The List: Becoming Bowl Eligible

A look at the list of winnable games for Illinois in the upcoming season.

Bowl eligibility has become the line in the sand for most fans regarding Illinois football as coach Tim Beckman's third season approaches.

The team improved to four wins in 2013, but that won't be good enough this fall. It's not just the fans saying that on social networks and message boards.

Beckman himself admits postseason play is mandatory.

"I want this program to get better," Beckman recently told Sports Illustrated. "That's the bottom line. And that means five or six wins."

With that in mind, are there five or six wins on the schedule? Illini Playbook takes a look at the games Illinois stands a chance in…

- Youngstown State @ Memorial Stadium (Aug. 30). The season-opener is a sure-fire win. The Penguins are a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference (FCS) and went 8-4 last season, the first under head coach Eric Wolford.

- Western Kentucky @ Memorial Stadium (Sept. 6). Despite the Hilltoppers Sun Belt status, it had to make some nervous when Bobby Petrino's team was added to the schedule. After an 8-4 season, Petrino headed back to Louisville, a clear break for a team like Illinois looking to avoid embarrassment against a team with a coach giving it confidence it could contend. Say hello to Jeff Brohm that weekend. The former Illini quarterbacks coach took over for Petrino.

- Texas State @ Memorial Stadium (Sept. 20). The Bobcats represent the second Sun Belt foe on the schedule. Dennis Franchione is 16-20 in three seasons, including a 6-6 mark in 2013. Franchione has seen his share of wins and controversies during time spent at Alabama, Texas A&M and elsewhere. Don't expect any surprises in this one.

- Purdue @ Memorial Stadium (Oct. 4). The Boilermakers visit Champaign the second week of the Big Ten slate. The Illini open conference play at Nebraska, likely looking to bounce back into the win column against a still rebuilding Purdue squad. The Boilermakers can't be as bad as they were in 2013 (1-11, 0-8), but there's no reason to think they'll be much better either.

- Minnesota @ Memorial Stadium (Oct. 25). This is the swing game on the schedule. It's homecoming and the Illini have a bye week leading into the match-up with the Golden Gophers. Jerry Kill's team was the surprise darling of last season, finishing 8-5 with a loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl. It won't be easy, but there's enough going for the Illini (the week off to prepare and home field advantage) to debate if this is a win.

- Iowa @ Memorial Stadium (Nov. 15). Similar to the Minnesota weekend, this won't be a gimmie. But once again, the Illini have a week off leading into the home contest against the Hawkeyes.

- Penn State @ Memorial Stadium (Nov. 22). Penn State is once again in transition, now under the command of first-year coach James Franklin. The Illini nearly pulled off a win at State College last season and should be on a near-equal playing field in terms of talent. Another home game against a middle of the pack Big Ten team means a win is certainly possible.

- Northwestern @ Ryan Field (Nov. 29). The Illini missed an opportunity against the team from up North last season, losing by three in a game that could have gone either way. The Wildcats have has Illinois' number of late, but this game has routinely been a coin flip and the Illini could have a lot left to play for by the time this one rolls around.

In sum, there's three easy wins in the out-of-conference portion, a trip to Seattle to play Washington the outlier. Then the Illini have a favorable Big Ten line-up. Games at Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State probably wouldn't be won at home. So getting winnable chances versus Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State at home places the goal of reaching a bowl as firmly obtainable.


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