Bret Bielema did not put much stock in the preseason B1G Media Poll, which had his Illinois team picked 4th in the West behind Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.

“It’s not where we are in July that matters,” Bielema wrote on Twitter. “1-0 weekly focus can take you to places you have never been.”

The Illini return 10 All-B1G players, the most in the B1G West, and open the season on Sept. 2 against Toledo.

Bielema, in December, signed a new 6-year contract through at least the end of the 2028 season. Following Illinois’ best season in 15 years, the Illini made it to the ReliaQuest Bowl, the program’s top bowl game since the 2008 Rose Bowl and one of the top 3 Illinois bowl games of the last 30 years. It fell to Mississippi State.

Bielema and the Illini had an 8-4 overall record and 5-4 record in the B1G, the program’s best season since 2007. Illinois had its first season of 8+ wins in 15 years and finished above .500 in the B1G for the first time during that time span.