Early Week 1 preview: Illinois

June, 16, 2011
6/16/11
9:00
AM ET
Good news. We are now just 11 weeks away from the first kickoffs in college football. With that in mind, it's time to start looking ahead to some actual football. There aren't a ton of appealing opening-week matchups involving the Big Ten, but that also means that you might not be terribly familiar with the first opponents of the season. I'm going to start breaking down each league team's Week 1 foe, going in alphabetical order starting with Illinois.

Week 1 Opponent: Arkansas State

Coach: Hugh Freeze (first year)

2010 record: 4-8 (4-4 Sun Belt Conference)

Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)

About the Red Wolves: Freeze, a former interim head coach at Ole Miss, was elevated after serving as Arkansas State's offensive coordinator last season, when the team broke nine offensive school records and led the Sun Belt in total offense. The Red Wolves averaged 403.4 yards per game and return junior starting quarterback Ryan Aplin. They hung with Louisville at home and threw a major scare into Indiana in Bloomington last season before falling 36-34. The program moved up to the FBS level in 2006.

Random factoid: Arkansas State's defensive line coach is Chris Kiffin, the younger brother of USC coach Lane Kiffin.

Series with Illinois: The Illini lead 2-0. Illinois won the last meeting 59-7 in 2002.

Totally unscientific percentage chance Illinois wins: 92 percent. Arkansas State will try to make it a track meet, and its offensive firepower means it will have a puncher's chance. But the Red Wolves also had one of the worst defenses in the country last season, so Nathan Scheelhaase and company should have a big day. The Illini have the superior talent and should not stub their toe at home to open what could be a promising season.

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