The Illini showed several signs of promise, picking up a sturdy win over Nebraska, as well as pleasant road wins at Minnesota and Penn State. The latter, as you might remember, was that epic 9-overtime game under the new 2-point conversion rule versus Penn State. That has built some anticipation heading into 2022. what we have not seen with Illinois football in some time. Can the Fighting Illini make bowl eligible under HC Bret Bielema?
The Fighting Illini revealed some signs of improvement in the first year under head coach Bret Bielema, winning five games after a 2-6 season in the final season under Lovie Smith. Bielema has a rich history as a HC during his tenure at Wisconsin and Arkansas. After a four-year absence from HC duties, Bielema looks to give Illinois a boost it needs.
Can The Fighting Illini Put Pressure On The BIG10?
QB Tommy DeVito hit the transfer portal, going away from Syracuse, and will battle with QB Artur Sitkowski, who saw some meaningful snaps last season. When QB Brandon Peters went down to injury, Sitkowski stepped up and played a reliable role. Sitkowski likely has the leg up in the QB race with one year in Champaign under his belt.
Although it might be a clean slate with Lunney changing the offense somewhat. What might have been Sitkowski’s job missed spring practice due to injury, which meant DeVito had a chance at first-team reps. Allowing DeVito time to build understanding with the offense and the chance to start week one.
The top three rushers for the Fighting Illini are the MAIN reason for success this season. RBs Chase Brown, Reggie Love III and Josh McCray give Illinois a stunning deep tailback playbook. Bielema learned well from his days coaching Wisconsin, which rely heavily upon the run game. Those three can help relieve the pressure off whoever is under center this season.
The defense was just average and needs to get better in the Big Ten. Illinois was in the middle of the pack in yards allowed and points per game. What will help this defense is leading tackler LB Tarique Barnes is back. S Sidney Brown is rock solid in the defensive backfield as well. This team allowed 366.3 yards per game last season, and that simply won’t do. It must be better. My biggest concern with the defense is returning only 51% from last season which ranked 114th.
2022 ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI SCHEDULE
- Sat., Aug. 27 – vs. Wyoming
- Fri., Sept. 2 – at Indiana
- Sat., Sept. 10 – vs. Virginia
- Thu., Sept. 22 – vs. Chattanooga
- Sat., Oct. 1 – at Wisconsin
- Sat., Oct. 8 – vs. Iowa
- Sat., Oct. 15 – vs. Minnesota
- Sat., Oct. 29 – at Nebraska
- Sat., Nov. 5 – vs. Michigan State
- Sat., Nov. 12 – vs. Purdue
- Sat., Nov. 19 – at Michigan
- Sat., Nov. 26 – at Northwestern
The non-conference schedule is not extremely daunting. Then again, this is Illinois we are talking about. The more difficult games are at home, including a date with Virginia. A trip to Bielema’s old stomping grounds in Madison will be tough, and to Michigan and Northwestern are no gimme. if Illinois is sitting on five wins looking for a win to reach bowl eligibility. At least Illinois misses Ohio State and Penn State.
Pick: Over 4.5 wins
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