CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois football continues to check off items on its ‘haven’t done this in a long time’ list. A win at Wisconsin for the first time in 20 years over the weekend just another milestone in a growing list of accomplishments for second year head coach Bret Bielema, who has set a high bar for how success should be measured in Champaign.
“I was very excited to beat Wisconsin at Wisconsin but it’s really, it wasn’t a ranked opponent, their weren’t two ranked teams on the football field,” Bielema said on Monday. “We came here to be ranked, we came here to win championships, we came here to play at the highest level. In our building, we expect as football players, as football coaches to win games, to go to bowl games, sell out that stadium, do all the things. That’s gotta be the standard, that’s gotta be the expectation not the exception. There’s a huge difference and until we win more consistently over a course of time, that’s the fight that I’m always trying to get through.”
A nine overtime win at No. 7 Penn State was the coming out party for Bielema’s Illini last season, the first road victory over a Top 10 ranked opponent since 2007. Illinois followed up by beating No. 20 Minnesota on its home field, the first win over a team ranked in the College Football Playoff. Despite finishing 5-7 and just one win away from bowl eligibility in Bielema’s first season, the team finished 2021 in style by blowing out Northwestern in the first win over the Cats since 2014. Add the convincing 34-10 win in Madison to the list and Illinois is starting to build momentum, something it hasn’t had for a long time. For Bielema, he wants it to be the norm.
“Man I fell out of bed and did this in the past right?” Bielema said. “Like this is what we have to do, this is our expectation.”
That quote was in reference to Chase Brown extending his streak of rushing for more than 100+ yards in a game, the junior tailback holds the the program record with six straight. Bielema has built his career on successful running backs and offensive lineman, add Brown to that list. But holistically, the phrase speaks to what Bielema wants Illinois to be, and that’s looking more like the team he beat over the weekend. Before leaving for Arkansas, Bielema took Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowls, something that had never been done before. After the Badgers fired Paul Chryst on Sunday, Bielema remains second on the all-time wins list for Wisconsin, just one ahead of Chryst.
“The expectation, I just find it incredibly at times humorous but also very frustrating because when I heard the stat of number of 100-yard rushers, or when he (Chase Brown) got his 1,000 yards and the record that it broke I’m like, ‘Man, I fall out of bed into this in the past. This is what we have to do. This is our expectation.’”
Illinois has a chance to add to the checklist on Saturday hosting Iowa at 6:30 p.m. on BTN. The Illini haven’t beat the Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-1 B1G) since 2008, losing eight straight in the series.