There will be Big Ten football after all. After announcing a shortened 10-game season in July, the conference reversed course in August and said the goal was to play in the spring due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But as September drew to a close, the powers that be changed their minds once again, and now there will be an eight-game conference-only season starting Oct. 24.
So what this means is that the Illinois Fighting Illini will take the field this year. But chances are that there won't be any fans allowed at the games in Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Last year, Lovie Smith's team finally turned the rebuilding corner, going 6-6 in the regular season and earning their first trip to a bowl game since 2014. Although they did come up short in the RedBox Bowl, the Illini are using that loss as motivation to come out firing on all cylinders this season. Reaching consecutive bowl games will be easier said than done, especially since we don't know what exactly this year's postseason will look like. But Illinois returns multiple contributors from last year's team that know what it takes to win in the Big Ten.
Athlon asked a few editors and a college football contributor to share their realistic win/loss projection for Illinois in 2020.
Illinois Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Lovie Smith's team showed big improvement last season, finishing 6-7 and earning the program's first bowl bid since 2014. With an experienced roster (14 returning starters) in place, the Fighting Illini should push for another bowl trip in 2020. However, the schedule isn't kind. Illinois faces Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Northwestern on the road, while Minnesota, Ohio State and Iowa visit Champaign. Quarterback Brandon Peters and an experienced line lead the way on offense, while the strength of the defense rests at linebacker and in the secondary. Picking Illinois to finish 2-6 might be a bit low, but after having a plus-10 turnover margin to go with four Big Ten victories last fall, some regression is likely in store for 2020.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Illinois' revised eight-game schedule removes Penn State and Indiana from the 10-game slate that was announced back in July. I wasn't too high on the Illini then and nothing has really changed. Lovie Smith's team is improving and I'm not saying the chance for another upset (like they scored against Wisconsin and Michigan State last year) doesn't exist but a schedule that has Illinois playing at Wisconsin and Nebraska while also drawing Ohio State in addition to the other Big Ten West teams just doesn't leave much room for error. The Illini won't necessarily look like a 2-6 team but I think they will be hard-pressed to string together many wins this fall.
Gabe Salgado (@GabeSalgado82)
It'll be another .500 season for the Illini this year. Having Ohio State, Iowa, and Northwestern (lost last five games to the Wildcats) lined up for the final three weeks of the season does them no favors. Starting the season at Wisconsin (haven't won in Madison since 2002) also doesn't help. But the Illini's turnaround will continue.
(Top photo courtesy of @IlliniFootball)