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Two Games Illinois Football Must Win to make a 2024 Bowl Game

As summer heats up, and players soon report to camp, Armchair Illini breaks down the Illinois Football schedule, and how they can bowl in 2024



How Illinois Football Makes a Bowl Game In 2024
Jan 2, 2023; Tampa, FL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema takes the field fro the the 2023 ReliaQuest Bowl against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

How Illinois Football Makes a Bowl Game In 2024

The Fighting Illini kick off on the gridiron in 86 days (8/29), and expectations from Bret Bielema are high. Certainly, fans would love to see Illinois Football in post-season play once again under Bielema, after an 8-5 season in 2022. After receiving a handful of commitments from quality transfer pickups, the buzz surrounding Illinois football seems promising.

According to Fan Duel Sportsbook, the Illini are predicted to be just short of a bowl game in 2024, with an over/under of 5.5 games for the 2024 season. Of course, another 5-7 record would be a tough pill to swallow, after doing so in 2023. Illinois has a tough history of following up (what seems like) big, stepping-stone seasons for the program. Not to mention, the season ended in an absolute gut-wrenching fashion against Northwestern.

What can the 2024 Illini do to secure 6+ wins for the program, in a massive year of college football transition?

The Schedule

VS Eastern Illinois – Aug 29th (Thursday) /  8 pm / Big Ten Network

VS Kansas – Sept 7th  /  6 pm / FOX Sports 1

Homecoming game vs Central Michigan  – Sept 14th  / 11 am / Peacock

AT Nebraska – Sept 20th  /  7 pm / FOX

AT Penn State – Sept 28th /  6:30 pm


VS Purdue – Oct 12th

VS Michigan – Oct 19th

AT Oregon – Oct 26th

VS Minnesota – Nov 2nd


VS Michigan State – Nov 16th

AT Rutgers – Nov 23rd

AT Northwestern – Nov 30th

Must Wins and Probable Losses

Of course, it is June, so any predictions before the finalization of rosters is a matter of stat projecting and opinion. However, as the schedule unfolded for Illinois, there were some must-win games, toss-ups, and probable losses for 2024. If Illinois can take care of business vs the four “must-win” teams, that is a major step in the right direction. Additionally, Illinois must also snag a couple more wins vs projected “toss-up” games. Furthermore, giving Illinois the 6+ needed to bowl in 2024.

Must Wins: Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan, Purdue, Minnesota

Toss Ups: Michigan State, Northwestern, Kansas, Nebraska, Rutgers

Probable losses: Penn State, Michigan, Oregon

Two toss-up games you must have

If Illinois wants to bowl in 2024, locking down a couple of the “toss-up” games is key to success. Michigan State, Northwestern, Kansas, Nebraska, and Rutgers are all extremely winnable games for Bret Bielema. However, claiming victory vs any of these 5 opponents certainly won’t be a walk in the park.

Tone Setter

First, my mind immediately goes to Kansas. The Illini dropped a loss 23-34 in Lawrence (KS) last year to Lance Leipold’s tough 9-4, squad. Now, it is in Champaign and Illinois Football’s turn to play host.

Despite losing a plethora of talent from 2023, Kansas still has Jalon Daniels leading the way at Quarterback. Daniels picked the Illini apart, going 21/29 on the night, with 277 total yards, and 2 touchdowns. The Jayhawks QB averaged 9.6 yards per play vs the Illini in last season’s matchup. If Illinois can slip away with a win, they will be in great shape to start the season 3-0. Of course, factoring in wins over EIU and Central Michigan. If that happens, the Illini will then have a stretch of Nebraska, Penn State, and Purdue to follow. Other than a probable loss vs Penn State, that sets up the Illini with a reasonable shot to start the season 5-1, with wins over Purdue and Nebby.

Beat Northwestern

Of course, Northwestern delivered a gut-wrenching loss to Illinois in Champaign in 2023. The Wildcats pounced into Memorial Stadium and stole away a 45-43 win. A brutal loss, that held the Illini from bowl game contention in 2023. Certainly, the Illinois Football program must seek revenge. The two in-state rivals face off on November 30th at Wrigley Field in Chicago. A game that may just be another make-or-break moment for Illinois Football program history.

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Kirkland is a go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He is the lead Football analyst at Armchair Illini and has been featured in top media publications like Bleacher Report, Yard Barker, Autograph, Newsbreak, CBS Sports and more.