CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois football coach Bret Bielema didn’t hold much back during his Monday press conference leading up to the Penn State game, his roster has to change to have success. The Illini are 2-5 overall, 1-3 in Big Ten play heading into Saturday’s matchup against the 7th-ranked Nittany Lions. And while Bielema said he still wants to win games, the tone has seemingly shifted to prioritizing what the first year Illini coach can learn about his roster the remaining five games as he looks towards the future.
“As this roster continues to transition, I’ve got to make tough decisions, players have to make decisions and the roster is going to have to change to get to where we want to be to win a championship,” Bielema said. “I recognized that probably midway through the spring last year, through the summer. Just certain positions haven’t played out the way we envisioned them to. In particular in the offensive line, I don’t believe we have a player in the two-deep that they’ve recruited here in the last two years that is significantly doing anything for us in the playing department and that’s a major concern.
“The top two quarterbacks that have played to this point are both transfers, so there hasn’t been any development at that position that is significantly playing right now.”
In the spring, Bielema moved three quarterbacks to other positions, with Isaiah Williams and Deuce Spann switching to receiver. Peoria native Coran Taylor is now playing safety. The offensive line is senior laden with Doug Kramer, Alex Palczewski, Vederain Lowe, Blake Jeresaty and Jack Badovinac all in their final year of college eligibility. That leaves only Julian Pearl and former walk-on Alex Pihlstrom as the only two returning guys with any significant playing time.
The Illini currently have 15 high school players committed in the Class of 2022 in what will be the foundation for Bielema’s first real recruiting class. The transfer portal will be very important for the program, with several guys likely to be added from other programs in key spots such as quarterback, offensive line and receiver.