Illinois football kicks off its season in eight short days. The writers here at TCR will have you covered with preview content, leading up to the start of Week 0 against 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 season for Illinois football is following a similar script to last year, but Barry Lunney’s new offense is enough of an improvement to get the sixth win that they couldn’t get. I don’t think this is a great breakout team, mainly because of the lost experience from last year’s defense and the questions that remain at quarterback. However, it’s clear that Bret Bielema is really hitting his stride and a bowl appearance will be a good step forward.
I have the Illini 3-0 in the non-conference, with Ryan Walters making sure his defense gets to play in a revenge performance against Virginia. I think this team remains competitive in almost every game in the Big Ten, but only manages 3 conference wins amid a tough schedule. I have them pulling off an upset win over Iowa, getting a win at home against Purdue on Senior Day, and closing out the year by holding onto the Land of Lincoln trophy in Champaign while punching their bowl ticket. Mixed in are a few frustrating losses on the road, particularly a Week 1 upset at Bloomington and a narrow loss to underachieving 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 is beating teams it lost to last year due to slow starts. This year, I don’t suspect Illinois will lose those close games because of the new offense. The defense continues to stifle opponents and the offense is seeing a resurgence, much like we saw with 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 schedule. We beat Wyoming, Virginia and Chattanooga. Challenge and surprise one of Iowa and Minnesota. Michigan State and Purdue are two very different styles of play. We should catch a Spartan team that already faced Washington and in subsequent games against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan. If we stifle QB Aidan O’Connell, a pass-first Purdue will be a tossup on Senior Day. 5-2 at home, 2-3 away. Illinois enters a bowl game before facing Michigan in the Big House.
oh boy I’m ready to disappoint. Bring.
Will Charlton: Illinois goes 8-5 with a bowl win
I really, really like the upside of this Illini football team. I can’t wait to see the new look offense of Lunney and Walters maintain the success on defense that we ended the season with last year. I think we start the season off really strong with a good win over Wyoming that shows the Big Ten that Illinois football is trying to bounce back, and then we show that by winning the game against Indiana in Bloomington the next week.
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 4-5 or 5-4 in the Big Ten and make their first bowl game since 2019. I predict that bowl game to be the Pinstripe Bowl, the Outback Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl or the Music City Bowl .
Drew Pastorek: Illinois goes 6-7, loses bowl game
While I’d be absolutely delighted 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 this surprised But Bret Bielema has championed the importance of being “smart, tough, reliable,” and Illinois has certainly exhibited those qualities early in Bielema’s tenure.
The Illini will continue to be a very competitive group, which should lead to another upset like Minnesota or Penn State. However, since many of their games will be close, it’s safe to assume another loss similar to Purdue or Maryland. Think Illinois goes 2-1 in the no-con (not sure about Virginia yet) and repeats last year’s 4-5 Big Ten mark. And since it’s Illinois, after all, they’ll probably have the worst matchup possible in bowl season and fall short.
That said, I’m looking forward to seeing this team and I think they’ll play a more exciting brand of football. I just keep the confetti and streamers in storage for now.
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 divide this year’s schedule into thirds. The first third is full of games that could realistically be wins. I see that Wyoming and Chattanooga have no problem. I think Illinois will win one of the Indiana and Virginia games, but I’m not sure which ones. 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 tough. Essentially, you can mark 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 then a trip to Lincoln. After the bye, Bret is a demon, so Illinois is looking at 1-1 with two pitches up the middle. I’ll say Illinois wins one of those games (tilting the Iowa game because they have no offense). After 8 games, Illinois is 5-3, just one win away from a bowl game.
Heading into the final stretch of the season, I have Illinois going 1-3. Like the Badgers matchup, the Michigan and Michigan State games are already basically written as losses. I think a motivated Illinois team beats Purdue on Senior Day, then drops the season finale at Northwestern to post a 6-6 regular season record. However, I think Illinois will win any bowl they are in. Like I said before, Bret Bielema after the bye is 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 defense. This team will be very similar to last year’s on both ends of the ball. The offense stars running backs Chase Brown and Josh McCray, but other than them, it lacks explosive ability. The defense will still be solid, but could take a small step back due to the loss of production.
The Illini are off to a 3-1 start with wins over Wyoming, Indiana and Chattanooga. Then they’ll lose to both Wisconsin and Iowa, but win at either Minnesota or Nebraska. Just like last season, the Illini will play a lot of close games, but they will struggle to close them out. The Illini would 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 prove me wrong Illini.
Thumpasaurus: 4-8 (2-7)
Are we all predicting SOTRE for Illinois this year? I really think six wins is the absolute limit, and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. I can 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 the second year in this defense and the return of CJ Hart will make up for losses like Roderick Perry, Owen Carney, Kerby Joseph and Tony Adams. It’s certainly possible that Tommy DeVito is a huge upgrade over last year’s two-headed BrandonArt monster. I’m even willing to entertain notions like a new offense making up for what I can charitably describe as an incomplete wide receiver room, or Hugh Robinson matching Blake Hayes’ production at punt…never mind if that’s too much of a bridge distant
DESPITE THAT. All the other teams are trying too, and they also think they’ve improved in a lot of important positions. I think Illinois can beat Wyoming, and I really like their chances on the road against Indiana, if only because their offense will be brand new in both scheme and skill players and we’ll already have a game on our belt This should be a recipe for the Illini defense to make some mayhem plays early and hold a small lead all night.
Virginia has lost its head coach, but they still have the quarterback who finished the game in 10:30 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 its 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 multifaceted offenses that can overwhelm our secondary and Michigan is loaded with blue chip recruits.
The North West is sad.
I’m not saying we can’t win more games, that’s where my head is if I’m thinking about what’s most likely. I think this is closer to his floor than his ceiling; they are much more likely to exceed this prediction than not.
Matt Rejc: Illinois goes 4-8 (3-6 conf.)
This team is very difficult to predict. You could talk me through anything from 2-6 wins, so I’ll split the difference. Obviously, this is a little more pessimistic than the predictions of many of my colleagues, but in the end I think it is more realistic. To counteract the August syndrome that some of us may be experiencing, it’s important to consider 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 every recruiting class dating back to 2019 has been ranked last or next to 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-time starters in virtually 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 an essentially NFL-caliber OT. But the things working against Illinois are known factors, while the things going in Illinois’ favor are largely wishful thinking and hope 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 just like the team showed last year, I think it will get better as the season goes on, culminating in another HAT win to close out the year in Evanston.