Only time will tell if Bret Bielema leading the Illinois Fighting Illini program will be remembered as as “era” or an “experiment.” Mike White and John Mackovic were the former, Lovie Smith and Tim Beckman were the latter.
However, things are off to a great start, as Bielema led his team to a 30-22 win over Nebraska, despite having to play with a back-up quarterback almost the entire time. It was a game where Bielema’s side entered as seven point underdogs, but they defied the odds and won decisively. And now it’s time to start thinking about what Illinois could possibly accomplish this season.
If you’re someone who is in to sports betting, then you really need to check out youwager review, and look where the smart money is going. In terms of Illinois Fighting Illini season win totals, the magic number is 3.5, with the over priced at -150, the under is +120.
Up next for Bielema and company is a home date against University of Texas-San Antonio. In this night time kickoff they are favored by six, which seems pretty modest, to say the least. It’s hard to imagine Illinois not easily winning this one, by well into double digits.
While they’ll be substantial underdogs at Virginia, they also have another non-conference contest where they’ll be heavily favored- at home to Charlotte on October 2nd.
So with the one win they already have, and two more which seem to be very likely, you’re highly probable to be at three right there, with nine games left to get one more and push it to four.
Given the swagger and attitude that Bielema brings, attributes this program badly needs, it seems like getting to four or five wins is a slam dunk.
Now of course, games are never won or lost on paper, you have to put in the work to prepare, and then of course execute when the time comes.
Illinois quarterback turned wide receiver Isiah Williams said it best: “I feel like there’s more progress to be made, but I felt good. It felt like home. I got the chance to make some plays, show what I can do, but it’s only up from here. More progress to be made, more plays to be made.”
Williams, a former five-star recruit, pointed out that the 2021 Illini are not the same group we saw go 2-6 last year in the covid-shortened season.
“We put the world on notice that this ain’t the same team,” he said on Saturday after the big win.
“The past is gone. We’re looking forward to the future and now.”
And in looking towards the future, Illinois has two very winnable games coming up in Sept- at home versus Maryland and at Purdue. You got to think they’ll take at least one of those. Then you have a home date against the league laughing stock, Rutgers.
Honestly, this looks like a five win team that could maybe get lucky, have the right breaks and the right game plan to pull off an upset or two here or there, get to six and go bowling. They could get to bowl eligibility this season, but of course the main goal is a Big Ten West division title.
“For me, this was a big one to win,” Bielema said in postgame.
“From a recruiting standpoint, the Big Ten West, and I’ve been preaching to our guys that the past five Big Ten West champions, they’ve only lost at home twice in Big Ten West play, so the importance of winning these home Big Ten West games, and our players buy into it one hundred times over.”
“It’s (winning the season opener) like the perfect ending, like the period at the end of the sentence.”
That’s critical for Illinois, taking care of business at home. They had their crowd on their side in what was the first game with fans allowed since 2019.
It was also the very first game of the 2021 college football season, one where almost all of us were starving for gridiron pigskin again.
“It was lit,” defensive back Tony Adams said of the crowd on Saturday.
“We haven’t seen that in forever. It was lit. We rallied behind them. We fed off them. It’s always good.”
Of course, it’s a really long season, and given all the weird and goofy things we saw in the season opener, you can expect a lot of strangeness and randomness in the next 11 games too.
“You learn early on in science class, the more variable you add the more inconsistent the results could possibly be,” Bielema said at Media Day.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune.Follow paulmbanks