The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Season prediction: Will the Illini pick up where they left off?

2022 was an impressive year for the Illini, as head coach Bret Bielema led the program to their first bowl game in three years, and into the AP poll for the first time since 2011. The Illini returned many, and replenished holes through recruiting and the transfer portal, for their most anticipated season in over a decade. After an offseason of preaching how the previous season was just a stepping stone, the new year has arrived. All things considered, the Illini have a pretty light schedule. Here’s how we think they’ll do.

 

Vs. Toledo: 

Ben: While Toledo won the MAC championship in 2022, they just won’t compete with Big Ten opponents. The Rockets fell 77-21 to the Ohio State Buckeyes last year and lost some good defenders, making this an almost certain win for the Illini. ILL 34- 10 TOL.

Adam: Toledo may be the reigning champions of the MAC, which does carry weight in any game; however, I would be stunned if the Illini didn’t top the Rockets, who played another Big Ten team last year and got obliterated by the Ohio State Buckeyes. ILL 27-7 TOL.

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    @ Kansas: 

    Ben: A 5-0 start ended in catastrophe for the Jayhawks when quarterback Jalon Daniels went down and the team finished 6-7. Kansas is a more than viable opponent when Daniels is on the field, but defense wins games. Illinois squeaks by an early road test in Lawrence. ILL 24-20 KU. 

    Adam: The Jayhawks might actually be favored in this game. It’s a home game for them, and this is the first season that the program enters with genuine hype after a solid 6-7 season behind Jalon Daniels. However, the best defensive line in the nation resides in Champaign and Illinois should be able to capitalize. ILL 28-24 KU.

     

    Vs. Penn State: 

    Ben: Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff comes to Champaign with the Nittany Lions for one of the biggest home games in the last decade for the Illini. Penn State is a preseason top 10 team coming off of a Rose Bowl victory. Illinois just doesn’t have the star power for this one, dropping their first game of the season. PSU 31-13 ILL.

    Adam: The last time these programs met, Illinois pulled off a historic upset in the most chaotic and unlikely fashion. However, I have no doubt that the Nittany Lions will easily surpass the Illini. They’re a top 10 team in the nation and they should not have trouble regardless. PSU 28-13 ILL.

     

    Vs. FAU: 

    Ben: In their final non-conference game of the season, the Illini receive their weakest opponent. Following a game plan to fix weaknesses that the Nittany Lions exposed, the Illini should handle the Owls easily to improve to 3-1. ILL 42-13 FAU.

    Adam: Illinois’ last game before entering full Big Ten play comes against the Owls of Florida Atlantic. This shouldn’t be close, regardless. ILL 38-10 FAU.

     

    @ Purdue: 

    Ben: The Illini will get another first half test in West Lafayette, facing Ryan Walters. He got that star quarterback, but I think the Boilermakers lost too much from their Big Ten West Championship year in 2022. Bielema takes the first of many. ILL 28-20 PUR. 

    Adam: The first game between Illinois and former defensive coordinator, now Purdue head coach, Ryan Walters will be a fun one. But when a team hires a new coach, it usually takes time to adjust. I think Illinois’ defense is still going to be elite as Aaron Henry steps into the DC role. ILL 24-21 PUR.

     

    Vs. Nebraska: 

    Ben: After a hot start, I think the Illini drop back to reality in the heat of conference play. Nebraska has a great coach in Matt Rhule and a team that can steal a game in front of a top fanbase in the conference. NEB 20-17 ILL.

    Adam: This actually feels like a trap game and Nebraska has a proven winner at the collegiate level at head coach. This is the second game in a row where the Illini play against a first-year coach — Rhule’s first year at Nebraska, not in college — but the Illini should still come out on top. ILL 27-19 NEB.

     

    @ Maryland: 

    Ben: The Terrapins have been a formidable Big Ten opponent since Mike Locksley came to College Park, and they appear to have another good offense led by Taulia Tagovailoa. Isaiah Williams’ legacy game is on the way against a secondary that has lost top talent to the NFL in consecutive years. The Illini refuse to lose two in a row, winning a shootout in Maryland. ILL 38-28 UMD. 

    Adam: Maryland is a solid team, but I think the Illini should come out on top of this again, but it may be closer than Illini fans hope. The Illini will have been in action for seven weeks in a row. Fatigue could play an impact, as well as being on the road too. ILL 17-14 UMD.

     

    Vs. Wisconsin: 

    Ben: In their eighth consecutive week playing a game, the defense continues to tire against a revamped Wisconsin. Luke Fickell is no joke and Braelon Allen should have a better game against a banged up and exhausted defensive line. WIS 24-17 ILL.

    Adam: This is the last game before a much-needed bye week for Bielema and the Illini. Despite the excitement of Homecoming, the Illini will likely fall short, as playing a star-studded Badgers team with a fantastic new coaching staff will prove difficult for the Illini. WIS 31-20 ILL.

     

    @ Minnesota: 

    Ben: The bye week comes and goes for the Illini, but another tough opponent is on the ledger. Minnesota has sneakily been one of the most consistent teams in the conference since 2019 and P.J. Fleck gets his teams ready. The Illini suffer a second straight loss. MIN 26-20 ILL. 

    Adam: Fresh off the bye week, the Illini head to Minnesota to play the Golden Gophers, and they will both be hungry for a win. The Illini clinched bowl eligibility against the Gophers last year and I think they’ll start their post-bye schedule off with a win. ILL 31-17 MIN.

     

    Vs. Indiana: 

    Ben: A good opponent to stop the skid presents themselves for game number nine in Champaign. The Hoosiers are expected to be awful and the Illini right the ship in the final weeks, clinching bowl eligibility. ILL 38-10 IU. 

    Adam: Illinois lost a tough one to Indiana last season, and it left a sour taste in the mouths of Illini fans. I think things will be difficult for the Hoosiers, and with the festivities of “Dad’s Weekend,” the Illini will feed off the crowd, en route to victory. ILL 35-20 IU.

     

    @ Iowa: 

    Ben: After the most exhilarating 9-6 football game in NCAA history last year, the Hawkeye vs. Illini rematch will excite lovers of defense. Iowa got a little better on defense and worse on offense, which is why I believe Illinois will leave Iowa City with a victory. The new offense will help the Illini bounce back and the Hawkeyes can’t win if they can’t score. ILL 19-9 IOWA.

    Adam: Calling last year’s Iowa-Illinois game a disaster would be an understatement. The Illini prevailed, in one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen as a football fan. I think the Hawkeyes will take this year’s game, especially being the hosts. IOWA 14-7 ILL.

     

    Vs. Northwestern: 

    Ben: I think this is the easiest game on the schedule for the Illini — I mean, Northwestern is really bad. There is no question who runs the state of Illinois right now and the Illini are basically going to have a bye week at the perfect time, to wrap up the regular season. ILL 52-3 NU.

    Adam: This might be the most obvious pick to make. The Illini should dominate the Wildcats and unless something goes wrong, it will not be remotely close. ILL 49-7 NU.

     

    Conclusion: 

    We have Illinois at 8-4 (5-4) and 9-3 (6-3) in the final Big Ten season with divisions. Question marks in the secondary and a late bye week could result in some losses, but the Illini should safely make a bowl game once again. Bielema and co. kick off against the Toledo Rockets next Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT.

     

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    About the Contributors
    Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor
    Hello, I’m Ben! I’m a junior at Illinois and assistant sports editor at The Daily Illini. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in communications and recreation, sport and tourism. This is my third year with The Daily Illini, and I can’t wait to produce some amazing work. Feel free to contact me at my email below with questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk sports!
    Adam Rosen, Assistant Sports Editor
    Hello! I’m Adam and I’m a senior majoring in journalism. I’m one of the assistant sports editors, and this is my second year with The DI. I love to talk about sports, so if you have any questions or desire to talk about a random athlete from 10 years ago or why Messi > Ronaldo, contact me at my email below!
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