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Can't Wait For Saturday | Believe it or not, C-U visits by the Panthers have been rare

May 31—***

The Illinois football opener is 90 days away when Bret Bielema's team lines up against Eastern Illinois on a Thursday night (Aug. 29. time TBA)/

The team has 12 guaranteed games and can add a 13th by qualifying for a bowl. Think really big and the number jumps by either reaching the Big Ten title game or earning a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

By my count, Illinois can play as many as 17 games.

No reason to get ahead of myself. Let's look at the games we know will happen for certain.

Here is the CWFS take on Illinois' schedule, counting the games down on the excite-o-meter. As always, feel free to disagree:

N-G sports editor Matt Daniels and ace beat writer Scott Richey might be tempted to pick their alma mater from Charleston. That would be a mistake.

In the history of Illinois football, it has never lost to an FCS school.

Sure, the Panthers are coming off an eight-win season and should have made the playoffs last year. But the difference in roster size and football budget means Eastern Illinois is a long shot. At best.

Both previous games in the series came during the Ron Zook era, with Illinois rolling 42-17 (2006) and 47-21 (2008).

The good new for Eastern Illinois is the trip is quick and the payday is large. If I was in charge, the teams would play every three or four years.

The Panthers have a recent edge on Illinois in terms of producing NFL-ready quarterbacks. Both Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo were stars in Charleston before taking the NFL by storm.

Oh, and the school is the home of Super Bowl winning coaches Mike Shanahan and Sean Payton. If I missed anyone, Matt and Scott will let me know.