As college football season draws ever-closer, we’re running down Indiana’s schedule to preview its opponents for 2023.
Indiana travels to Champaign, Ill. for the first time since 2017 in November to take on Illinois. IU has won four straight games over the Fighting Illini, dating back to 2012. The Hoosiers opened their 2022 season with a dramatic 23-20 win over Illinois in Bret Bielema’s Big Ten debut with the Illini.
- Opponent: Illinois
- Date/Time/TV: Saturday, November 11, TBA
- Location: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
- 2022 record/postseason result: 8-5, 5-4 Big Ten, lost to Mississippi State in the ReliaQuest Bowl
Returning production, offense: 64 percent (per Bill Connelly/ESPN)
Offensive outlook: Illinois’ offense was a middling unit last season, statistically. And the Fighting Illini have some big pieces to replace this season, starting at quarterback and running back. Tommy DeVito had a solid season under center for Illinois last year, but he departed after the season. Sophomore Luke Altmyer won the starting quarterback job in fall camp after transferring from Ole Miss. 247Sports rated him as the 10th-best quarterback available in the transfer portal this offseason. He played very sparingly for the Rebels last season, but the former four-star recruit is talented.
Chase Brown was one of the top running backs in the Big Ten last season, but he moved on to the NFL. Junior Reggie Love III will step into a lead back role this year after posting 317 yards on 70 carries with two touchdowns last year as the No. 2 option. Illinois does return three of its four leading receivers from last season in senior Casey Washington and juniors Isaiah Williams and Pat Bryant. The team’s top receiving tight end, junior Tip Reiman, is also back.
Illinois’ offensive line graded well last season — Pro Football Focus ranked the unit 22nd in the country and fourth in the Big Ten in run blocking, and 39th in the nation and 7th in the conference in pass blocking. Isaiah Adams ranked as the 12th-best guard in run blocking in the country, and he’s back this year. The Illini have three returning starters on the offensive line, though they’re replacing two All-Big Ten selections.
Returning production, defense: 62 percent (per Bill Connelly/ESPN)
Defensive outlook: Illinois had one of the top defenses in the Big Ten and the country last season. UI led the nation by allowing just 12.8 points per game, and the Illini boasted top-10 passing and rushing defenses. They allowed just 273.5 yards per game, good for third in the nation. While that level of dominance may be hard to repeat, Illinois has enough back from that group for this year’s defense to be promising.
Junior defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton is back after a huge sophomore season that saw him earn first team All-Big Ten honors. Newton led the Illini with 5.5 sacks (seventh in the Big Ten) and 13 tackles for loss (second in the conference). PFF graded Newton the seventh-best interior defender in the country. Junior defensive tackle Keith Randolph Jr., a third-team All-Big Ten selection, also returns off a 13 TFL campaign.
Coupled with three returning starting linebackers, Illinois has continuity in the defensive front. But there’s a lot of turnover in the secondary. Just one starter returns from last season’s stout group, junior cornerback Tahveon Nicholson. It will be tough to replace the All-Big Ten secondary trio of Devon Witherspoon, Sydney Brown, and Jartavius Martin. Sophomore safety transfer Demetrius Hill could be an important piece of the new-look defensive backfield — at FIU last season, he was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team.
Illinois’ secondary play could go a long way in determining how good this team can be.
Returning starters, special teams: kicker Caleb Griffin, punter Hugh Robertson, punt returner Isaiah Williams
Special teams outlook: Griffin went 14 for 19 on field goals last season, the third-worst clip in the Big Ten; but he converted all 32 of his extra-point attempts. Robertson finished last in the conference in punt average, at 40 yards flat. Both will look to improve this year. Williams posted the best punt return average in the Big Ten at 7.5 yards per return.
Overall Outlook: Illinois has enough departed talent to replace this season to raise questions about potential regression after a solid 2022 season. But the Illini have enough back from that group and enough potential to feel like they have a solid floor. It’s hard to see this team being outright bad. The Illini may be a step below the top teams in the Big Ten West, but they should be in contention for a bowl game. Somewhere between five and eight wins feels right for Illinois.
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