The look ahead to the 2022 schedule continues for ranking Michigan State’s football opponents this coming season. Up today is one of MSU’s cross-divisional foes from the Big Ten West: the Illinois Fighting Illini.
2021 Record: 5-7 (4-5 Big Ten)
In his first season at the helm in Champaign, head coach Bret Bielema made quite the debut with an upset win over division opponent Nebraska in “Week Zero.” However, Illinois then dropped four-straight games, which included losses to the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and Virginia (a 42-14 defeat in Charlottesville). The Fighting Illini ended the season one win shy of bowl eligibility, which wasn’t helped by a 20-14 loss at home to Rutgers on Oct. 30.
The Spartans will be facing off against Illinois for the 48th time in a series that dates back to 1955. MSU is currently riding a two-game losing streak in the series but holds the edge all-time 26-19-2.
2022 Program Outlook
Bielema has his work cut out for him if he wants to have Illinois’ first winning season in 10 years. Newly hired offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. will need to find a way to score more than 20 points per game to make that happen, something the Illini failed to do in seven of the last 10 games last season. Syracuse transfer quarterback Tommy DeVito should be a big leg up if the offensive line can protect him in ways the Orange couldn’t. He should have some good targets as well in Isaiah Williams, a quarterback prospect turned wide receiver, and in Georgia tight end transfer Luke Ford. Meanwhile, running back Chase Brown put up over 1,000 yards last season with five scores.
The defense held strong despite the offense putting it in tight spots score-wise, and features promising sophomore defensive ends Keith Randolph and Jer’Zhan Newton, but the defensive tackle position is a concern in terms of depth. The linebacker corps is young, but features Tarique Barnes as a returner. The secondary is the team’s strength with Devon Witherspoon as a rising cornerback and safety Sydney Brown poised to have a potential All-Big Ten season.
Why No. 8?
This game screams potential trap scenario for Michigan State. Once again, MSU will have a a bye week before the Michigan matchup in Ann Arbor. The Michigan game is followed by a road trip to the Big Ten West opponent, Illinois. Not only that, but the Spartans have struggled against the Illini as of late, with devastating upsets in the last two matchups — including a massive comeback by Illinois in 2019. However, at the end of the day this is an Illinois squad that can make life difficult for Big Ten programs, but is still very much in a long rebuild mode.
While it would be epic payback for MSU to surge from behind to a late victory with a touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Barker, the Illinois transfer tight end who caught the game-winning pass against Michigan State as a member of the Illini in 2019, it should not come to that. Michigan State may have a hangover from whatever the result is the week prior against the Wolverines, but by the second half, should persist and get a tricky road win in league play to snap Illinois’ two-game winning streak in the series.
Catch up on the rankings here:
No. 12 Akron Zips
No. 11 Western Michigan Broncos
No. 10: Indiana Hoosiers
No. 9: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
No. 8: Illinois Fighting Illini
No. 7: Coming soon
2022 MSU Football Schedule
|Sept. 2||Western Michigan||East Lansing, MI||7:00 PM||ESPN|
|Sept. 10||Akron||East Lansing, MI||4:00 PM||BTN|
|Sept. 17||Washington||Seattle, WA||7:30 PM||ABC|
|Sept. 24||Minnesota||East Lansing, MI||TBA||TBA|
|Oct. 1||Maryland||College Park, MD||TBA||TBA|
|Oct. 8||Ohio State||East Lansing, MI|
|Oct. 15||Wisconsin||East Lansing, MI||3:30/4:00 PM||TBA|
|Oct. 29||Michigan||Ann Arbor, MI||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 5||Illinois||Champaign, IL||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 12||Rutgers||East Lansing, MI||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 19||Indiana||East Lansing, MI||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 26||Penn State||State College, PA||TBA||TBA|