Champaign Dreams by Don Glenn Volume 1 Issue 1
Hello fans, I am launching a new bi-monthly column that will focus on Illinois sports.
We are just a few days away from the Illini football season opener versus the University of Toledo in Champaign. September 2 at 6:30
This is the third year of Brett Bieliema as the head coach of the Illini. So far he is 13-12 in his first two years. That is the best record for the first two years at Illinois since John Mackovick who went 16-7-1 in his first two years in 1988-1989.
The Illini lost a lot of personnel from last year's 8-5 team, including; Chase Brown, Sydney Brown, and Devon Witherspoon, They also lost Defensive Coordinator Ryan Walters who is now the Head Coach at Purdue.
I have seen a lot of predictions anywhere from 6-8 wins. Some in Champaign say could be as many as 10 wins. Are those lofty expectations?
Not really, because although they lost some talent the cupboard is not bare in the Illini kitchen.
In the backfield, not only did Bielema have to replace Brown but QB Danny Devito is gone as well. replacing him will be Ole Miss transfer, Sophomore Luke Altmyer. Altmyer played sparingly at Ole Miss, in two seasons he was 28-54 for 317 yards with three TDs and 3 Interceptions. But he was a much sought-after player when he entered the Transfer Portal. He possesses good skill and a strong accurate arm. The plus is that he is only a Sophomore so still room to grow and develop.
Filling the hole at the Running Back spot will be a pair of very talented backs,
Reggie Love III via Illinois Athletics Josh McCray by Patrick Pierson via Illinois Athletics.
Redshirt Sophomore Josh McCray who was injured after 4 games last season but in 2021 had 112 carries for 549 yards and 2 TDs, and Junior Reggie Love the III. Love had 72 carries on the season for 329 yards and 2 TDs. Incoming Freshman Kaden Feagin could make some waves. Feagin could fit multiple roles but a 6-6, 250 pounds, and with good speed he could find himself in the backfield as a power running Fullback.
Altmyer will have targets to throw to in returning Jr. Isiah Williams (81 catches, 709 yards, 5 TDs), Jr. Pat Bryant (34 Catches, 453 yards, 2 TDs), So. Casey Washington (32 Catches, 312 yards, 9.8 yards per catch). Junior TE Tip Reiman Sr.(19 catches, 174 yards, 5.2 yards per catch). could see more targets as well in second-year Offensive coordinator Barry Luney's offensive scheme. Also, big things are expected out of 4-star recruit Wide-out Malik Elzy. Elzy is a BIG target at 6-2 and 210 pounds. He doesn't have elite speed but is a very efficient route runner who can gain separation at the line of scrimmage.
Jer'Zahn"Jonny" Newton by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire Keith Randolph by David Craan via Illinois Athletics
via Getty Images
New Defensive Coordinator Aaron Henry may not have Witherspoon, Brown, and LB Isaac Darkangelo, but Defensive linemen Jer'Zahn "Johnny" Newton and Kieth Randolph are back. Between the two of them, they complied 113 Tackles, 26 tackles for Loss, and 10 sacks last season. Backing them up is a strong corps of Linebackers You have Tarique Barnes 46 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss and Seth Coleman 45 tackles 5 Tackles for Loss and 4.5 sacks.
In the secondary filling the space left by Brown(59 tackles, 6 picks, 7 passes defended) and Witherspoon (41 tackles, 3 picks, 14 passes defended). Will not be an easy task. Tavon Nicholson, 19 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception, and 6 passes defended in 10 games is said to be the odds-on favorite to take the spot formerly occupied by Witherspoon. Sophomore Mathew Bailey 10 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 2 passes defended is being considered for a spot in the defensive backfield.
Illinois' schedule is very favorable
They have 7 games at home in Toledo, Penn State., Florida Atlantic, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Northwestern. The only real trouble I see here is Penn State who will challenge Ohio State and Michigan for the Big Ten East title. Wisconsin could present an issue later in the season but the rest should be wins by Illinois.
Away from home they face; Kansas, Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota, and Iowa. I am not as confident playing at Maryland and Minnesota. Both are good teams and have given Illinois fits in the past.
The First Big Ten game will be Penn State in week three. And there is a three-game gauntlet of Maryland(A), Wisconsin (H), and Minnesota (A) that could push the Illini. All-in-all, I think 8 wins in the regular season is certainly not out of the question and if the ball bounces the right way a time or two they could be looking at 10 wins. I don't think the Big Ten West has any real killers in it. but it does have a number of evenly-matched teams in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. So look for a dogfight with Illinois right in the middle of it.
On the Hardwood
Brad Underwood by Micael Allio via AP Bill Self by Reed Hoffman via AP
Last year the U of I and Kansas hooked up for a preseason scrimmage. They had plans to do it this year. However, after the devastating fire in Hawaii, Coaches Brad Underwood and Bill Self have decided to elevate the game from a scrimmage to a preseason charity exhibition to raise money for those affected in Hawaii. This will be the first time that Bill Self has set foot in the State Farm Center since he left Illinois to take over the reins at Kansas. It will be interesting to see how the Illini fans react. I know some fans still hold a grudge, the way that Self left Illinois for Kansas in 2003.
Underwood's team is coming off a successful tour of Spain, where Illinois went 3-0 and some line-up questions may not have been settled, but there are leaders emerging.
At Point Guard, it looks like Ty Rodgers the 6-6, 200 Sophomore. is getting the nod here With Niccolo Moretti 6-1, 160 Fr. and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn 6-1, 165 Fr. poised as backups. Moretti is probably the better passer but Rodgers is the more athletic and more of an offensive threat at this point.
At the 2 Guard slot, 5th year Senior. Terrance Shannon Jr. 6-6, 225. Not a shooting guard, more of a slash-and-drive type of scorer Shannon makes a habit of getting to the free-throw line. His backup is transfer 5th-year Senior Justin Harmon 6-4, 180 from Utah Valley. Harmon is a lot like Shannon in his style of play.
At the Wing position, Junior Luke Goode 6-7, 210 looks like the odds-on favorite for this position. He is probably the best shooter from 3-point range and he plays very good defense. Sincere Harris 6-4 Sophomore and SIU transfer Marcus Domask 6-6, 215 a 5th year Senior provide depth at this slot. Both can shoot Domask may be the better shooter but Harris is a hard-nosed defender who can shut down opposing players.
Forward, This was a lock Senior Coleman Hawkins at 6-10, 225 he could also see time at the 5 slot and stretch out the floor but his primary position it seems will be at the 4. Illinois is deep here as well with transfer Quincy Guerrier 6-8, 220 5th years Sr. from Oregon. Guerrier is a big man who can hit the three and stretch defenses. You could also have Goode at the 4 or even Domask.
In the Post Dain Dainja, Redshirt Jr. looks to be the man-in-the-middle for Illinois. Listed at 6-9, 270 pounds he is a load for most post players to handle. He is a strong rebounder but does have a turnover issue at times. Backing up Danjia When they don't use Coleman Hawkins you will probably see Freshman Amani Hansberry 6-8 225 take up residence in the paint.
Illinois was quite young last year. They used the Transfer Portal to add experience and depth. The full Big Ten schedule isn't out yet The Illini will have home and away games with: Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, and Rutgers. Single games at home will feature Indiana, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Single-game away contests will be against Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Too early to tell but This will be in my opinion a much improved Illini team.