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TCR’s staff predicts Illinois Football’s 2023 season

How many wins do you expect?

Chattanooga v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: This year we won’t be doing weekly prediction articles, but instead just score prediction graphics on our social media pages. We will be doing prediction articles for bigger events (i.e. season preview, bowl, etc.)

Idrees Muhammad Kudaimi: Illinois 9-3, three-way tie with Iowa and Wisconsin atop Big Ten West

Illinois has the best front 7 in the Big Ten along with Penn State and Michigan, which means they will give every team’s offense hell. Luke Altmyer gives the team a higher ceiling at QB but a lower floor than Tommy DeVito. The WR corps is elite. The OL should be in the top of the Big Ten. Even the weaker positions like RB, TE, and the secondary have a lot of talent, just lack experience.

As I wrote in my tiering of the Illini schedule, they should easily defeat Northwestern, Indiana, FAU, and Toledo. I think they beat Wisconsin at home with homecoming, along with defeating Nebraska and Maryland. I have them losing to Penn State and Iowa, and dropping one of @ Minnesota, Kansas, and Purdue. I ended up choosing Kansas since they have the most talent returning and a heisman darkhorse at QB.

I have Wisconsin and Iowa also each going 9-3 and 6-2 in the conference. I sure hope the tiebreakers go Illinois’s way this time. They have to take advantage of the final year of this version of the BIg Ten and this elite defense they have.

Matt Rejc: Illinois 6-6, qualifies for the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix, AZ

I feel pretty confident in predicting somewhere between 5 and 7 wins this year, but it’s anyone’s guess who the wins end up coming against. Northwestern and FAU are the games that I see as being virtually impossible to lose, but otherwise every matchup from Toledo to Penn State and Iowa should at least be competitive.

Since I have to guess, I predict that the Illini will defeat Toledo, FAU, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Northwestern. The Huskers and Badgers will both be breaking in new coaches with radically different schemes, so I suspect neither team will be bowling this year despite overinflated preseason hopes. Also, it’s not exactly a hot take, but this Northwestern team might be the worst Big Ten team to take the field in a generation. They’ll struggle to avoid 0-12.

Kansas is likely to be a loss since Illini teams have essentially forgotten how to play football in their first road game of the season since time immemorial. Penn State should be close and could go either way, but it’s hard to predict a win with confidence. I like how we match up with Purdue, but I think it’s ultimately going to be a one-possession road loss (Hudson Card is very good). Same can be said for the game at Minnesota. Iowa likely wins the B1G West Division while averaging 18 ppg.

James Rush: Illinois 8-4, Music City Bowl

I feel pretty confident about this upcoming season and 8-4 reflects that pretty good. Anywhere from 7-9 wins seems realistic to me. Great in the trenches, a promising QB, a few returning pieces from a top 5 in the nation secondary, the team should retain the success they had last year if not surpass it.

The four losses I have are to Penn State, Iowa, Maryland, and Wisconsin, but all of those besides Penn State (which I am also not ruling out as a win) are 50/50 games to me. Nebraska, Purdue, and Minnesota could all easily replace some of those losses, but I don’t see more than 4 of those being L’s. There are plenty of what I consider to be “free wins” too, FAU, IU, and NW are all guaranteed wins in my book. I have Iowa winning the West with that elite defense and improved QB play, but Illinois comes in a close second. Like the Purdue game last year, the head to head gives Iowa the ticket to Indy.

Pleas Honeywood: Illinois 8-4, Tampa Redux

There will be a lot of close games on this schedule for the Illini. So the amount of variance in the results will be high.

I really wanted to go all the way with my prediction for the season. My prediction is built on two game clusters:

  • Cluster One: at Kansas, at Minnesota, at Purdue
  • Cluster Two: at Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin

If Illinois goes 2-1 in both of those clusters, then I look like a complete idiot and the Illini are competing for a Big Ten Championship. However, going 2-1 in both of those clusters will be a damned near Herculean task.

I am currently predicting they successfully hit the 2-1 mark in cluster one, but go 1-2 in cluster two. Illinois is unlikely to run the table for the rest of the season, so another random loss is entirely plausible. So I imagine this season will be similar to last season record-wise.

The X-Factor is the evolution of Luke Altmyer and his ability to utilize an evolving Illini pass catcher group. If Illinois can be a consistent threat to land chunk plays through the air, it opens up the fourth quarter for Josh McCray, Reggie Love, Aidan Laughery, and Kaden Feagin to annihlate tired defensive fronts.

This year is where Illinois settles into the role of being a really good program. However, the best is certainly yet to come.

Kyle Tausk: Illinois 7-5, Pinstripe Bowl

I think this will be a good football team and one that’s capable of more than I’m predicting. I just think that while this schedule may not be flooded with teams at the top of the top, it presents a lot of opportunity for the Illini to stumble, especially as they deal with the ups and downs of an inexperienced quarterback and an extremely young secondary.

I think that Kansas game is going to be really tough in Week 2. On the road, facing an offense that returns 10 starters including an All-Conference quarterback. I think it’s a really tough ask for Luke Altmyer to go win you a likely-shootout that early. Pair that with a game against a loaded Penn State team the next week and I have Illinois starting 1-2.

I do think much like last year after the Indiana frustration, Illinois will start to hit their stride as the newer guys get more settled in. Still, I think games at Maryland, vs Wisconsin, and at Iowa will be big challenges for this group. Overall, I think the Illini go out and get one of those games 一 I’ll say they knock off the Badgers at home in an emotional victory 一 but I also think they drop one they probably shouldn’t against one of the middling squads in the conference (think Michigan State last season).

If Luke Altmyer can step up and elevate this offense in Year 1, this is a team that can win the Big Ten West. I personally think there’ll be some expected growing pains, and I think this Illini schedule is sneakily a lot tougher than it looks at first glance. 7-5 is where I continue to land, which I still think should leave Illini fans satisfied and signifies a program that remains on the right path to sustained success going forward.

Mihir Chavan - 10-2 - B1G Championship Game vs. Michigan

Can Illinois go 5-0 in September that is the real question. If they can it’s a pretty easy stretch of games to close out the season. But here’s the kicker. The toughest part of the schedule is actually the first eight games of the season. Illinois plays on the first 8 consecutive weekends. They play @ Kansas, vs. Penn State, @ Maryland, and vs. Wisconsin. Illinois needs to go 2-2 in this grouping to make any noise in the season and even sniff at a B1G championship berth. My most likely losses are @ Kansas and @ Maryland. Both are senior-led teams, with a lot of receiving talent that will be difficult for the young secondary. Penn State and Wisconsin are not only at home but also led by their rushing attack, which the Law Firm can take care of at home. With the fan support returning to Memorial Stadium, Illinois will go undefeated at home. This leaves road trips to Minnesota and Iowa. Bielema has done well post-bye week and Bielema should win the late-season defensive battle @ Iowa. Illinois closes the regular season on a 5 game win streak. Build that statue now. Brandt Dolce - I told you I would back you up. #BeatPennState

Drew Pastorek: Illinois 8-4 (6-3), B1G West Champions

I could be talked into a prediction of 9-3 but for now I’ll err on the side of reserved optimism.

The front seven is menacing with The Law Firm, Gabe Jacas, Seth Coleman, and Tarique Barnes – Te’Rah Edwards and Denzel Daxon have gotten a lot of preseason love, as well. The secondary is tasked with replacing four NFL players, but has a plethora of transfers and budding young stars ready to fill the gaps. Illinois’ WR corps is replete with speed and athleticism. The main, and most vital, question is “Can Luke Altmyer get the job done?” If the Ole Miss transfer can rise up, the Illini have an incredibly high ceiling.

As several of my comrades have mentioned above, there are specific opponents Illinois absolutely CAN NOT lose to – I’m putting Toledo, FAU, Indiana & Northwestern in this pod. The Illini should beat Kansas, but can we really count on that? Illinois has been historically atrocious in non-conference Power Five away games (Arizona State, North Carolina, Washington, and Virginia all come to mind. Oh, and there was also a slam-your-head-in-a-car-door loss to UCLA 20 years ago, a 6-3 snoozefest that perfectly encapsulated early 2000s Fighting Illini football). So for now, I’m predicting a W for the Jayhawks.

However, I feel very good about Illinois’ chances against Nebraska, Minnesota, Purdue and…Wisconsin. Don’t you want to see Luke Fickell trot out his rumored 2-3-6 defensive scheme against the Illini? What a fascinating experiment that would be (Bret, please hand the ball to Josh McCray 40 times if this happens).

I think Illinois could slip up against Maryland – Lia Tagovailoa is arguably the best QB the Illini will face all season – and Iowa hasn’t lost at home to the Fighting Illini since the Bill Clinton administration.

The Penn State game, as Matt has previously pointed out, is the most important game on the schedule. If Illinois is 2-0 heading into that game the stakes could be monumental, even in mid-September. The nation’s eyeballs will be affixed to TV screens by the millions, and Illinois can show they are more than just a nice, cute story.

Here’s how I’m feeling:

  • Toledo (W)
  • @ Kansas (L)
  • Penn St (L)
  • FAU (W)
  • @ Purdue (W)
  • Nebraska (W)
  • @ Maryland (L)
  • Wisconsin (W)
  • @ Minnesota (W)
  • Indiana (W)
  • @ Iowa (L)
  • Northwestern (W)

If the Illini can take care of business in the final quarter of the season, a 5-1 Big Ten West slate should absolutely get the Illini to Indy.

Will Charlton: Illinois goes 8-4, finishes 2nd in Big Ten West again

This feels just about where the Illini are going to be this season. While it might be the last realistic chance to make the conference title game for the foreseeable future with divisions going away, I believe the Illini fall just short (and it’s thanks to a late season loss again). The Illini start out going 2-2 (really close losses to Kansas and Penn State) but will kick things into gear come Big Ten play, heading into Iowa City with a record of 7-3. Both teams will be tied atop the division, but this is where the Kinnick home-field advantage comes into effect. Illinois will lose a super close battle that will ultimately give the West crown to the Hawkeyes — who’ll end up finishing 9-3 ahead of the Illini at 8-4. On the positive side, that would be back to back years going 8-4 and would certainly lead to another nice bowl berth. Altmyer still has another two years after this one as well.

P.S. — To all those who think Wisconsin is going to run away with the West, let’s take a breather. Fickell is a fantastic hire, but he isn’t righting the ship completely in one quick season (I predict 8-4, right behind Illinois).

Brandt Dolce: 10-2, Big Ten West Champions

With the best Front 7 in the Big Ten, and one if the most dynamic players in the country in Jer’zhan Newton, Brett Bielema’s third season at Illinois will be one to remember. Despite losing his defensive coordinator to Purdue, Bielema will not skip a beat.

The offensive line will be vastly improved. Barry Lunney, Jr. (Year 2) will not have to rely solely on a Hesiman Hopeful running back to carry the ball 30+ times to win games. Lunney also has Pre-season First Team WR Isaiah Williams as one of the premier short and intermediate threats at the position in the country.

First year DC Aaron Henry will step in and step up. Illinois will not lead the country in PPG allowed in 2023, but the offense will be able to put more points on the board with a talent upgrade at QB, in Mississippi transfer Luke Altmyer.

Lone losses: Penn State, @Iowa (Kinnick gets one late every year).

The disruptive Front Seven and improved offense will be the difference makers to lead the Illini to their first double digit win total since the 2001 Big Ten Championship.

Brad Repplinger: I guess it’s 6-6 (4-5)

I’ll be writing this piece before making a prediction, so enjoy watching my brain try and reason with this “thing” we call Illinois Football. Let’s go full “Lovie Smith” and break the 2023 season down into quarters.

Toledo, Kansas, Penn St - My gut is telling me there SHOULD be 2 wins, but this is (in fact) Illinois so I’ll likely be in Lawrence watching Illinois lose by 4 on Friday the 8th. (1-2)

FAU, Purdue, Nebraska - The Illinois defense HAS to regress from 1, it’s just a matter of how much. The offense SHOULD develop more than “give the ball to 2” from last season, but that also feels like we’ll see more mishaps and stutters outside the 20. I want to say 3 wins here, but it feels like 2. (2-1)

Maryland, Wisconsin, Minnesota - This is where Illinois shows their mettle. Road games against two respectably tough opponents, and the homecoming game against Wisconsin. Depth on the roster is going to be proven and it still feels like Illinois is thin in the trenches on both offense and defense. While I like the idea of two wins in this stretch (Minnesota FINALLY lost Mo Ibraham and Tanner Morgan), Illinois likely loses 2 close games and squeaks by in the other. (1-2)

Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern - Similar to the 3rd quarter of the season, team health is going to be the biggest factor here. Does Barry Lunney have an effective two dimensional offense? Is the defense able to support two All-American linemen with a solid secondary? Is Caleb Griffin the only guy kicking the ball? It feels like Iowa is going to whip out some crazy offensive gameplan to try and save Baby Ferentz’s OC job that throws the universe into total chaos (Iowa Air Raid 2023?) that Illinois can’t solve in a BRUTAL Kinnick environment, which hopefully means winning the LOLHAT game by 40. (2-1)

That’s 6-6. I would take 6-6. Win the bowl game and we’re VIBIN’ into the offseason.