Prior to Bret Bielema’s arrival in Champaign, the Illinois Fighting Illini had not:
- Defeated Northwestern since November 29th, 2014
- Had an undefeated non-conference season since 2011 (Arkansas State, South Dakota State, Arizona State, Western Michigan)
- Defeated a non-Big Ten Power Five opponent since 2011 (Arizona St.)
- Defeated Wisconsin in Madison since November 9th, 2002
- Defeated Iowa since November 1st, 2008
- Beaten Wisconsin and Iowa in the same season in 33 years
In less than 24 months since Bret Bielema became Illinois’ head coach, the Illini have:
- Crushed Northwestern, 47-14, ending the 2021 season and snapping the program’s six-game losing skid against the Wildcats
- Swept the non-conference schedule in 2022 (Wyoming, Virginia, Chattanooga)
- Defeated the aforementioned Virginia Cavaliers to earn Illinois’ first win over a non-Big Ten Power Five opponent since Ron Zook’s final season
- Dominated Wisconsin, 34-10, holding the Badgers to two rushing yards in Bielema’s return to Madison
And then came Saturday. In front of a raucous, passionate Memorial Stadium crowd, the Fighting Illini bested the Iowa Hawkeyes, 9-6. It was a sloppy, ugly, physical matchup, but a contest in which the Illini persevered. Illinois overcame three turnovers and an injury to starting QB Tommy Devito to ward off the hard-hitting Hawkeyes and improve to 5-1 this season.
Bielema — who missed last season’s game in Iowa City due to COVID-19 — got his first win against his alma mater as Illini head coach. Before Saturday night, Iowa had beaten Illinois 13 out of 16 times during Kirk Ferentz’s career, including eight straight meetings dating back to 2008.
It’s been 5,089 days since @IlliniFootball defeated Iowa.— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) October 9, 2022
The Fighting Illini just defeated the Hawkeyes, 9-6. pic.twitter.com/BQUfN9dTc2
And if that seems like a long time, well...
✅ Wisconsin— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) October 9, 2022
Illinois has beaten those two teams in the same season for the first time since 1989.#B1Gstats pic.twitter.com/zL6LBmfSZ0
It’s spooky szn, and Bielema — as well Barry Lunney & Ryan Walters — has officially exorcised all of Illinois football’s most recent demons. Big Ten West programs that had previously haunted the Orange & Blue for the past decade-plus have now dissipated into the ether, cast aside like evil spirits.
I’m picturing Bret Bielema in his basement, standing over a bubbling cauldron, uttering incantations to cast spells upon Illinois’ remaining opponents. Maybe he’s reading the Necronomicon or playing with Proton Packs, I don’t know. But if you need to rid yourself of any unwanted Golden Gophers, Wolverines, Cornhuskers, Boilermakers, ghouls, goblins, spectres, visitants, apparitions, or other monsters under the bed, Bret Bielema may be your guy.
Can the Fighting Illini keep winning? Can this sorcery continue? Stranger Things have happened.