew it's not just about, 'Hey, we're going to the Rose Bowl right away.' It's going to take a little bit. Those same fans are excited about Year 2 and this rebuild."
Smith admitted three wins "isn't good enough" and they're committed to a plan of returning to competitiveness in the conference filled with not only playoff contenders in Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin, but also more talented second-level teams. An opposing Big Ten coach told Athlon Sports he doesn't see the Illini ever turning the corner.
"The bottom of the league is going to get better, especially after this offseason," he said, anonymously. "This the program that could be left behind."
Maybe the coach was just blowing smoke and trying to kick the Illini while they're down. Or maybe he just doesn't think they can play with the big boys. Whatever the message is, it will certainly be bulletin board material for Smith.