Two big pieces of the Illinois football team announced that they would not return to the program in 2024.
This season has been one of the craziest ones that I can remember for the Illini. The ups and downs have been quite the ride. Illinois started the 2023 campaign 2-4 with tough back-to-back losses to Purdue and Nebraska.
Bret Bielema rallied the troops, though. Illinois would win three out of the next four contests to move to 5-5 on the season. A heartbreaking loss this past weekend Iowa dropped us to 5-6 on the year, but with one game left, the Illini can still become bowl-eligible.
The final game against Northwestern has a ton of meaning. If Illinois can win this game, we will get to play in a bowl game. But there is even more meaning to this game than going bowling.
On Tuesday night, Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph Jr., the duo on the defensive line that forms the “Law Firm”, announced that the Northwestern game would be their final game as members of the Illinois football program.
Illinois football gameplan without Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph Jr.
Newton and Randolph are two of the greatest players the Illinois football program has had over the past decade. I would take it a step further and say Newton is one of the greatest players in program history.
If Illinois can beat the Wildcats and get to a bowl game, what will our defensive line look like?
Illinois will still have Denzel Daxon anchoring the defensive line. He has played a ton of snaps this season and is one of our best defensive linemen.
Newton and Randolph leaving gives the spotlight to players like Bryce Barnes and Sed McConnell. These two defensive linemen have played behind Newton and Randolph this season. When Newton had to sit out the first half of the Minnesota game, Barnes was the fill-in starter.
Much like last season when there were numerous Illinois defensive backs who didn’t play in the bowl game, we might have a chance to see what the future holds for the Illini defensive line this December. Without Newton and Randolph, this gives us a chance to start building for the future.