STATE COLLEGE, PA. (WCIA) — There’s little time for Bret Bielema and his team to reflect, even in a full circle moment. They’ve been busy preparing to try and knock off No. 7 Penn State, the same place Bielema saw his new team play.
On December 19th, 2020 Bielema was announced as the new head coach of the program. He grabbed the headlines that day, made an appearance on College Game Day on his way to State College and stood on the sideline to see the Illini lose by 35 to the Nittany Lions, just one week after Lovie Smith was fired.
“Watching a group of players and I’m glued to my roster looking at who’s who and and at that time they’re just numbers,” says Bielema. “I did enjoy the spirit they played with and I told them that on that Sunday but now those emotions that I feel are real, right? Like to see the disappointment in their eyes after some of these tough losses but also to see the joy in their eyes after a couple of wins makes it that much more tangible and real.”
Illinois is a 24 point underdog against Penn State. Just like the Illini, the Nittany Lions are also coming off a bye, following a loss. A big question for both teams this week is their quarterback situation. Illinois’ Brandon Peters was cleared for practice earlier in the week after leaving the Wisconsin game with an injury. It’s still unclear who will get the start tomorrow between the super-senior or sophomore Art Sitkowski. The Nittany Lions got Sean Clifford back to practice this week — the standout quarterback left the Iowa game two weeks ago and didn’t return. Penn State head coach James Franklin says he won’t know until Saturday who will be starter.
“I think we can all agree that we’d like Sean back so we’ll adjust and do what we have to do,” says Franklin. “I think your term fluid is a good word to describe where we’re at right now and just taking it day-by-day.”
Illinois and No. 7 Penn State kick off at 11 am CT on ABC.