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Illinois’ best (and worst) case scenario for 2023

The Illini could do anything this year, so let’s focus in on the extremes.

Wyoming v Illinois Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Last year was a major success in the football department compared to seasons in recent memory, and this next season has the potential to capitalize on this success and build a reputation, as well as consistent success.

The sky is the limit for Illini football this year... well, not really.

Let’s focus in week by week on what these limits really are.

Worst Case Scenario

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 ReliaQuest Bowl Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Week 1 - Toledo

Win 21-20 (1-0)

I don't see this being a loss, and I think worst case scenario is a nail-biting win. Toledo was very good last year in the record books, winning 9 games, including a bowl game against Liberty. But realistically, that bowl win was its best win of the season and 3 losses in the MAC won’t be enough to beat a Big Ten team coming off of an 8-win season.

In this worst case scenario, Luke Altmyer looks very shaky and the run game is the only real source of offense. The D-line will play great no matter what (barring any injuries), but the defensive backfield lets up more yards than it should, and leaves fans hoping this last year of brilliance in the defensive passing game wasn’t just a great system from Walters.

Week 2 - Kansas

Loss 17-14 (1-1)

Two teams who were put into the national spotlight last year for being better than they usually are, and in a worst-case scenario Kansas shows it has the better response from it. With star quarterback Jaylin Daniels coming back, as well as a strong transfer class, they take the cake. Even in a worst-case scenario, however, I don't see Kansas winning by much.

Week 3 - Penn State

Loss 34-10 (1-2)

The last matchup against Penn State was one of the best games (and wins) of the 2021 season, the first under Bielema. A close loss against a team that is projected for only one or two losses would not be a bad thing, but a blowout at home against a team that the new head coach beat in his first matchup with the Illini would show major regression and dash the hopes of some of the believers.

This is a matchup I see lots of Illini fans hanging their upset hats on, and not even being competitive in front of a home crowd would be demoralizing for everyone from fans to players to the coaches. If things play out the way they have been described so far, there would be fans already losing faith in a bowl bid.

Week 4 - FAU

Win 24-10 (2-2)

This should be a win no matter what. Even with Tom Herman and newly acquired sixth-year senior QB Casey Thompson, this is a team that went bowl-less while playing in the AAC last season. Of course crazier things have happened, but worst case scenario here is a win that shows no improvement. If this game involves little to no passing game, as well as the same kind of defense described in week 1, this is not a moral victory.

Week 5 - Purdue

Loss 24-7 (2-3)

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This is a game, maybe even the game, that I have circled on my calendar. I feel like this is the start of a strong rivalry, two teams in relatively the same tier, pitting head coach vs. former defensive coordinator, and it feels like a make or break game for this upcoming year.

Illinois does not really have a strong rivalry with any team right now, and in a year where a good one could develop, a loss would be brutal. Even worse, this could show how much of last year’s success on defense came from the coordinator rather than head coach/players.

Weeks 6-9 - Nebraska, Maryland, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Winning one (Maryland?) and losing 3 (3-6)

Illinois does not lose all four of these games after the success last season, and worst case scenario I think would be winning just one. Choose who you think would be the worst case for a win, but I think it would be Maryland.

Minnesota is probably the worst of the four coming out of last season, but winning that game would (spoiler alert) set up two wins in a row coming out of the Indiana game. These teams are all decent, but winning the non-division rival in the middle of a tough stretch is the worst outcome of the four.

Week 10 - Indiana

Win 32-20 (4-6)

Illinois should have won last year and I think will this year. Indiana did not improve, and at home, Illinois should be able to reverse what ended up being a head-scratching loss last year. Indiana could be alright this year, but I still have it as a win.

Week 11 - Iowa

Loss 28-7 (4-7)

Iowa will have a very good defense and if the offense is lackluster and Altmyer is disappointing, which both happen in this scenario, this is almost a guaranteed loss.

Week 12 - Northwestern

Win 32-16 (5-7)

R.I.P. Northwestern football. It has been a rough offseason, I almost feel bad. Anyways, this will be a win.

Does Northwestern win a game?

Final (5-7)

Anything under .500 will be devastating to the momentum and culture that was built last season. That being said, this is still worst case scenario, and a better record should happen.

Best Case Scenario

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

Week 1 - Toledo

Win 38-10 (1-0)

Everything clicks. Altmyer looks like a first- or second-tier Big Ten QB, the running game flourishes because of that, Aaron Henry succeeds in his first game running the defense, getting to work with new acquisition Jim Leonhard, and all looks well following the great season.

Week 2 - Kansas

Win 17-3 (2-0)

First win of the year that really feels like it could be a tough game, and a convincing win would show that either Illinois was not a fluke last year, or that Kansas was.

Week 3 - Penn State

Loss 26-24 (2-1)

This can be a loss while still being really good for the team. Penn State next year is in that upper-upper echelon of teams, and could realistically make a run at the Playoff. Illinois showed last year with the Michigan game that they can hang with teams of this caliber, but I feel that I can't chalk this up as a win in good faith, even in this best-case scenario.

Week 4 - FAU

Win 42-10 (3-1)

If things play out in the best case scenario, this will be more of a tune-up and get back on track game rather than a competitive one. FAU could end up sneaky good, but they won't be able to compete against a team that might be the favorites to win a division in the Big Ten.

Week 5 - Purdue

Win 24-7 (4-1)

As the game I have flagged with this year’s rivalry game with Northwestern most likely being a bottom feeder, a win here will be a massive momentum booster. Fans will love to see the Illini beat their former DC, and the team that beat them out in the west race last year.

Weeks 6-9 - Nebraska, Maryland, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Losing one (Maryland?) and winning 3 (7-2)

This will be the same but reversed. I think best case scenario three of these are wins. It’s a tough stretch with two different teams with new systems and head coaches; however, best case is a loss against Maryland. It's a loss against a team that can't win the Big Ten West, and when it’s all said and done a loss against a Taulia-led Terrapins could look like a decent loss.

Week 10 - Indiana

Win 32-20 (8-2)

In both best and worst case scenario I have this as a win. Indiana could maybe make a bowl best case scenario, but Illinois should be the better team. 9-windiana will have to wait.

Week 11 - Iowa

Win 28-7 (9-2)

Offense is still a major problem for the Hawkeyes. McNamara will be an improvement over Petras at QB, but the same problems will prevail in the same system with the same offensive coordinator. I am a believer that Iowa will be pretty good this year, but the lengths their elite defense can take them will be seriously limited by their offense.

Week 12 - Northwestern

Win 42-10 (10-2)

It will not be a good year in Evanston.

Final (10-2)

Both of these records are probably unlikely to happen, but it’s the furthest I think can be possible.

What do you think the limits for the Illini are?