As we all know, the Illini are about to start a highly anticipated football season. The first test will come against the Wyoming Cowboys on August 27th.
In honor of this game, let’s throw it back to the last time the football team started the season against a non-conference opponent, which was 2019.
Illinois vs Akron: 2019
The day is August 31, 2019 and everyone is excited to see the Illini start a new football season after a rough 2018 season, when the team finished with a 4-8 record. The Akron Zips of the Mid-American Conference are in town for this week 1 matchup.
The Illini were heavy favorites coming in and they proved why that was the case in blowout fashion.
On the first possession of the game, the Illini opened the gates with an impressive drive ending in a 3-yard touchdown run from running back Reggie Corbin to go up 7-0.
Akron shortly answered with a field goal to make it 7-3. Spoiler alert: it was their only score of the game.
The Illini answered by scoring another touchdown before the end of the first quarter, this one off a 10-yard run from running back Ra’Von Bonner to make it 14-3. It was all Illini after that.
An Akron fumble early on their next drive led to another Illini touchdown on the first play of the second quarter—a 10-yard pass from quarterback Brandon Peters to wide receiver Trevon Sidney to make it 21-3. The lead would only keep growing.
A short punt with a good return by kick returner Donny Novarro late in the second quarter set the Illini up just outside the red zone. Did the Illini capitalize on that? You bet!
Peters had a 20-yard touchdown rush on the second play of the very short drive, putting the Illini up 28-3 at halftime.
Akron started with the ball out of the break but went nowhere and had to punt it to the Illini right away. This led to another long Illini drive for yet another touchdown, a 9-yard pass from Peters to tight end Justice Williams to make the score 35-3.
Akron’s next possession ended in a quick punt once again. The Illini would go on another drive to score their final touchdown of the game: a 2-yard pass from Peters to tight end Daniel Barker to make it 42-3.
Both teams traded punts for the full duration of the fourth quarter and the Illini ended up winning huge with the final score being 42-3.
"We came out and played the way we were practicing."@LovieSmith liked what he saw out of @IlliniFootball in Week 1. pic.twitter.com/LiGhV3B36D— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) September 1, 2019
Something pretty important to note here is that the Illini did end up in a bowl game that year, after finishing 6-6. So the last time the Illini started off against a non-conference opponent, good things happened—could history repeat itself?
The past two seasons, the Illini have failed to reach a bowl game. But they began both seasons facing Big Ten opponents.
It may not be much, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.