SAVOY (WCIA) — Illinois football kicks off the season and a new era in exactly one month. The Illini open up new head coach Bret Bielema’s tenure in Orange and Blue on Aug. 28 against Nebraska in a nationally televised noon game. Bielema was hired in December, replacing Lovie Smith who was fired after going 17-39 in five seasons. He leaves behind a team chalked full of super-seniors thanks to a free year of eligibility handed out by the NCAA due to COVID-19.
“Now the clock’s ticking,” Bielema said. “Everybody feels it a little in spring ball but it’s more about counting 15 practices. Now we’re counting down to kickoff and that’s a big deal.”
The opener against the Huskers will also be the first time fans will fill Memorial Stadium since Thanksgiving weekend 2019. The buzz is real heading into the game for both fans and the Illini, who are looking to improve upon last year’s 2-6 record.
“You know I think excitement for our players, our coaches, our fans,” said Bielema. “Last year was a very unusual year, COVID all that goes into it. Shortened season, no fans at the stadium, so many different dynamics, a coaching change here at the University of Illinois so I think people are just excited for football to get back.”