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Wisconsin football 2020 opponent preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

Wisconsin will get a chance at revenge in the opening game of the 2020 season as the Illini come to Madison.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

While the Big Ten football season should be a month old by now, we are still stuck in neutral waiting to kickoff. The Wisconsin Badgers and the rest of the conference don’t get going until October 24, but we can’t really wait that long to start talking about football. It is time to start previewing Wisconsin’s opponents now!

The Badgers will play eight games in the regular season, all six division opponents and two cross-division opponents, and then a ninth game on B1G Championship Sunday against their place-doppelgänger from the East.

Let’s start our preview series off with the FIBs from Champaign-Urbana!

Team name: Illinois Fighting Illini

Location: Champaign, Ill.

Head coach (years with team): Lovie Smith (five years at Illinois)

Coordinators (years with team): Rod Smith (offensive coordinator, three years at Illinois), Lovie Smith (defensive coordinator, five years at Illinois, one year as DC)

2019 record, place in division: 6-7 overall (4-5 in Big Ten), No. 4 in West

2019 result vs. Wisconsin: (W) 24-23

2020 game date vs. Wisconsin: Saturday, October 24th, Camp Randall Stadium, Madison

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Wisconsin at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Three key departing players: RB Reggie Corbin (675 rushing yards, seven TDs), LB Dele Harding (153 tackles, 14.5 TFL, three interceptions, 1st Team All-B1G), DE Oluwole Betiku, Jr. (nine sacks, 36 tackles, 3rd Team All-B1G)

Three key returning players: QB Brandon Peters (1,884 passing yards, 18 TDs, eight INTs, 55.3 completion percentage), WR Josh Imatorbhebhe (33 catches, 634 yards, nine TDs), LB Jake Hansen (72 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one interception)

Overview of team: The Illini came into last year’s matchup with the Wisconsin Badgers on a four-game losing streak and as 30 point underdogs. We, uh, all know what happened next and it’s best to just move on. Illinois used the win over Wisconsin to run off a four-game winning streak and reach a bowl for the first time since 2014.

They lose their top two leading rushers, their leading tackler and their leading sack artist off of last year’s overachievers but do return a veteran quarterback, offensive line and secondary. The Illini also have talent out wide with three of their top four leading receivers returning.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Illinois
Josh Imatorbhebhe catches a pass for a touchdown during the second half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Tristan Kissack, of our friends at The Champaign Room, offered up this summation of the Illini’s season:

This will likely be the last time the Illini are ~relevant~ for the foreseeable future. With an upperclassmen-heavy roster and not much depth on the recruiting front the past couple years, the bowl contention window is quickly fading. Illinois is anchored by seniors Brandon Peters, Josh Imatorbhebhe, Jake Hansen, Nate Hobbs, the list goes on. Optimistically, this team will steal one or two it isn’t supposed to — we’re looking at you Wisconsin and Michigan State — and win the one or two it should. The offense will keep the Illini in games this year if running back Mike Epstein can stay healthy or Chase Brown lives up to the hype. On the defensive side of things, I think we’ll see a similar product to what we saw last year.

Prediction for 2020 game vs. Wisconsin: Out for revenge, but in the first game after the weirdest offseason in decades, the Badgers win a sloppy game 35-14.