Year two of the Lovie Smith era at Illinois begins Saturday as Ball State comes to Memorial Stadium for an 11 a.m. kickoff.
An extremely young and inexperienced Illini squad will take the field in 2017. Out of 101 total players on the roster there are just nine total seniors, tied for the second-least in FBS – Georgia Southern (8) and Wake Forest (9). Only 25 total upperclassmen are on the roster – 9 seniors, 16 juniors.
Out of 101 players on the 2017 roster, 41 are newcomers.
WR Mike Dudek, a 2014 Freshman All-American returns after missing all of 2015 and 2016 seasons due to injury.
QB Chayce Crouch leads the Illini offense in 2017. He led the Fighting Illini to road win at Rutgers in first career start last season before missing the rest of the season due to injury. He was named this year's opening-day starter during spring ball.
His top target figures to be senior WR Malik Turner, who led all Illini receivers in 2016 with 48 catches for 712 yards (14.8 ypc) and six TDs, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades.
Senior RB Kendrick Foster had a breakout season on the ground in the return game in 2016. He led the team with 1,328 all-purpose yards (748 rush, 54 rec, 554 KR) and nine total TDs.
Illinois freshman DB James Knight will face off against his brother, Kenny Knight Jr., who is a redshirt sophomore DT for Ball State. The duo starred at East St. Louis HS.
Only five college football teams will play against more 2016 bowl teams during the 2017 season. Illinois' nine bowl opponents are tied for sixth in the nation behind Notre Dame (11), Syracuse (11), Duke (10), Ole Miss (10) and South Carolina (10).
Opening kick is at 11 a.m. on the Big Ten Network.
Information Courtesy of FightingIllini.com