The University of Akron football team will open the 2019 season on the road in Champaign, Ill. against the Illinois Fighting Illini. In four years at the helm, coach Love Smith, who coached the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl during his NFL career, has managed only a 9-37 record. They look to get off on a positive note against UA.

No one is giving the Zips much of a chance in this opener. As of today, they are 18-point underdogs. That’s probably with good reason given there’s a new coaching staff with new schemes ushering in a different era of UA football.

However, the Illini have had their own problems during Smith’s tenure. We asked Bob Asmussen, Illinois beat writer for the Champaign News-Gazette, five questions to gain some insight into what the Fighting Illini bring to the table this season. This has been lightly edited.

Q: Why hasn't Lovie Smith been able to find a quarterback to helm the Illini after four years?

A: It's complicated. He took over a program that had a returning starting quarterback, Wes Lunt, coming off a big junior season. But style-wise, Lunt was not what Smith wanted for his offense. In his second season, Smith went into the year with Chayve Crouch as his hand-picked guy. Crouch was more a dual-threat guy, who seemed perfect for the offense. But he got banged up and the Illini ended up using three quarterbacks, including Jeff George Jr. and Cam Thomas, Lovie Smith's first quarterback recruit.

The offense was a mess in 2017, so Lovie Smith hired Rod Smith as his offensive coordinator. Again, a style change. The Illini used a grad transfer AJ Bush Jr. for most of the season. If he had another year, he would have been the starter again for sure. But he was out of time. Another Smith recruit, MJ Rivers, started when Bush got hurt, but he left the program after the season.

So, it has been a combination of changes on offense and picking kids that didn't fit academically or athletically. It's funny, because Illinois had a long run of three- and four-year starters going back 20 years or so. But lately, pandemonium.

Q: Will grad transfer Brandon Peters get the starting nod? What has Illini offense looked like with him under center?

A: Yes, he was named the starter with a few days left in training camp. The passing game looks better, but the run game might suffer a bit when compared to AJ Bush. That was his game. It is not the best part for Peters. But he is thrilled to have a second chance to start in the Big Ten. I don't think he will be shy about tucking the ball and running for a first down. The best part about Peters for Illinois is that he has two years left. So, the school might gain stability at the position.

Q: What's the lowdown on senior running back Reggie Corbin? His style, etc.

A: He hits the hole fast and has great burst. He has gotten faster each year and I think he will have a chance to play at the next level. His big runs last season were not a fluke. He gets a bit of help because he is closer to the ground. He is harder to find and he takes advantage of it. His performance last year was out of the blue. One of the most surprising things I have seen in 30 years covering the team.

Q: New season, new look - allegedly. Illinois returns 18 starters from what I understand. Which unit is likely to carry the team? Offense or defense?

A: The offense, which made a huge jump last season with Rod Smith in charge. The line is all back except for one starter and he was replaced by a talented Alabama transfer.

The defense was one of the worst in the country last season. Lovie Smith is taking over as play caller. It will be interesting.

Q: Let's get crazy for a second. The Zips have a new coach, new staff and new schemes on both sides of the ball. No one is giving them much of a chance here. However, what happens in the Illini world if through some happenstance they lose this game?

It would be the end of the world. The sky would fall. And Lovie Smith's tenure would be in jeopardy. Illinois fans and coaches think the team is better. They want a bowl game. Losing to Akron would be a huge blow. It is possible. Lovie Smith has won close games against the MAC (34-10 loss to Western Michigan in 2016, 24-21 win over Ball State in 2017, 31-24 win over Kent State in 2018) in recent seasons.