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College Football Preview 2024: Illinois Fighting Illini win projections, strengths and weaknesses, quarterback spotlight and more

2T5H6P4 Illinois quarterback Luke Altmyer (9) stands on the field during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Minnesota, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

After a very successful 2022 season in which the Fighting Illini finished 8-5, the team came crashing down with a 5-7 record in 2023. And that, unfortunately, now means that Illinois has finished with a losing record in 11 of the last 12 seasons.

If Bret Bielema’s squad is to bounce back, it’ll likely be due to its defense. Even after losing star defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton, the Fighting Illini’s front seven projects to be the team's strength.

Still, Illinois will need its new skill position players on offense and quarterback Luke Altmyer to raise their games in order to make a bowl game.

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Biggest Strength: Run defense

Illinois earned top-40 team-level grades in both run defense (38th) and tackling (27th) last season. The Fighting Illini return five of their nine front-seven players who played at least 300 snaps in 2023 and also added former Florida State interior defensive lineman Dennis Briggs Jr. from the transfer portal to play a major role.

Biggest Weakness: Can Illinois get anything going offensively?

Illinois lost four of its top five receivers and top rusher Reggie Love III. Luke Altmyer is back at quarterback, but he finished only 87th among FBS signal-callers in passing grade (67.3) in 2023.

2023 Team Overview

EPA per play Yards per play Successful play rate Explosive run play rate Explosive pass play rate
-0.025 5.9 35.3% 14.4% 15.0%
74th 56th T-62nd 85th 61st
EPA allowed per play Yards allowed per play Successful play rate allowed Explosive run rate allowed Explosive pass rate allowed
0.044 5.4 36.5% 14.3% 13.3%
96th T-54th 96th 49th 50th

Three Notable Transfer Portal Additions

  • OT J.C. Davis (New Mexico): 84.5 PFF Grade
  • WR Zakhari Franklin (Ole Miss): 54.4 PFF Grade
  • CB Torrie Cox Jr. (Ohio): 72.5 PFF Grade

Three Notable Transfer Portal Losses

  • CB Tahveon Nicholson (Louisville): 69.4 PFF Grade
  • RB Reggie Love III (Purdue): 69.2 PFF Grade
  • CB Zachary Tobe (Georgia Tech): 65.6 PFF Grade

Quarterback Spotlight: Luke Altmyer

2023 Grade: 69.4
Key Stat: 34 sacks taken in nine games


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