The Illinois Fighting Illini will host the Ball State Cardinals to start out the 2017 season. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 EST at Memorial Stadium. The game will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network.
Looking at the Week 1 odds, Illinois is a 7.5-point favorite with the total sitting at 58 points. Note the early money has come in on Ball State, as this line opened with the Illini as a 9-point favorite.
Illinois vs Ball State Vegas Odds & Game Preview
Things didn’t go so well in the first year for head coach Lovie Smith. The former NFL head coach guided the Fighting Illini to a 3-9 record. Their worst mark since winning just 2-games back in 2010.
Illinois believes that with time Smith can turn this thing around. A lot will have to go right for them to take a big step forward in 2017. Th Fighting Illini only have 11 starters and a mere 30 lettermen back from last season. Making them one of the least experienced teams in the country.
The Cardinals also had a tough go of things in the first year of a new head coach. Ball State went just 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the MAC under the control of Mike Neu. On the bright side, it was an improvement over their 3-9 finish in 2015.
With 8 starters back from an offense that put up 27 ppg, they Cardinals should average 30+ ppg in 2017. The big question is whether or not they can score enough to win games. Ball State only has 4 starters back from a defense that ranked 116th in the country, giving up 470.3 ypg.
Free NCAA Football Betting Selection: OVER 58
I would lean towards Illinois winning and covering their home opener, but I think the real value is with the total. In today’s game, 58 points isn’t a lot and with how much both of these teams are expected to struggle on defense, I think we could see a shootout to start the season in Champaign.
Illinois allowed 31.9 ppg and 405 ypg in 2017. They gave up 219 ypg on the ground and allowed opposing QB’s to complete 63% of their attempts. While they should be improved, this unit is a work in progress. There’s a lot of sophomores expected to start, which tells me they are focusing more on the future.
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I mentioned Ball State’s offense and the fact that they figure to score 30+ ppg in 2017. The Cardinals have a 2-year starter at quarterback in Riley Neal, who can beat you with both his arm and his leg. Ball State also has one of the top offensive lines in the MAC and a legit threat in the backfield in James Gilbert. Last year Gilbert rushed for 1,332 yards (5.3 yards/carry) and 12 touchdowns.
The fact that Illinois only managed 19.7 ppg in 2016 has a lot to do with the value we are getting with this total. The schedule was brutal last year with two of their non-conference games against UNC and Western Michigan. The players are going to have a much better feel for the offense, which is turning to junior Chayce Crouch. He’s unproven as a passer, but is a big time threat on the ground. He also seems to have won over the locker room, which is a great sign that the players believe in his ability.
Ball State lost their top 5 tacklers from last year on a defense that wasn’t any good. This will be one of the worst defenses in the country in 2017. Look for opponents to average close to 35 ppg and more than 500 yards of offense.
I think both teams score at least 30 points in this one, which will have this flying over the mark set by the books.