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Bret Bielema, Exorcist?

Nothing spooky about it, Illinois has cleared its house of demons from the past.

Chattanooga v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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
NCAA Football: Maryland at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In less than 24 months since Bret Bielema became Illinois’ head coach, the Illini have:

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.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Iowa at Illinois Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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.

And if that seems like a long time, well...

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.