While the 2023 season has come to a close, there are reasons to be optimistic about the Illinois football 2024 campaign.
After finishing last season 5-7, the Illini are poised to improve on that number in 2024. We haven’t fallen below five wins in the three seasons that Bret Bielema has been at the helm, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
The over-under total wins for Big Ten teams in 2024 have been released. The teams with the most projected victories are Ohio State and Oregon. They both have an over-under of 10.5 wins for the upcoming season.
Which programs are at the bottom of the barrel? That would be Purdue and Minnesota. They both check in at over-under 4.5 wins for the 2024 campaign.
Illinois is just ahead of Purdue and Minnesota with a pack of six programs that have an over-under of 5.5 wins next season. The Illini won five games in 2021, eight games in 2022, and five games in 2023. So, over-under 5.5 wins makes sense.
Illinois football hitting over 5.5 wins for the 2024 season seems achievable
I don’t think many people realize how close Illinois was to winning more games in 2023. We were up heading into the fourth quarter on both Wisconsin and Iowa. Those two wins would have gotten us to a 7-5 campaign.
Moving into the 2024 campaign, Illinois has a decent roster returning. What is the most important position on the football field? Quarterback, of course.
Luke Altmyer is back for his junior year in Champaign. He threw for 1,883 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in his inaugural year with the Illini. Those numbers are a bit skewed as well, as Altmyer had four interceptions in one game.
In his final six games of the 2023 campaign, Altmyer threw for 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. You mix that in with the great ability to run, and I think Illinois has a really solid starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.
I am not just going to drool over the quarterback position either. There are some great returning players at other key positions.
Kaden Feagin is back for his sophomore season. His freshman campaign of 438 yards, two touchdowns, and 4.6 yards per carry pushed incumbent running back Reggie Love III out the door. Feagin could easily be one of the best running backs in the Big Ten.
Pat Bryant and the emergence of players like Malik Elzy and others are back at wide receiver. Illinois snagged one of the best transfer portal tight ends in Cole Rusk. We also brought in three new transfer offensive linemen to bolster the front lines.
The area I am worried about the most is the defense. A lot of talent departed for the NFL. Illinois does have some great developing defensive backs in Zachary Tobe, Saboor Karriem, and Jaheim Clarke, among others. The secondary should take a step forward in 2024.
Illinois’ front three will likely be completely new, but we did land three talented defensive linemen in the transfer portal. I am also a bit nervous about the linebacker situation. Illinois has solid playmakers, but they haven’t been great at this area of the field in quite some time.
Now let’s look at the Illini schedule. Eastern Illinois, Kansas, and Central Michigan are the three non-conference games. The Jayhawks are going to be really good. The Illini should be able to knock off Eastern Illinois and Central Michigan. I think Illinois comes out of these three games 2-1.
The road games for Illinois include Nebraska, Penn State, Oregon, Rutgers, and Northwestern. We get a new Cornhuskers team early in the season, so I think that could be a win. Penn State and Oregon are likely losses. Rutgers and Northwestern were both improved last season. Let’s say Illinois splits those two. That moves us to 4-4 on the season.
Homes games would then be Purdue, Michigan, Minnesota, and Michigan State. We can probably compete with Michigan but the Wolverines are likely too much. I think Illinois can knock off Purdue, Minnesota, and Michigan State. All three teams were at the bottom of the conference.
That gives Illinois a 7-5 record.
Overall, I think the Illini hit the over with seven wins in 2024. While the defense might take a step back, they struggled last season anyway. They can’t go too much further backward. I do believe the Illinois offense is ready to light the world on fire, though.