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Can't Wait For Saturday | Matchup with Kansas gives Illinois an early change to make an impression

Jun. 8—***

The Illinois football opener is 83 days away when Bret Bielema's team lines up against Eastern Illinois on a Thursday night (Aug. 29. 8 p.m.).

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:

This game has been cicled on the Illinois calendar since Sept. 8, when the team went to Lawrence, Kan., and lost to to the host Jayhawks 34-23. It wasn't that close.

Unfortunately for the Illini, Kansas brings back many of the players responsible for the win. None more important than quarterback Jalon Daniels, who threw for 277 yards.

Daniels missed most of the rest of the 2023 season with a back injury but is healthy now.

Also returning are star running back Devin Neal and the team's top three receivers. If new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes can fill three holes on the line, the offense should be humming.

Lance Leipold has pulled of a near miracle in Lawrence, winning at a basketball school that is not far removed from being one of the worst teams in the Power Four. Heck, even Bill Self shows up to the games.

Kansas is one of my picks to make the field for the expanded College Football Playoffs. Illinois wants to knock that train off the track.

So, while it is certainly a difficult game for Bielema and pals, it also presents them with a chance to get into the national conversation with an early upset victory. Even with Illinois playing at home, Kansas figures to be a touchdown favorite.

The crowd in Champaign will be good and ready for the late-night kickoff. Here's hoping for perfect weather and a basketball game between the school's too.