Fighting Illini face tough road as they look to get back to a bowl game
The Illinois Fighting Illini are back for more in 2020. Last year, Lovie Smith's team finally turned the rebuilding corner as the Illini (6-7) posted their most wins and made their first postseason appearance 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 with a Big Ten-only schedule on the horizon, but Illinois returns multiple contributors from the 2019 roster that are a year better and wiser.
Athlon asked a few editors and a college football contributor to share their realistic win/loss projection for Illinois in 2020.
[Editor's note: This article was published before the Big Ten announced on Aug. 11 that it was postponing all fall sports, including football, with the intent of playing in the spring.]
Illinois Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After winning just nine games in his first three years on campus, Lovie Smith delivered a breakthrough season in 2019. The Fighting Illini won six games — including a victory over Big Ten West champ Wisconsin — and played in a bowl for the first time since 2014. A Big Ten-only schedule won’t make life any easier for Illinois in 2020, however. Illinois faces both Penn State and Ohio State and also has a road trip to Indiana. In order to reach .500 or better, the offense behind quarterback Brandon Peters needs to continue to improve, while a handful of new faces must emerge to keep the defense on track.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Illinois pulled off a couple of improbable upsets last season to propel Lovie Smith's team to a bowl game. And the Illini will probably need to do the same if they wish to return to the postseason. But even with most of the offense and a few key defenders returning, Illinois catches few breaks with its modified schedule. Not only do the Illini open with Ohio State and finish with Penn State, but they also have road trips to Madison and Lincoln on tap. Illinois will put up a fight against every foe, but I think the Illini take a couple of steps backward in the win column in 2020.
Gabe Salgado (@GabeSalgado82)
It’ll be another .500 regular season for the Illini this year. Having both Ohio State and Penn State on the schedule did them no favors, and having to play consecutive road games at Northwestern (lost last five games to the Wildcats), and Wisconsin (haven’t won in Madison since 2002) also doesn’t help. But the Illini’s turnaround will continue.
(Top photo courtesy of @IlliniFootball)