Why Illinois football will reach a bowl game

By Deep Chatterjee

The Illinois football team will make a bowl game this year. After the consistently disappointing performances of the Illini in the past couple of seasons, as well as an inconsistent start to this year, this prediction might come as a surprise to even the most optimistic Illinois fans. However, a favorable schedule gives the Illini real hope to win three more games this season and reach their first bowl game since 2011.

Since Illinois has started out with three wins in its first four games, the team only needs to win three of its final eight games to be eligible for a bowl game. Three of these games are against ranked teams that have looked much better than the Illini to start the season. Based on recent performances, Illinois would need a miracle of some sort to beat Nebraska, Wisconsin, or Ohio State away from home.

Fortunately for the Illini, they have five winnable games on their schedule, and four of them are scheduled in Champaign. Illinois was able to beat Purdue away from home last year, and it is reasonable to expect another victory over the Boilermakers, especially at Memorial Stadium. The Illini’s next two home games come against solid teams in Minnesota and Iowa that both made bowl games last year. Fortunately for Illinois, its game against both the Golden Gophers and the Hawkeyes comes after the Illini’s two bye weeks. This extra week of rest and preparation combined with home field advantage gives Illinois a good chance to win both of those games.

The Illini’s final home game of the season is against Penn State. Last year, the Illini were almost able to salvage a victory in overtime against a solid Penn State team in State College, Pa. With home field advantage, the Illini will give themselves a great chance to avenge last season’s loss.

To close the season, Illinois will travel to Northwestern in a rematch of last year’s close contest — the Wildcats won 37-34. As long as the Illini stay focused, they will be competitive again in this year’s contest against a Wildcat team that has not looked to be any more talented this season than they were in 2013. Northwestern’s record stands at 1-2.

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    The rest of this year’s schedule is somewhat favorable for the Illini, and as long as the Illinois offense can continue to put up points, they’ll be bowl eligible. Wins against Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State should leave fans of the Illini confident that their team will be selected for a bowl game.

    Deep is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected] and @deepcillini.