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Top 3 Memories of 2022 Illinois Football

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Illinois football
Oct 15, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema on the sidelines during the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Football created some memories in 2022.

In Bret Bielema’s second year, Illinois Football made a fiery return to relevance.  Though 8-5 seems like a rather pedestrian record, for a program like Illinois, this is a massive deal. In addition, Bret Bielema’s crew showed that this is a replicable effort. This is no fluke. Even though Illinois admittedly left some opportunities on the table, this was an incredibly memorable season. There are a plethora of moments that I remember from this season, but there are 3 memories that really stick out to me.

3) Devon Witherspoon trucks a Hoosier

This was a killer hit. The only reason that this moment is not even higher is because of the fact that Illinois lost this game. To be quite honest, after this game I wanted to send my diploma back to Champaign. The way Illinois lost this early in the season made for a true rock bottom. Anyhow, this hit was truly spectacular. I look forward to seeing this replayed multiple times come NFL draft time. Devon Witherspoon’s passion and competitive nature truly encapsulated this year’s scrappy and fiery Illini squad.

2) The Illini smack the Cats.

For the second straight year, Illinois absolutely dominated Pat Fitzgerald’s team. The Land of Lincoln trophy has always been a sour point given Lovie Smith’s incompetence. Prior to Bielema’s arrival, Illinois had lost six straight to Northwestern in rather uninspiring fashion. Northwestern has been terrible the past two years, so curb stomping a trash team and school really does not move the needle. However, anytime you can puff out your chest and beat the team from Evanston, life is good.

Additionally, Reggie Love looked fantastic. In light of Chase Brown’s departure to the NFL and Josh McCray’s injury battle, Illinois needs an every down back for the future. Love showed that he is capable of that role. Reggie showed a strong mix of power and elusiveness that confirmed he may be the long-term answer. Love had 11 carries for 85 yards, including a touchdown. Illinois has a stable of talented, yet young backs, but look for Reggie Love to take a premier role next year.

1) When Illinois clinched its first winning season with 4 games left.

Illinois clinched its first winning season after dominating the Nebraska Cornhuskers on the road. At this time, Illinois was 7-1.  There was talk that Illinois would be a candidate for College Gameday, a double-digit winning season, and more. Unfortunately, none of those came to fruition after Illinois lost winnable games to Michigan State and Purdue. Subsequently, they lost a close battle to Michigan on the road and went on to lose a close one in its bowl game. At the time, however, the possibilities and optimism were a welcome feeling for all of Illini fans. After nearly a decade of mediocrity and pure incompetence, Bret Bielema showed that Illinois can sustain success. Despite the close losses that give way to ask “what if?”, these are all “good problems” to have.

I look forward to the continued success under Bret Bielema. They have some key returners and are making strong additions in the transfer portal. Illinois definitely made the right hire in hiring an outstanding CEO to right the Illini ship.

 

Alex is the Owner of Armchairillini.com, your go-to source for in depth coverage of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Alex is a Resident Physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for Northwestern Medicine and has had articles featured in top media publications like Bleacher Report, YardBarker, Verbal Commits, CBS sports and more.

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