Close menu
2021 Illinois Fighting Illini: Bielema Returns to His Roots
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

2021 Illinois Fighting Illini: Bielema Returns to His Roots

Any discussion about the Illini has to start with the hiring of former Wisconsin and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. He appears to be a perfect fit at Illinois and he is a Big 10 guy whatever the Hell that means. His Wisconsin teams were stick-it-down-your-throat physical run first on offense and punishing on the defensive side. Can he bring that brand of football to Champagne?

Offense: QB Brandon Peters returns for a sixth year in college and must improve his passing numbers as he has averaged just 145 passing yards per game in his 16 career starts. But, passing is not likely to be the first option for the revamped Illini. There are three decent running backs led by Chase Brown who averaged over 5 yards per carry last year. Bielema loves to use the tight ends in his passing game and Luke Ford and Daniel Barker fit the bill. The offensive line has three seniors to be the anchor to an offense where the line has to be good.

Defense: Defensively, Illinois has finished near the bottom of the Big 10 every year since 2015. There are six starters back from 2020 and there is some talent. LB Jake Hansen posted 68 tackles with 10 for loss in just 8 games last season. He has been a good player in all three of his years. The defensive line is decent and there are three starters in the secondary. The defensive staff also includes three assistants who have been defensive coordinators at other places which also means it didn’t work out or they would still be there.

Non-Conference Schedule:

9/4 UTSA

9/11 at Virginia

10/2 Charlotte

The schedule is doable for sure but every game for Illinois is iffy. They should beat UTSA and Charlotte (in fact they must beat them) and the Virginia game is winnable. 3-0 is an achievable goal but 2-1 would be good too. Anything less is a disaster.

Conference Schedule:

8/28 Nebraska

9/18 Maryland

9/25 at Purdue

10/9 Wisconsin

10/23 at Penn State

10/30 Rutgers

11/6 at Minnesota

11/20 at Iowa

11/27 Northwestern

The conference schedule is minus Ohio State and there are five home games. The season opener against Nebraska is intriguing because the Huskers think they are getting better and if the Illini can beat them it would say a lot about both programs. The Maryland and Rutgers games are must wins and Northwestern is a maybe. Wisconsin will probably spank their old boss. Road games at Penn State, Minnesota, and Iowa are probably losses but the Purdue game is a possibility.

Summary: Illinois will be better in 2021 but is the talent level good enough and the right type to fit Bielema’s style of play? He will change the culture this year and continue to build for the future. Be patient Illini fans. You hired the right guy.

Predicted Finish: 7th place in the West Division

Overall Record: 4-8

Join the Inner Circle

Sign up for exclusive 10% discount on orders, plus be the first to access our daily free and premium horse racing picks, articles, podcasts, and more!

Sign Up