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How many games will the Illini win this season?

Our writers have some varying predictions.

Illinois v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Illinois football kicks off their season in eight short days. The writers here at TCR will have you covered with preview content, leading up to the Week 0 kickoff against Wyoming. Today, our writers predicted how many football games Illinois will win:

Kyle Tausk: Illinois goes 7-6 with a bowl victory

I think this Illinois football season follows a similar script to last year, but Barry Lunney’s new offense is enough of an improvement to get them that 6th win that they couldn’t quite get. I don’t think this is some great, breakthrough team mainly because of the experience lost from last year’s breakout defense and the questions that remain at quarterback. However, it’s clear that Bret Bielema is making real progress and a bowl appearance will be a good next step to take.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 19 Orange and Blue Spring Game
DC Ryan Walters
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I have the Illini going 3-0 in the non-conference, with Ryan Walters making damn sure his defense comes to play in a revenge performance against Virginia. I think this team stays competitive in nearly all Big Ten games but only manages 3 conference wins amidst a tough schedule. I have them grabbing an upset victory over Iowa, snagging a home win against Purdue on Senior Day, and closing the year keeping the Land of Lincoln trophy in Champaign while punching their bowl ticket. A few frustrating road losses are mixed in, particularly a Week 1 letdown in Bloomington and a close defeat to Scott Frost’s underachievers. In the end, Bret Bielema’s second season gets capped off with a bowl victory, the Illini’s first since 2011 under Ron Zook.

Mihir Chavan: Illinois 8-5 with a bowl victory

Illinois beats those teams that it lost to last year due to slow starts. This year, I don’t suspect Illinois will lose those close games because of the new offense. The defense continues to suffocate opponents and the offense sees a resurgence, in the same way we saw under Bill Cubit (big words I know).

There’s a part of me that thinks we go 5-2 at home. It’s a very favorable schedule. We beat Wyoming, Virginia, and Chattanooga. Challenge and stun one of Iowa and Minnesota. Michigan State and Purdue are two very different styles of play. We should catch a banged-up running Spartan team that already faced Washington and in back to back games against Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan. If we stifle QB Aidan O’Connell, a pass-first Purdue will be a tossup on senior day. 5-2 home, 2-3 Away. Illinois prances into a bowl game before facing Michigan at the Big House.

Oh boy. I am ready to be disappointed. Bring it.

Will Charlton: Illinois goes 8-5 with a bowl victory

I really, really, like the upside of this Illini football team. I can’t wait to see the new-look offense under Lunney and Walters keep up the success on defense that we finished the season with last year. I think we start the season out very strong with a nice win over Wyoming that shows the Big Ten that Illinois football is trying to make a comeback—and then prove that by winning the matchup against Indiana in Bloomington the following week.

I see 8 winnable games on the schedule, but the Illini will find a win to lose one of those 8 in typical Illini fashion. The Illini finish either 4-5 or 5-4 in the Big Ten and make their first bowl game since 2019. I predict that bowl game to be the Pinstripe Bowl, the Outback Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl, or the Music City Bowl.

Drew Pastorek: Illinois goes 6-7, loses bowl game

While I would be absolutely thrilled to see any of the predictions above come to fruition, I’m choosing to temper my expectations. Honestly, the Illini could go 3-9 or 4-8 and I wouldn’t be that surprised. But Bret Bielema has espoused the importance of being “smart, tough, dependable” and Illinois certainly has exhibited those qualities in the earlygoing of Bielema’s tenure.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 Illinois at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Illini will still be a very competitive group, which should lead to another Minnesota or Penn State-like upset. However, since a lot of their games will be close, it’s safe to assume another Purdue or Maryland-like loss. think Illinois goes 2-1 in the non-con (still not sure about Virginia) and repeats last year’s 4-5 Big Ten mark. And since it’s Illinois, after all, they’ll probably get the worst matchup possible in bowl season and come up short.

That said, I am eager to watch this team and I do think they’ll play a more exciting brand of football. I’m just keeping the confetti and streamers in storage for now.

Jack Jungmann: Illinois goes 7-6, winning a bowl game

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about this year’s Illinois football team. Like my friend Drew, I’m choosing to be cautious about my expectations.

I like to break down this year’s schedule into thirds. The first third is full of games that could realistically all be wins. I see Wyoming and Chattanooga being no issue. I believe Illinois will win one out of the Indiana and Virginia games, but I’m not sure which. That leaves Illinois with a 3-1 record to start the season, which will be the first time that has happened since 2015.

The second third of the season is when it gets rough. You can essentially sharpie the Wisconsin game as a loss. Back-to-back home games with top-tier Big Ten West teams in Iowa and Minnesota will be tough. Then a bye week and a trip to Lincoln after that. Post-bye Bret is a demon, so Illinois is looking at 1-1 with two toss-ups in the middle. I’ll say Illinois wins one of those games (leaning the Iowa game because they have no offense). After 8 games, Illinois is 5-3, just one win away from a bowl.

In the final stretch of the season, I have Illinois going 1-3. Like the Badgers matchup, the Michigan and Michigan State games are basically already written in as losses. I think a motivated Illinois team beats Purdue on Senior Day, then drops the season finale to Northwestern to get to a regular season record of 6-6. However, I think Illinois will win whatever bowl they get in. Like I said before, post-bye Bret Bielema is just different. It’ll be the same with a longer bye before the bowl game.

Ben Pekay: Illinois goes 5-7

It’s important to temper expectations for the Illini. The Illini only return 54% of their production including significant losses on the defensive end. This team will be very similar to last year on both ends of the ball. The offense stars running backs Chase Brown and Josh McCray but besides them, it lacks explosive ability. The defense will still be solid but might take a small step back due to the loss in production.

The Illini will get off to a 3-1 start with wins over Wyoming, Indiana, and Chattanooga. Then they’ll lose to both Wisconsin and Iowa but beat either Minnesota or Nebraska. Just like last season, the Illini will play many close games but will struggle to close them out. The Illini will then lose the next three games before beating Northwestern in the final game of the season. This season will be decided by Barry Lunney’s offense and if it can be more productive in the passing game.

Please prove me wrong Illini.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Illinois at Iowa

Thumpasaurus: 4-8 (2-7)

Are we all predicting the CEILING for Illinois this year? I really think six wins is the absolute limit, and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. I can talk myself into any number of individual wins, but I think after the last fifteen years of Illini football it’s fair to take things with a grain of salt.

It’s certainly possible that the second year in this defense and the return of C.J. Hart makes up for losses like Roderick Perry, Owen Carney, Kerby Joseph and Tony Adams. It’s certainly possible that Tommy DeVito is a huge upgrade over the two-headed BrandonArt monster from last year. I’m even willing to entertain such notions as a new offense making up for what I can charitably describe as an incomplete wide receiver room, or Hugh Robinson matching Blake Hayes’ production at punter…never mind that’s a bridge too far.

HOWEVER. All the other teams area also trying, and they also think they got better at a lot of important positions. I think Illinois can beat Wyoming, and I actually like their chances on the road against Indiana, if only because their offense will be brand new in both scheme and skill players and we’ll already have a game under our belts. That should be a recipe for the Illini defense to get some havoc plays early and sit on a small lead all night.

Virginia has lost their head coach, but they still have the quarterback who wrapped up the game by 10:30 AM last year by torching the Illini in the only particularly bad performance by Ryan Walters’ unit. Chattanooga should be a win, but the Wisconsin defense is just too strong for Illinois to overcome in a road game. Iowa is the exact same thing every year, but I think they may have us beat in special teams. Minnesota returns the architect of their successful 2019 offense as the coordinator, and Nebraska can’t just keep losing every Big Ten game by less than ten points. Michigan State and Purdue have multifaceted offenses that may overwhelm our secondary and Michigan is loaded with blue chip recruits.

Northwestern sucks.

I’m not saying we can’t win more games, this is just where my head is at if I’m thinking about what is most likely to play out. I do think this is closer to their floor than their ceiling; they’re much more likely to overperform this prediction than underperform it.

Matt Rejc: Illinois goes 4-8 (3-6 conf.)

This team is really hard to predict. I could be talked into anything from 2-6 wins, so I’ll split the difference. Obviously this is a bit more pessimistic than many of my colleagues’ predictions, but ultimately I think it’s more realistic. To counteract the August Syndrome that some of us may be experiencing, it’s important to keep in mind some of the things that are likely to hold Illinois back this year:

  • Tommy DeVito is essentially an unproven talent who might not be able to face down Big Ten defenses. And that’s assuming he stays healthy all year.
  • Illinois is last in the Big Ten in returning production, and all recruiting classes going back to 2019 have been ranked either last or next to last in conference.
  • Illinois is running its third different offensive scheme in as many years.
  • Aside from Isaiah Williams and Casey Washington, Illinois still lacks proven depth at wide receiver.
  • The Illini defense lost longtime key starters in virtually every position group.
  • Illinois’ schedule is one of the hardest in the Big Ten, with winnable conference games on the road and tough opponents at home.

Yes, some of the freshmen are intriguing. Yes, Tommy DeVito looked good in the spring game. And yes, Palcho returns as an essentially NFL-caliber OT. But the things working against Illinois are known factors, while the things going in Illinois’ favor are largely wishful thinking and hope at this point.

As far as wins go, I think we end up defeating Chattanooga, Nebraska, Purdue, and Northwestern. That includes a predicted Week 0 loss to Wyoming in what I expect to be a very ugly game. But as the team demonstrated last year, I do believe they’ll improve as the season goes on, culminating in yet another HAT victory to close out the year in Evanston.