2021 Illinois Fighting Illini Football Predictions: Season Win Total Picks
2020 Record: 2-6
2021 Las Vegas Season Win Total: 3.5*
2021 Season Win Total Picks NCAA Football: ‘Over’
I predicted in 2019 that Lovie Smith was not long for Champagne. Here we are two years later, and Smith is no more. However, Illinois may have failed upward in recruiting former Wisconsin headman Bret Bielema to resuscitate this woebegone program.
Bielema, like everyone else in the Big Ten, is going to have a lot of experience to work with. Unfortunately he is not going to have a ton of talent, though.
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Illinois has 18 returning starters, and they are in the Top 20 in the country in terms of experience on the overall roster. Yes, these are all the same guys that played on a team that was outscored by 15 points per game last year. But maybe Bielema can soak something more out of them as he tries to rehabilitate his career after a disastrous sojourn into the SEC.
It’s going to be a long haul. Bielema isn’t trying to recreate his Wisconsin culture here. Instead, he hired former Appalachian State offensive coordinator Tony Petersen, and the Illini look like they will try to spread teams out and play more like Indiana and Purdue. We’ll see how sixth-year senior quarterback Brandon Peters takes to the system after guiding the nation’s 111th ranked offense last year.
The Illini really need to get things figured out on defense. They have allowed 31.5 or more points in four of the past five seasons and five of the past seven years. In the two years they allowed fewer than 30 points per game, they went 5-7 and 6-7, respectively. They averaged just 3.4 wins per year in the other five, so it’s not a secret where this team needs to improve.
Illinois does enjoy one of the most favorable schedules in the entire Big Ten. They open at home against a shaky Nebraska team and also get home games against vulnerable squads like Maryland, Rutgers and Northwestern. They should be favored at home against UTSA and Charlotte in nonconference games and are more than capable of springing an upset at Virginia or at Purdue.
It’s going to be a long, slow, painful rebuild here in Champaign. Despite that, I think that Bielema has a chance to steal some wins and build some goodwill with the fan base this year. They have six winnable home games. I don’t think it is a stretch that the Illini beat UTSA and Charlotte and then spring a couple of upsets (Rutgers, Northwestern) to tuck over this number.
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