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Illinois’ 2024 schedule is brutal. Welcome to the new Big Ten!

Seriously, what did we do to deserve this?

Michigan State v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

For those who believe, the golf gods can give worthy duffers the perfect backspin to unexpectedly hole a pitch.

For those who believe, the basketball gods can rescue a 1-of-15 shooting night with a contested 30-foot triple pump fadeaway hook shot hitting nothing but net in the biggest game of the year.

For those who believe, the college football gods can shift the wind one mile per hour so your hated rival’s game-winning field goal doinks off the post.

If you’re a Fighting Illini fan, if you believe, those same college football gods spit on you from on high with acidic saliva that poisons your entire life.

(Okay, I guess I just went back on my word about avoiding hyperbole in this space.)

Seriously, what’s up with the 2024 schedule? Is this a punishment? What did Illinois ever do to you, Mr. Schedule Maker?

MLB London Series Announcement Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos

Did Illinois flirt with your girlfriend?

Is this intended to induce forced absolution for what we all have done at KAMs?

Did Bret Bielema’s rapid turnaround signal a program that has become too big for its britches and therefore needs to get put back in its place?

Is this just the end result of a long con initiated by a diabolical invisible hand who wants to add to the palpable frustrations of fans known for bouts of anger?

The Illinois fan base has been downtrodden for generations. There is no limit to the depths of neurosis that Illini fandom can reach when bad times rear their ugly heads.

So it is with that precursor that the Big Ten announced Illinois’ punishment its 2024 and 2025 football schedules. And the only reasoned, measured, logical take I can come up with is that Dan Dakich is somehow pulling the strings.

Illinois will have to play Michigan, Ohio State and USC in the same season. Sure, Caleb Williams will have likely evolved from NIL to NFL. But Lincoln Bloody Riley will undoubtedly unleash some fresh hell that may somehow be more devastating. Look at his track record. He builds elite quarterbacks like Taylor Swift builds obsessive Stans.

USC Spring Football Game Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

(But I bet we all want to go down to L.A. for that game, don’t we?)

Would it surprise you if all three of those teams were in the top 5 at some point that season?

Wait, maybe…just maybe…this is the teeing up of the ultimate hero arc for Luke Altmyer. This could be the legendary run that would make the fanbase’s collective head explode with a mix of joy, shock, and unhealthy skepticism anticipating a season-ending loss in Evanston.

Central Arkansas v Ole Miss Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Yep, I’m going to go with that. Blue bloods, be on notice because the orange and blue bloods are coming for your crown!

On a serious note, thanks for preserving the Purdue and Northwestern rivalries.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 29 Michigan State at Purdue Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The gods giveth and they taketh away.

Illinois got a favorable draw for its protected rivalry matchups. It’s not just because neither program is a powerhouse.

But in the near term, Illinois vs. Purdue is shaping up to become an intense rivalry full of mutual antipathy. Last year’s game got testy. And Ryan Walters was still on the good side.

Now that Walters is hellbent on his world destruction arc, he, Kevin Kane, and Cory Patterson are in the Illini’s gaze. Both sides take credit for the evolution of Illinois into an elite defensive school and the new DBU. Both sides are on the trail pursuing similar defensive players with the same sell.

Walters hired Graham Harrell to bring the Air Raid to Purdue. They have Hudson Card looking to steer into a star turn. So we get both a clash of styles and a grudge match all rolled into one annual feast of football. Yes, please.

As far as Northwestern goes, no matter how many awful seasons Fitz has in a row, he’s still beating Illinois on the recruiting trail way more often than he should. In the Chicago suburbs, he always does an excellent job getting top student-athletes from top high school programs. Lyons Township lineman Eddie Tuerk is the current jewel in the crown of the recruiting battle between the two in-state foes. He’s essentially the new Peter Skoronski.

So even though I’m going to ask to speak to the manager and write a strongly worded letter regarding the 2024 schedule (only half-joking), the next few years should be a lot of fun. Illinois has to continue to up the ante on the recruiting trail and hire future coaching stars (Charlie Bullen and Antonio Fenelus, your tables are set) to replace the current crop of stars when they depart for promotions.

There will be no more Big Ten West champion way to sneak into the conference championship game. And the annual schedules could be brutal on a regular basis. But everything this staff has done thus far has demonstrated competency. So I’ll be cautiously optimistic in the face of the overt flagellation being doled out in the form of the 2024 schedule.