Will Bret Bielema Get Illinois to a Bowl Game?

Will Bret Bielema Get Illinois to a Bowl Game?

NCAA

Will Bret Bielema Get Illinois to a Bowl Game?

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Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Illinois Fighting Illini head football coach Bret Bielema is trying to get his team to a bowl game for the first time since 2019.

2019 does not seem like a long time since a program’s last appearance in a bowl game, but for the Fighting Illini, it is a long time coming. Even in that season, they finished with a 6-7 record after they lost to California in the Redbox Bowl.

Bielema became Illinois’ head coach in 2021, and he ended his first season as the team’s head coach with a 5-7 overall record. It was not the way he wanted his first year to go, but that was expected since he joined a program that went 2-6 in 2020. The task to turn Illinois around was not going to happen instantly.

The Fighting Illini started the season 1-4 through their first five games of the season. After that rough start, the Fighting Illini could not fully recover through the rest of the season.

The last winning season for Illinois came in 2011 when the team finished with a 7-6 record under Ron Zook and interim coach Vic Koenning. Bielema hopes to return the school to a point where they are expected to compete for a spot in the Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl on an annual basis. Since 2002, Illinois has only appeared in six bowl games.

Bielema has been a head coach since 2006 when he accepted the job at Wisconsin. Since then, he only had three losing seasons including 2021 with Illinois. Other than 2013, 2017, and 2021, Bielema has put a winning team on the field every single year at Wisconsin and Arkansas.

On a positive note, the Fighting Illini closed out 2021 by winning two of their last three games against Minnesota and Northwestern. Bielema will have a tough challenge ahead of him for the 2022 season, but it will take time before Illinois reaches the heights that they want to. In his two previous destinations as a head coach, Bielema turned them into winning programs. He has the ingredients to be able to fix Illinois in the near future and help them get their first winning season in over 10 years.

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