Michigan's schedule has been a source of debate in advance of the 2016 season. Yes, the Wolverines have a cupcake slate to begin the year and that sets up well for Jim Harbaugh's team to ascend in the polls. However, Michigan does face its three toughest games of the year on the road and that could throw a wrench in the lofty plans for this prestigious program.
Today, we will continue our series in previewing (and ranking) Michigan's 12 opponents. In the first post, Hawaii was the focus and we followed that up with a glance at Central Florida. This time, we find Michigan's first Big Ten rival on this list in the form of Illinois. Let's roll.
On the field, things weren't that bad for Illinois a year ago. The Illini finished 5-7 with two conference wins (over Nebraska and Purdue) and the team was competitive in most of the Big Ten slate. However, Illinois was in the news for all the wrong reasons, as Tim Beckman was fired in August and the athletic director position changed over in strange fashion.
What to expect in 2016
ESPN's FPI measurement projects a 4-8 season for Illinois and SB Nation's S&P+ system gives the Illini a 5-7 record. In short, this is a team that should be solidly better than either of the first two opponents (Hawaii and UCF) mentioned for Michigan, but that doesn't mean that much in the grand scheme. Lovie Smith, the former NFL head coach, is now at the helm, but Illinois must replace a ton on defense and the offense is... uninspiring.
Most projections provide Michigan with a 90% chance (or greater) at victory in this spot, and Illinois ranks this "high" on the list because the game will take place in Michigan Stadium. There are arguments to the contrary, but the Illini looked to be a team that shouldn't scare Michigan fans, especially given the lack of offensive excitement. Before the season begins, Michigan should probably be a 20-point favorite or so at home, and that says a lot.
Stay tuned as the preseason opponent countdown continues.
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