Illinois Fighting Illini Preview 2022: Season Prediction, Breakdown, Key Games, Players

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Illinois Fighting Illini Preview 2022: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Illinois season with what you need to know and keys to the season.

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Illinois Fighting Illini Preview
Head Coach: Bret Bielema, 2nd year at Illinois, 5-7
14th year overall: 102-65. 2021 Preview
2021 Record: Overall: 5-7, Conference: 4-5
Keys To The Season | Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Illinois Top 10 Players | Illinois Schedule & Analysis

Illinois Fighting Illini Preview 2022

It wasn’t consistent, and it turned out to be a loser of a season, but Illinois under Bret Bielema suddenly looks like it’ll be a pain in the rest of the Big Ten’s side.

The offense failed, the defense buckled in a few key spots, and again, there wasn’t any semblance of positive consistency, but Illinois beat Penn State. It might have been the most painful overtime game ever, but it was a win.

And then Illinois lost to Rutgers. And then it stuffed Minnesota.

Bielema and his staff did what he could with what they had, and now it’s time to not only come up with the program’s first winning season in ten years – and just three in the last 19 seasons – but to bring more of an attitude to what Illinois football can and should be.

It continues to be one of those programs that doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. It’s surrounded by schools that have known recent success at various levels.

It’s asking a lot to be another Wisconsin or Iowa – that takes years of a culture being built – but Indiana came up with a great season in 2020. Northwestern has been to two recent Big Ten Championships. Louisville, Kentucky, Purdue, Cincinnati, Missouri – they’re all within easy driving distance, and they’ve all had their moments over the last ten years.

There’s a fan base in place waiting for a winner. There might be an apathy and resignation among the faithful, Bielema is just the guy to change all of that.

As long as there’s a style that keeps the team in games against teams like 2021 Penn State and Minnesota, and add in a little more pop to push past the mediocre, there’s no reason Illinois can’t have a consistently winning football program.

But to win, you have to score, and …

Illinois Fighting Illini Preview 2022: Offense

Don’t be misled by the 20 point scoring average. As low as that might have seemed, it was worse than that – the Illini failed to score more than 20 points in seven of the last ten games.

The crazy part about the 2021 Big Ten season was how Illinois could only average 330 yards and those 20 points per game and still be tenth in the conference in yards and 11th in scoring. Going forward, it starts with getting more consistency and pop out of a horribly inefficient passing game. In comes new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. to change all of that.

Juice Williams, Nathan Scheelhaase, Wes Lunt, Jeff George Jr., Chayce Crouch,  AJ Bush, MJ Rivers, Brandon Peters,  Isaiah Williams. Illinois hasn’t had horrible quarterback play over the last ten years, but it can never seem to quite get the guy who can take the team to a whole other level.

The era of the transfer portal fits in perfectly with what the Illini are trying to do and what they need. Rutgers transfer Artur Sitkowski appeared to step up last year before he got hurt, and now we get to see what Tommy DeVito can do.

More on this in a later blurb – DeVito has talent, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he was beaten up behind a miserable Syracuse O line.

Former star QB get Isaiah Williams has real upside as a receiver – he caught a team-high 47 passes last season – and most of the other key targets are back. The one big loss, though, is TE Daniel Barker – he’s a Michigan State Spartan now. Former Georgia transfer Luke Ford will be a more featured part of the attack.

It’s a Bret Bielema team. The offensive line is going to get a whole lot of attention. It wasn’t a bad year from the front five considering what the staff had to work with, but the negative was its age. That was a veteran group that has to be patched up now.

The running backs are sneaky-good. Chase Brown ran for over 1,000 yards and five scores, Josh McCray is a good backup, and there are a whole lot of interesting other options in the mix.

Illinois Fighting Illini Preview 2022: Defense

The defense did what it could considering there wasn’t any help from an offense that didn’t score. It allowed just 22 points and 366 yards per game with a whole lot of bending and not a ton of breaking.

There might not be a lot of superstar power, but there’s a nice pace of talent to work around for what will be a D full of tough guys. The production might not always be there, but you don’t play defense for Bret Bielema or defensive coordinator Ryan Walters if you don’t bring a certain attitude.

The pass rush was by far night and day better with the most sacks since 2011. There was enough production from enough spots to overcome a few losses with the young line of last year about to be a whole lot better.

Keith Randolph and Jer’Zhan Newton are great-looking sophomore ends, but the tackle situation needs a rotation around young Northwestern transfer TeRah Edwards.

The linebacking corps takes a hit with Owen Carney Jr. and Isaiah Gay done, but the system makes the players, too, in the 3-4 alignment. Tarique Barnes is a good hitter on the inside, but the outside needs Ezekiel Holmes and Seth Coleman to turn into backfield terrors.

The secondary should be the early strength. Devon Witherspoon is a terrific rising corner and leading tackler Sydney Brown should be an All-Big Ten safety. Now they all need to pick off more passes with ball-hawking Detroit Lion Kerby Joseph done.

Keys To The Season | Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Illinois Top 10 Players | Illinois Schedule & Analysis

Illinois Fighting Illini: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats NEXT

Illinois Fighting Illini: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats

Illinois Fighting Illini: Key To The 2022 Offense

Grind, grind, grind.

Yes, Illinois has to be better and more consistent with the passing game – failing to come up with more than 100 passing yards five times in the last eight games is inexcusable – but when a Bret Bielema team is flattening defenses, everything else works.

The Illini were 4-0 when running for 185 yards or more, and 1-7 when they didn’t. Over the last two years they’re 6-0 when they hit that mark, and 1-13 when they don’t.

Again, there has to be more of a passing attack – seriously Illinois, hit more than 51% of your throws. Get that O line into a lather, control the clock, and grind … grind … grind.

Illinois Fighting Illini: Key To The 2022 Defense

Keep up the pressure.

How did the Illinois defense keep the team in games when the offense was struggling to put 20 points on the board? It came up with a whole lot of big things in the backfield, and it has to keep on coming.

There were a whole lot of problems in the Lovie Smith era, but the pass rush was solid in the final season averaging 2.25 sacks per game, and it kept on going and cranked up a notch last year averaging 2.3 per game.

No, the defensive front couldn’t do much of anything against Wisconsin, and Rutgers did a brilliant job up front in its win, but overall the Illini came up with three sacks or more in seven games.

Keep that going, get more of an offensive punch, and the extra wins will be there.

Illinois Fighting Illini: Key Player To The 2022 Season

PK Caleb Griffin, Jr.
Or Will McManus, and throw in redshirt freshman punter Hugh Robertson, too.

Illinois should be better, but it’s not going to come up with a high-octane scoring attack and should be in close game after close game.

Only three games last year were devices by four points or fewer, but one close call and one close kick might be the difference between going bowling and another losing season.

James McCourt hit 18-of-23 field goals last year, and now Griffin has to be equally as consistent and solid. Also for this team, field position matters. Blake Hayes averaged over 45 yards per kick – Robertson needs to be a factor right away.

Illinois Fighting Illini: Key Transfer

QB Tommy DeVito, Sr.
DeVito gave it a shot.

He’s a good passer who had some great moments at Syracuse, but the O line allowed 158 sacks over the last four years. There were a few quarterbacks who caught a beating, but DeVito was the main punching bag behind the porous front five.

He’s not going to know what to do with himself with time to operate, but if he can beat out the other options, he’ll give the offense the consistent passing attack missing last year.

Illinois Key Game To The 2022 Season

Virginia, Sept. 10
How far has the program come in a year?

There were only two times last season when the Illini got rocked. Once was against a Wisconsin defense that took its game up a few notches, and the other was a 42-14 whacking from Virginia – the D allowed 556 yards and a season-high 423 through the air.

If this is going to be a good season, Illinois has to open the season with a win over Wyoming and it needs to be good enough to get by Indiana on the road. Then Virginia comes to Champaign.

When was the last time Illinois started 3-0? 2011. That was the last time it came up with a winning season.

Illinois Fighting Illini: 2021 Fun Stats

– 1st Quarter Scoring: 36 – 2nd Quarter Scoring 102
– 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 13-of-18 (72%) – Illinois 5-of-13 (38%)
– Passing Yards Per Game: Opponents 215 – Illinois 156

O, D Breakdown | Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Illinois Top 10 Players | Illinois Schedule & Analysis

Illinois Fighting Illini Season Prediction, What Will Happen NEXT

Illinois Fighting Illini Season Prediction, What Will Happen

Illinois might have gone 5-7, but four of the losses were close and could’ve easily have gone the other way. Yes, the weird overtime win over Penn State could’ve easily been a loss, but …

The team should be able to get that one extra win to finally turn the program into a winner again.

This isn’t going to be one of those teams that rises up and pulls off something crazy like a run to the Big Ten Championship, and there will be a few moments when it just doesn’t have the horses to keep up, but it’s going to be tough on the lines and will be a tough out each and every game. And why?

The offense will score a little bit more.

Set The Illinois Fighting Illini Regular Season Win Total At … 5.5

There can’t be any misfires.

UTSA was fantastic last season, but to go full snob, that’s a Conference USA team that won on a Big Ten’s home floor. That should’ve been an Illinois win, and the same goes with the loss to Rutgers.

This year, Illinois has to beat Wyoming and Chattanooga. That’s two, and there aren’t any other obvious wins with the dates against Indiana, Nebraska, and Northwestern on the road.

But it’ll be close. The Illini will pull off an upset or three and be at five wins in November. It’ll have its chances to get that sixth victory and a bowl appearance.

Offense, Defense Breakdown | Keys To The Season
Illinois Top 10 Players | Illinois Schedule & Analysis

2022 College Football Schedules: All 131 Teams