Illinois football kicks off their season in eight short days. The writers here at TCR will have you covered with preview content leading up to Week 0 vs. Wyoming. Today, our writers predicted how many football games Illinois will win:
Kyle Tausk: Illinois goes 7-6 with a bowl win
I think this Illinois football season follows a similar script to last year, but Barry Lunney’s new offense is enough of an improvement to get the 6th win they couldn’t get. I don’t think this is a great, great team, mainly because of the experience lost from last year’s defense and the questions that remain at quarterback. However, it’s clear that Bret Bielema is making real progress and a bowl appearance would be another good step to take.
I have the Illini going 3-0 in the non-conference, with Ryan Walters making sure his defense comes to play in a revenge performance against Virginia. I think this team stays competitive in almost all Big Ten games, but only manages 3 conference wins on a tough schedule. I have them grabbing an upset win over Iowa, grabbing a win at home against Purdue on Senior Day and ending the year holding the Land of Lincoln trophy in Champaign while punching their bowl ticket. Some disappointing road losses are mixed in, most notably a Week 1 loss at Bloomington and a close loss to underdog Scott Frost. In the end, Bret Bielema’s second season ends with a bowl victory, the Illini’s first since 2011 under Ron Zook.
Mihir Chavan: Illinois 8-5 with a bowl win
Illinois beats teams it lost to last year due to slow starts. This year, I have no doubt that Illinois will lose those close games to the new offense. The defense continues to stifle opponents and the offense sees a resurgence, much like we saw under Bill Cubit (big words I know).
There’s a part of me that thinks we go 5-2 at home. It is a very favorable time. We beat Wyoming, Virginia and Chattanooga. Challenge and stun one of Iowa and Minnesota. Michigan State and Purdue are two very different styles of play. We have to catch a beaten Spartans team that has already faced Washington and back-to-back games against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan. If we choke QB Aidan O’Connell, a Purdue pass rush will be a hit on Senior Day. 5-2 at home, 2-3 away. Illinois gets into a bowl game before facing Michigan in the Big House.
Oh boy. I’m ready to be disappointed. Bring it on.
Will Charlton: Illinois goes 8-5 with a bowl win
I really, really like the upside of this Illini football team. I look forward to seeing the new-look offense under Lunney and Walters continue the defensive success we finished the season with last year. I think we start the season really strong with a nice win over Wyoming that shows the Big Ten that Illinois football is trying to bounce back – and then prove it by winning against Indiana in Bloomington next week. next.
I see 8 winnable games on the schedule, but the Illini will find a win to lose one of those 8 in typical Illini fashion. The Illini finish either 4-5 or 5-4 in the Big Ten and will make their first bowl game since 2019. I predict that bowl game to be the Pinstripe Bowl, Outback Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl or Music City Bowl .
Drew Pastorek: Illinois goes 6-7, loses bowl game
While I would be absolutely thrilled to see any of the above predictions come true, I’m choosing to temper my expectations. Honestly, the Illini could go 3-9 or 4-8 and I wouldn’t be that surprised. But Bret Bielema has espoused the importance of being “smart, tough, reliable,” and Illinois has certainly displayed those qualities early in Bielema’s tenure.
The Illini will still be a very competitive group, which should lead to another upset of the likes of Minnesota or Penn State. However, since many of their games will be close, it’s safe to assume another similar loss to Purdue or Maryland. I think Illinois goes 2-1 in the no-con (still not sure about Virginia) and repeats last year’s 4-5 Big Ten mark. And since it’s Illinois, after all, they’ll probably have the worst possible bowl game and come up short.
That said, I’m eager to see this team and I think they’ll play a more exciting brand of football. Right now I’m just keeping the confetti and streamers in storage.
Jack Jungmann: Illinois goes 7-6, winning a bowl game
There are many reasons to be excited about this year’s Illinois football team. Like my friend Drew, I’m choosing to be cautious about my expectations.
I like to break down this year’s program into thirds. The first third is full of games that can really all be wins. I see that Wyoming and Chattanooga are no problem. I believe Illinois will win one of the Indiana and Virginia games, but I’m not sure which. That leaves Illinois with a 3-1 record to start the season, which will be the first time that has happened since 2015.
The second third of the season is when it gets rough. You can basically chalk up the Wisconsin game as a loss. Back-to-back home games against top-ranked Big Ten West teams in Iowa and Minnesota will be tough. Then a bye week and a trip to Lincoln after that. Post-bye Bret is a demon, so Illinois is looking 1-1 with two swings in between. I’ll say Illinois wins one of those games (leaning on the Iowa game because they have no offense). After 8 games, Illinois is 5-3, just one win away from a bowl game.
In the latter part of the season, I have Illinois going 1-3. Like the Badgers game, the Michigan and Michigan State games are essentially already written off as losses. I think a motivated Illinois team beats Purdue on Senior Day, then drops the season finale to Northwestern to get to a 6-6 regular season record. However, I think Illinois will win every bowl they go to. Like I said before, Bret Bielema after the bye is just different. It will be the same with a longer bye before the bowl game.
Ben Pekay: Illinois goes 5-7
It’s important to temper expectations for the Illini. The Illini return just 54% of their production including significant turnovers on the defensive end. This team will be very similar to last year on both sides of the ball. The offense stars running backs Chase Brown and Josh McCray, but other than them, he lacks explosiveness. The defense will still be strong, but could take a small step back due to the loss in production.
The Illini are off to a 3-1 start with wins over Wyoming, Indiana and Chattanooga. They will then lose to Wisconsin and Iowa, but beat either Minnesota or Nebraska. Just like last season, the Illini will play a lot of close games, but will struggle to close them out. The Illini would then lose the next three games before beating Northwestern in the final game of the season. This season will be decided by Barry Lunney’s offense and whether he can be more productive in the passing game.
Please tell me I’m wrong Illini.
Thumpasaurus: 4-8 (2-7)
Are we all predicting a CEILING for Illinois this year? I really think six wins is the absolute limit, and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. I could talk about any number of individual wins, but I think after the last fifteen years of Illini football it’s fair to take things with a grain of salt.
It’s certainly possible that year two in this defense and the return of CJ Hart makes up for the losses of the likes of Roderick Perry, Owen Carney, Kerby Joseph and Tony Adams. It’s certainly possible that Tommy DeVito will be a vast improvement over the two-headed BrandonArt monster from last year. I’m even willing to entertain such notions as a new offense compensating for what I can charitably describe as an incomplete wide receiver, or Hugh Robinson matching Blake Hayes’ playoff production… never mind that it’s a bridge too far.
GOOD. All the other teams are trying too, and they also think they got better in a lot of important positions. I think Illinois can beat Wyoming and I actually like their chances on the road against Indiana just because their offense will be brand new in both scheme and skill players and we will already have a game under our belt. That should be a recipe for the Illini defense to get some plays of havoc early and sit on a slim lead all night long.
Virginia has lost their coach, but they still have the quarterback who finished the game at 10:30 a.m. last year by torching the Illini in the only particularly bad performance from Ryan Walters’ unit. Chattanooga should be a win, but Wisconsin’s defense is too strong for Illinois to overcome in a road game. Iowa is exactly the same every year, but I think they can beat us on special teams. Minnesota returns the architect of their successful 2019 offense as coordinator, and Nebraska can’t keep losing every Big Ten game by less than ten points. Michigan State and Purdue have versatile offenses that can take over our middle bracket, and Michigan is loaded with blue-chip recruits.
The Northwest is wonderful.
I’m not saying we can’t win more games, here’s my head if I’m thinking about who I’m most likely to play. I think this is closer to their floor than their ceiling; they are much more likely to overstate this forecast than to understate it.
Matt Rejc: Illinois goes 4-8 (3-6 conf.)
This team is really hard to predict. It could be anything from 2-6 wins, so I’ll split the difference. Of course this is a bit more pessimistic than the predictions of many of my colleagues, but ultimately I think it is more realistic. To combat the August Syndrome that some of us may be experiencing, it’s important to keep in mind some of the things that will likely hold Illinois back this year:
- Tommy DeVito is essentially an unproven talent who may not be able to match up against Big Ten defenses. And that’s assuming he stays healthy all year.
- Illinois is last in the Big Ten in returning production, and all recruiting classes since 2019 have ranked either last or last in the conference.
- Illinois is running its third different offensive scheme in as many years.
- Aside from Isaiah Williams and Casey Washington, Illinois still lacks proven depth at wide receiver.
- The Illini defense lost key long-term starters at nearly every position group.
- Illinois’ schedule is one of the toughest in the Big Ten, with winnable conference games on the road and tough opponents at home.
Yes, some of the freshmen are intriguing. Yes, Tommy DeVito looked good in the spring game. And yes, Palcho returns as a basically NFL-caliber OT. But the things working against Illinois are known factors, while the things going in Illinois’ favor are mostly thoughts and hopes at this point.
In terms of wins, I think we end up beating Chattanooga, Nebraska, Purdue and Northwestern. That includes a projected Week 0 loss to Wyoming in what I expect to be a very ugly game. But as the team showed last year, I believe they will improve as the season goes on, culminating in another HAT win to close out the year in Evanston.