At 7-6 last year, the Fighting Illini will have a tough time digging themselves out of the cellar of the Leaders Division. They have one of the most difficult road schedules in the conference, including games at Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State. They also have to travel to Evanston to take on their rival, Northwestern, on Nov. 24.
First year coach Tim Beckman didn't ingratiate himself much to Penn State, their first Big Ten opponent, as he sent numerous coaches to Happy Valley to lure Nittany Lions players away following sanctions levied by the NCAA.
Must-see matchup: at Northwestern, Nov. 24
Last year's installment of the rivalry vs. the Wildcats produced a thrilling 38-35 Illinois victory, capped by a 21-point fourth quarter. QB Nathan Scheelhasse threw for nearly 400 yards along with three touchdowns. The question is who will Scheelhasse throw to now that leading receiver A.J. Jenkins is in the NFL? After Jenkins' 90 receptions last year, the team's next leading receiver was Jon Davis, who had 22.
Upset alert: Penn State, Sept. 29
As stated earlier, the Nittany Lions didn't take too kindly to the news of Illinois coaches on the Penn State campus waiting to recruit eligible transfers. “If you're going to sit here and wish our program well and then recruit and try to pull the legs out from under us, then I got a problem with that,” senior Penn State LB Michael Mauti said at media days. Even a depleted Penn State team will be eager to face the Fighting Illini in the teams' conference opener.
It's a breeze: Sept. 15 through Sept. 22 -- vs. Charleston Southern, vs. Louisiana Tech
The Illini get back-to-back nonconference games vs. Charleston Southern, who was 0-11 last year and Louisiana Tech, which went 8-5 last season. The last BCS level team that Louisiana Tech beat was Mississippi State in 2008.
Brutal stretch: Oct. 6 through Oct. 13 -- at Wisconsin, at Michigan
It's too bad that Illinois' bye week comes the week after these two games because it could undoubtedly use a break between visits to Camp Randall and the Big House. The Badgers have won six of their last seven games vs. Illinois dating to 2003.
Sept. 1: Western Michigan
Sept. 8: at Arizona State
Sept. 15: Charleston Southern
Sept. 22: Louisiana Tech
Sept. 29: Penn State
Oct. 6: at Wisconsin
Oct. 13: at Michigan
Oct. 27: Indiana
Nov. 3: at Ohio State
Nov. 10: Minnesota
Nov. 17: Purdue
Nov. 24: at Northwestern
For more Big Ten coverage, follow Mike Singer and Dave Carey @CBSSportsBigTen.