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Illinois Football: Smell that? Football is in the Air



Dec 30, 2022; Clearwater, FL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema speaks during the Clearwater Beach Day for the 2022 ReliaQuest Bowl Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

With basketball season officially over, we can start to turn our attention to Illinois Football.

Last year was a great season for Illinois Football, finishing the regular season 8-4. However, there were some wins left on the board, giving this program another step to take in 2023.

There are going to be a lot of fun storylines to track as Spring ball is now in full swing…


Without Chase Brown, who emerges as the lead back? Will it be Josh McCray, who suffered an injury in week 0 of last year? Will it be Reggie Love, who played RB2 quite a bit last season? Maybe some of the younger guys will seize this opportunity.

A lot of attention will be given towards the quarterback position with Tommy DeVito gone after his really solid year in the orange and blue. Ole Miss transfer, Luke Altmyer, looks to take over for Illinois. Altmyer is a former 4 star QB prospect and will look to continue the  QB play that Bret Bielema teams need. He may even give Illinois more than expected as a thrower of the football, raising the ceiling of the team.

Wide receiver might be the most “boring” position group to follow throughout the rest of the offseason, but maybe a guy like Malik Elzy will shine through as a freshman. Isaiah Williams and Pat Bryant should be the leading pass catchers once again this Fall. The offensive line also returned some pieces like Isaiah Adams and Julian Pearl. Hopefully, that will help this offensive front be among the more solid in the conference.


On the defensive side of things, there’s a lot to be excited about as well. The defensive line should be one of the best units in the Big Ten this upcoming season. They return a lot of key guys, and a jump should be expected from Gabe Jacas as a sophomore.

The defensive backs will be a particularly interesting group to watch after losing pieces like Devon Witherspoon, Quan Martin and Sidney Brown. We had similar questions about continued success after the 2021 season, and we were pleasantly surprised again by this unit in 2022. Even without Ryan Walters, I expect the DBs to find new leaders once again, even if they aren’t as strong as a group as 2022’s (probably one of the best units ever by the way).

If the defense had any weaknesses last year, it was with its linebacking core. Not sure if any huge jumps should be expected from this group, but if they can be solid in run defense and serviceable in coverage, the defense, featuring a monster front, could be Illinois’ calling card once again in 2023.

Of course, questions will be asked without Ryan Walters calling the defense this year. However, Bielema seems pretty confident about Aaron Henry and what he will bring to the table. It might look a little different than how Walters did things, and that’s okay.

Special Teams

Early on in 2022, special teams was a big problem for Illinois Football. Long field goals and good punts were hard to come by. However, it seemed Caleb Griffin seemed to lock in later in the season. Illinois has brought in Declan Duley, the 5th ranked punter in the country, and David Olano, the 3rd ranked kicker in the country. How much will these guys contribute right away? Only time will tell, but it seems as though Illinois should feel good about the future of their special teams play.


Zach Leslie is one of original members of Armchair Illini, your go-to sources of University of Illinois news. He has sports content published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits and more. He is also one of the most talented videographers in Illini Nation and has published work on some of the most famous Cinema Review sites such as LetterBoxd.