TCR Staff Predictions: 2021 Illinois Football Season
Stephen Cohn: 4-8 (2-7 Big Ten)
What should we really expect in Bret Bielema’s first year? You can say we should expect the world, but that’s not exactly fair considering the monumental undertaking Bielema is currently undertaking. Yes, I understand there’s a ton of talent coming back from last year’s squad, but implementing a new system in what is still a bit of a weird offseason seems like a challenge.
If there isn’t a bowl win the second year, I’ll be worried, but just keep your head above water this year and please don’t give up 63 points in any game.
Tristen Kissack: 6-7 (3-6 Big Ten)
I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t really excited about renting Bielema. But what I do believe is that Bret will significantly raise the floor of the program. Illinois now has a more than competent head coach in the Big Ten, who is already proving he can be successful on the recruiting track. The offensive is experienced and loaded with weapons. If the defense can do enough to keep things tight, I think this team will win as many games as they lose. It’s back to school for Bret in his first year as Illini!
Manjesh Mogallapalli: 7-6 (3-6) + bowl win
Bielema will take over Illini bowling after missing last season. We should start with a 3-0 win over Nebraska, UTSA and Virginia, then lose 4 of 5, Charlotte being the only win in that streak. We should be at 4-4 heading into the Rutgers game, which we will win to move into a bowl game win. We will be retiring the next two games against Iowa and Minnesota. That would make the final match against Northwestern a must-have win for bowl eligibility, which we will achieve, bringing the Land of Lincoln Trophy back to its rightful home in Champaign. Climbing this high, I think Illinois will secure a long-awaited bowl victory and set the stage for future success in the seasons to come under Bielema.
Best offensive player: Brandon Peters
Best Defensive Player: Jake Hansen
Escape Player: Isaiah Williams
Matt Rejc: 3-9 (1-8)
This season will be all about change and learning, but it very likely won’t be about winning much. During Tim Beckman’s first season in 2012, Illini fans viewed with frustration that an experienced roster filled with NFL talent (Ted Karras, Akeem Spence, Matt LaCosse, Justin Hardee and others) struggled to grasp the new patterns in attack and defense, and a series of embarrassing losses on national television ensued en route to a 2-10 season. Lovie Smith’s early years were also fraught with confusion, as he took over a much less talented roster in 2016 and struggled throughout 2017 with an anemic offense that ultimately culminated in the infamous home loss to the Iowa in 2018. Change is extremely hard in college football, which is why many of the top programs avoid it at all costs, even when fans are clamoring for it (i.e. Ferentz in Iowa) . As for 2021, I see Illinois defeating UTSA and Charlotte and then maybe running off with a conference win over Rutgers, which could be one of our last wins against the Scarlet Knights for a long time at the pace. where they recruit.
Mihir Chavan: 7-6 (4-5), beat Cal in the Redbox Bowl
Games to be won: vs. UTSA, vs. Charlotte, vs. Rutgers, vs. Northwestern, @Purdue
Can Compete Games: vs Nebraska, vs Maryland, @Minnesota, @Virginia
Most likely to lose: vs. Wisconsin, @Penn State, @Iowa
We win our games to win and go 1-3 in Can Compete. The fixable errors that cost us games at Northwestern should be fixed. The stale lid-2 is gone. The racing game got an upgrade in training. Defense has a new brand. The biggest problem in recent years was that Illinois got in its own way and blocked a drive with an offside or penalty. I firmly believe that it was due to the lack of coaching and not to the lack of co-ability. With Bielema firmly in control of the team, we don’t lose the games to win and instead we win the games that everyone thinks we are losing.
Jeff Horwitz: 4-8 (2-7)
This is the basic case. Illinois might get lucky and win a few games early against weaker opponents, or they might fall prone. Forget Wisconsin and Iowa – do we really think they can beat Minnesota or Northwestern? I see five certain defeats and only one certain victory (Charlotte). Illinois just doesn’t have the rookies other Big Ten teams are getting. We’re excited when the Illini land a solid three-star rookie from Florida, but other Big Ten teams don’t care. Add that to the system change from Lovie to Bret, and it will be another tough season.
Drew Pastorek: 5-7 (3-6)
I believe Illinois are winning each of their two home games without a scam (UTSA, Charlotte) and winning W’s against Purdue, Maryland and Rutgers in the B1G game. It’s not fair to expect a bowling spot in Bret Bielema’s debut season, although we should expect to see a competent, physical and disciplined football team. There is still a significant talent gap between the Illini and most of the Big Ten’s top teams. A veteran online and a seasoned quarterback should help keep the Illini competitive, but I’m still not sure that a regime change alone will fix a defense that has surrendered 467 yards and nearly 35 points per game. last season.
Quentin Wetzel: 4-8 (2-7)
It’s hard to underestimate how uncertain the quality of Illinois is. For starters, COVID had an extremely strange season last year, so I don’t think last season’s poor performance tells us much about what to expect this year. And the level of talent is different in college football this year as well. COVID allowed last year’s seniors to return for one more season, and no team has brought back more super seniors than the Illinois 22. Oh, and if you haven’t heard it, Illinois has a new head coach. All of these factors create a ridiculous amount of uncertainty, so honestly anything 2-10 to 7-5 wouldn’t shock me. I don’t have much trouble imagining the super senior experience combined with the new (and improved?) Coaching staff resulting in 7 wins. After all, this is largely the same roster that had a ball game two years ago, strange as that sounds. But it’s also more than possible that the roster will never include Bret Bielema’s new plans and win a single conference game. Even good coaches often struggle in the first year of a new job. So I’m going to settle in the middle at 4-8. But I really have no idea.