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Can't Wait For Saturday | When the MAC comes calling, Illinois is (almost) always ready

May 30—***

The Illinois football opener is 91 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. Really.

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:

This will be the first meeting between the schools. The Chippewas are coming off a 5-7 season under Jim McElwain. It has been a mixed bag in Mount Pleasant for the one-time Florida boss. He is 29-28 overall and trying to rebound after conseucutive losing seasons. He was the toast of the town in 2021 after a 9-4 finish that included a bowl win.

Illinois is 13-4 all time against the MAC. Only one of the games wasn't at home, a 2008 loss to Western Michigan at Detroit's Ford Field.

Alums include longtime NFL linebacker-turned-announcer Ray Bentley and receiver Antonio Brown.