The Illinois defense last season stole the show.
Even though running back Chase Brown was a legitimate Heisman candidate for much of the year, the Illinois defense was the unit that had the national media talking.
With preseason All-Americans Johnny Newton and Keith Randolph back, the Illini defense has a lot of buzz once again. But let’s talk about some Illini offense.
Last year’s offense didn't have a bad year by any means.
It ranked between sixth and ninth in the Big Ten in points per game, rushing yards per game, passing yards per game, and total yards per game. The typical B1G offense.
Chase Brown led the way with 137 rushing yards per game and 13 total TDs.
Wide receiver Isaiah Williams ranked top ten in the conference in receptions, receiving yards, receiving yards per game, and receiving touchdowns.
Tommy DeVito was also an incredibly solid quarterback.
Now, let’s preview what this year’s unit will look like.
Ole Miss transfer Luke Altmyer is expected to be the starter for the Illini this season.
The former four0star recruit has only thrown 54 passes in his first two college seasons. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Altmyer has all the tools needed to succeed in his new situation.
With what should be a great offense around him, Altmyer has a fantastic opportunity to turn his college career around.
He will be backed up by Ball State transfer John Paddock, who started all 12 games for the Cardinals last season. Paddock threw for 2,719 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
Chase Brown’s departure will hurt the Illini running back room significantly.
Reggie Love III is due to lead the team in carries this season. This will be Love’s fourth year in the program.
He’s seen his role in the offense slowly increase each season, but this is projecting to be his breakout year.
Love had 330 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground behind Brown last year and has consistently showed impressive flashes in his first three years.
Backing up Love will be Josh McCray. McCray had a phenomenal freshman season in 2021, but injuries derailed his sophomore campaign.
At 235 pounds, McCray can run through nearly any B1G defender and should be a great 3rd down, short-distance option for the Illini.
Doak Walker Award Preseason Watch List@Reggie22x and @goatmccray5— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) August 9, 2023
1 of only 11 programs in the nation with multiple players on the list.#Illini // #HTTO // #famILLy // @DoakWalkerAward pic.twitter.com/APsYtJieYR
The talented young trio of Jordan Anderson, Kaden Feagin, and Aidan Laughery rounds out the stacked running back room.
Replacing Brown’s production will be near impossible, but this running back room has the potential to do it.
Isaiah Williams is the best wide receiver Illini fans have seen wear the orange and blue in years. And he committed here as a quarterback. Wild.
Williams will headline the receiving group for the third consecutive year. He racked up 82 catches for 715 yards and 5 TDs last season.
He should be the least of Illini fans’ worries regarding the offense.
Joining Williams once again will be veterans Pat Bryant and Casey Washington, two very consistent options for Altmyer.
They combined for 65 catches, 759 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns last season. If the Illini passing attack is significantly improved from last season, I think Bryant will be a big reason why.
Like the running back room, the receiving core also has some very talented youngsters.
Malik Elzy and Kenari Wilcher are two true freshmen who could legitimately make an impact this season. Hank Beatty and Shawn Miller are two other notable young guns that will likely get some snaps this year.
This talented group is a huge part of the reason why I expect Altmyer to have success in his first year in the program.
It looks like Tip Reiman will once again be the main option here.
Reiman led the way for the Illini tight ends last season with 19 catches for 174 yards and 1 touchdown.
Barry Lunney really didn't utilize the tight end position much last year in the receiving attack, so I'm curious to see if that changes this year.
Reiman will be a very solid starter for the Illini, bringing solid receiving skills, blocking skills, and experience to the table.
The Illini also have Colorado State transfer Tanner Arkin in their tight end group.
Arkin was a preseason All-Mountain West selection in 2022, and racked up 116 yards on 14 catches for the Rams.
The 2023 Illini offensive line will feature a number of proven studs. A couple starters will likely be unproven at the college level however.
Isaiah Adams and Julian Pearl are both consensus preseason Second-Team All-Big Ten selections. Those two project to anchor the left side of the line.
Zy Crisler returns to the Illini after starting every game last year. Crisler was named an All-Big Ten honorable mention last season at right guard.
Center and right tackle are two of the biggest potential gaps on this offense.
Veteran Jordyn Slaughter is very versatile and will be able to fill in in several spots if needed.
Sophomore Josh Kreutz has a solid chance to start at center.
It will be exciting to see what Bret Bielema rolls out on Sept. 2 vs. Toledo.
I can't remember the last time there was this much hype around an Illini football squad.
We’ve got great recruiting, star returnees, insane coaching staff changes, transfer portal additions, NFL draftees, and some real well-deserved buzz surrounding Illini football.
Sept. 2 can't come soon enough!