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Dienhart: What I will be looking for at Illinois practice

Hopes are high in Champaign, as Illinois takes the wraps off the Lovie Smith era. Will he be the coach to deliver a consistent winner to the Illini Nation? Smith arrives from the NFL with a big reputation, but he will be Illinois’ fifth coach since 1997 following Ron Turner, Ron Zook, Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit. The defensive line looks strong, and Dave Revsine believes running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn is going to be one of the top breakthrough players in the conference this season. Here is what I’ll be looking for at Illinois practice. 1. How is offensive line

View every Big Ten football team's 2016 schedule poster

Believe it or not, the Big Ten football season kicks off one week from Thursday. [ MORE: Get all of our BTN bus tour coverage ] It all starts with Minnesota hosting Oregon State and former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen on Thursday, Sept. 1 at TCF Bank Stadium. Before the games start, as we do every year, we wanted to take a look at all 14 Big Ten teams’ schedule posters. See your Big Ten team’s 2016 schedule poster(s) below. ILLINOIS #PosterSwag FBS Football Poster Social Vote: RETWEET this to vote for: @IlliniAthletics @IlliniFootball pic.twitter.com/1khntBTg7c — Poster Swag (@PosterSwag) August

Watch Illinois AD Josh Whitman own JUGS machine at team practice

.@IlliniAD has still got it 🏈🙌 #Illini #WeWillWin pic.twitter.com/yoXQcKbkES — Illini Football (@IlliniFootball) August 4, 2016 Josh Whitman was a productive Illinois football player long before becoming the school’s AD. The former tight end, in fact, totaled 52 receptions, 552 yards and seven touchdowns during his Illinois career (1997-2000). Whitman, who was hired Feb. 17, still looks like can play some ball. He proved it Thursday at Illinois’ first practice of the Lovie Smith era, catching several balls off the JUGS machine. Check out the ex-tight end’s hands in the tweet above. Honest question: How many ADs could make something

Nov 14, 2015; Piscataway, NJ, USA;  Nebraska Cornhuskers wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (1) returns Rutgers Scarlet Knights punt during the first half at High Points Solutions Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Your Big Ten football team's toughest 2016 stretch

Every coach looks at a schedule, scanning the list of games. Which ones figure to be tough ones? Even more vital: Which stretch of games figures to be the most daunting, a potential make-or-break run of contests? [ MORE: Best chance to pull upset | Best chance to be upset | Toughest non-conference games | Toughest conference game ] I have identified the toughest stretch of games on each Big Ten schedule. Illinois. The last four games are daunting. The season-ending run begins with a visit from Michigan State on Nov. 5 followed by a trip to Wisconsin, a visit

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Dienhart: Best chance for each Big Ten team to get upset

No coach wants to lose a game that experts think he’s supposed to win. Upsets can set a season on its ear and prove ruinous. [ MORE: Best chance to pull upset | Toughest non-conference games | Toughest conference game ] There are potholes on every schedule. And I have picked the one game on your school’s schedule in which it has its best chance to be—gulp–upset. Illinois. The visit from Western Michigan on Sept. 17 is dangerous. P.J. Fleck is an up-and-coming coaching fireball who played at Northern Illinois and is a native of the state. You know the

Which teams have most favorable crossover foes? Least favorable?

With the addition of a ninth Big Ten game, there will be three crossover games, compared to two previously, and all Big Ten East teams play two of them at home; the Big Ten West will get two home crossovers in 2017. Here's a breakdown of the 2016 crossovers.

Nov 28, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner (7) celebrates with Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Rodney Smith (24) after scoring a touchdown in the first half against the Wisconsin Badgers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: See your team's toughest 2016 conference game

There are games on every team’s schedule that fans circle as “tough” ones, games that will be very challenging to win. Well, that’s what I did with each Big Ten schedule, identifying each school’s “toughest” Big Ten game in 2016. [ MORE: Best chance to pull upset | Toughest non-conference games ] Check it out below. Illinois. Lots to choose from. I’ll go with the trip to Michigan on Oct. 22. Jim Harbaugh has this program rolling as he enters Year Two in Ann Arbor. The defense could be the best in the Big Ten, while the offense will be

Nov 21, 2015; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) makes a catch during the third quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Beaver Stadium. Michigan defeated Penn State 28-16. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Toughest non-con game for each Big Ten team

There is no better way for a team to test itself than by playing a tough non-conference foe in September. Here is my pick for each team’s toughest non-league opponent.

Dec 28, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner (7) celebrates his touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Ford Field. Minnesota won 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Sage Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Best chance for each Big Ten team to pull an upset

Who doesn’t love an upset? The shock. The surprise. The unexpectedness. It’s what makes sports fun. Last year gave us Michigan State over Ohio State, Purdue over Nebraska and Northwestern over Stanford, to name a few upsets. What’s in store this season? Here is my “best chance to pull an upset” for each Big Ten team this fall. Illinois. If the offense comes together, the Fighting Illini may have a shot to shock Iowa when the Hawkeyes visit Memorial Stadium on Nov. 19. But how beat up will Illinois be coming off a game the week before at Wisconsin? The