The Illinois Fighting Illini made a coaching change during the offseason, firing Lovie Smith and bringing in Bret Bielema to try to turn the program around. Smith was unable to use his NFL connections to bring in talented recruits, and Illinois failed to find success under him.
Now AD Josh Whitman hopes Bielema, who won big at Wisconsin but not at Arkansas, can use his Illinois and Big Ten cache to make the program more competitive. It’s one of the tougher jobs in the Power Five, but the Illini probably did as well as anyone could in their search for a change of direction.
2020 Season Review
- 2-5, 2-5 7th in Big Ten West division, No bowl
- Can Bielema set the foundation for a successful football program? He went 12-1 in his first season at Wisconsin with Barry Alvarez’s recruits, but eventually was able to lead strong teams to back-to-back Rose Bowls. However, he struggled at Arkansas and topped out at eight wins.
2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 13
ESPN Returning Production: 70% overall (62): 80% offense (38), 61% defense (94)
Returning Talent Index: Negative, 13th in Big Ten
Returning starters: 7/11 offense, 6/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools
Quarterback: Brandon Peters/Isaiah Williams/Coran Taylor
Peters is expected to be the starter, but Williams and Taylor offer enough variety to make Bielema evaluate this as an open competition. All three got enough reps last season for there to be doubt over the position. Peters is likely to be the most steady, but Williams can offer some additional flair with his legs.
Offense (non-QB): RB Chase Brown (So.)
Brown rushed for 540 yards in last season’s abbreviated schedule, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Bielema will want to establish the run and Brown will be a big part of that. Can he have some monster games to take pressure off Illinois’ quarterback?
Defense: Jake Hansen (Sr.)
Hansen was Illinois’ best defensive player, leading the team in tackles and also adding 2.5 sacks. He’s going to have to anchor Bielema’s defense, which was usually a strong unit for the coach at Wisconsin.
Team Stats Projections
Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook
To win national title: +75000
To win Big Ten: +10000
Win total: 3.5 (Over -152, Under +120)
2020 Against The Spread: 3-5-0
2020 Point Total: Over 4-4
2021 Illinois Schedule
Illinois 2021 Schedule
|Saturday, Aug. 28||vs. Nebraska||1:00 p.m./Fox||Ill +9.5|
|Saturday, Sep. 4||vs. UTSA||7:30 p.m./BTN||Ill -7.5|
|Saturday, Sep. 11||at Virginia||11:00 a.m./ACCN||Ill +10.5|
|Friday, Sep. 17||vs. Maryland||9:00 p.m./FS1||Ill +6.5|
|Saturday, Sep. 25||at Purdue||TBA||Ill +10.5|
|Saturday, Oct. 2||vs. Charlotte||TBA||Ill -15|
|Saturday, Oct. 9||at Wisconsin||TBA||Ill +17.5|
|Saturday, Oct. 16||OPEN||TBA||N/A|
|Saturday, Oct. 23||at Penn State||12:00 p.m./TBA||Ill +20.5|
|Saturday, Oct. 30||vs. Rutgers||TBA||N/A|
|Saturday, Nov. 6||at Minnesota||TBA||Ill +14.5|
|Saturday, Nov. 13||OPEN||TBA||N/A|
|Saturday, Nov. 20||at Iowa||TBA||Ill +21.5|
|Saturday, Nov. 27||vs. Northwestern||TBA||Ill +6.5|