Be sure to check out The Champaign Room for their coverage of this game. They can be found on twitter at @Champaign_Room, and Mark Primiano, who was gracious enough to answer these questions, can be found at @SBN_UGod.
1. Have you seen UW play yet this year, and if so what are your initial thoughts?
I can't say that I have seen UW play yet this year, but I'm not as optimistic as most Illini fans about our chances. Yeah, the numbers don't look great for Washington thus far, but that's not the complete story. No one does well in Hawaii (especially without their starting QB) and EWU is one of the best FCS programs there is.
2. When these two teams played a year ago, the Huskies were somewhat dominant and though they final score was only a ten point difference, the game after halftime was never seriously in doubt. What specific areas have the Illini improved upon, and how does their talent compare to what it was last year?
Well there should be no way our starting QB goes 9-25 against you this year. That seriously ruined any chance the Illini had of winning that match. It's too early to say if the defense has actually improved or not, but they can't be any worse than they were in 2013. Wes Lunt is more of a true QB than Nathan Scheelhaase, so expect a more vertically-oriented passing offense.
3. Who are the Illinois players Husky fans should keep an eye on?
On offense, you should watch out for QB Wes Lunt. Lunt has thrown for 741 yards and 7 TD with only 1 INT so far this season. RB Josh Ferguson has gotten off to a slow start, but he did the same last season and still managed to finish with 1,314 yards from scrimmage and 11 TD. True freshman WR Mikey Dudek has impressed early, doing his best Wes Welker impersonation.
STAR (safety/linebacker) hybrid Earnest Thomas III is the main defensive standout. He led the team in passes defended and finished second in tackles last year. KR/PR V'Angelo Bentley is a legitimate threat to house each return he handles.
4. Where on either side of the ball do Illinois's strengths lie, and where might they have an advantage over the Huskies?
I think Illinois' passing attack matches up very favorably with what's been an underwhelming Washington pass defense. A team that's giving up 341 passing yards on average is going to need to pull out all the stops against Lunt. On the other side, the Huskies should have little problem running the ball down the Illini's throats.
5. What are your expectations for Illinois this season?
Progress. Tim Beckman inherited an under-talented roster with major depth issues. Last season showed improvement. So far, this season has been worrisome other than two magical 4th quarters in which we've looked like world beaters. A 6-6 record seems very possible, with a strong 5-7 also pretty likely. With how bad the Big Ten has looked so far, who really knows though.
6. Do you have a prediction for this game?
Yards on yards on yards on yards for both teams. I think Illinois can cover the spread but will ultimately lose in a wildly entertaining shootout. Washington wins 42-35.