Note – This is the 2012 information. Please check the 2013 Illini page for a look at this season.
New Coach: Same Expectations?
Just ask Urban Meyer – Ron Zook knew how to recruit. Zook’s recruits at Florida made significant contributions on two National Championship teams. He just didn’t know how to coach those players into winners. It required the coaching of Urban Meyer to take his recruits to the highest level. Tim Beckman steps in at Illinois for the fired Ron Zook. We’re not suggesting the Illini will win a National Title now that Zook is gone. But it’s not out of the question to expect improvement.
Let’s face it – Ron Zook just isn’t a good football coach. He’s one of the best recruiters in the nation but he’s never been able to do much with those recruits. It’s going to be interesting to see if Beckman can bring some consistency to the Illini program. Beckman doesn’t come to Illinois with a great resume. He was just 21-16 in 3 seasons at Toleda before new Illinois AD Mike Thomas decided he was the best man for the job. Or, to be more accurate, he was the best coach he could get.
Beckman wasn’t able to snag any big recruits late in the game. It’s imperative for him to bring in a good class for 2013 or he’s going to have a hard time building this program. Zook did leave behind some talent but the lack of a quality 2012 recruiting class leaves Illinois with depth concerns. Things set up quite nicely for Illinois to have a decent season this year. If they can stay healthy, they have enough talent to win 7-8. With a few breaks, a 9-10 win season isn’t out of the question.
Consistency: Illini’s Top Focus
There was no consistency under Ron Zook. Beckman’s job is to lead his team to victory over the lesser talented opponents consistently – something Zook was unable to accomplish. Illinois started the 2011 season 6-0. They didn’t pull off another victory until their meaningless bowl game against UCLA. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase went from the Big-10’s top offensive player the first half of the season to a mediocre quarterback by season’s end. Scheelhaase is a much better quarterback than he showed late in the year.
His struggles weren’t all his fault. He had no help. The offensive line quite blocking and the receivers quit on some routes. Getting consistent play out of Scheelhaase will be the difference between another 5-6 win season and a 7-8 win year. Scheelhaase is a dual-threat quarterback that has combined for more than 5,400 yards the past 2 seasons. He has a few quality targets to throw to. Tight end Jon Davis can create mismatches in the passing game with his mix of size, hands, and athleticism.
Davis became one of the league’s top tight ends by the end of the year. Expect him to become a major weapon this year. Beckman will be hoping he can get something out of wide receiver Ryan Lankford. Lankford has great speed but Zook’s staff was unable to utilize that speed. The Illini desperately need a deep threat in the passing game. Lankford has the most potential to become the feared deep threat, but he hasn’t proven he can run good routes yet.
Defensively, Illinois has some question marks, but they also have some big-time playmakers. They need to find a replacement for the departure of All-American DE Whitney Mercilus. Michael Buchanan just might be that guy. Buchanan will be playing on Sunday’s in a year. He’s a bit thin for a defensive end, but he makes up for it with his speed and smart play. He does an excellent job of sniffing out a screen play an gets the ball quickly for a 6’6 defensive end.
As talented as Buchanan is, he might not even be Illinois’ top defensive player. Linebacker Jonathan Brown has a claim to that title. His 19.5 tackles for loss in 2011 were second only to Mercilus on Illinois. Brown can rush the passer and shut down the run. Like Buchanan, Brown will be playing on Sundays in a year or two. He’s one of the best linebackers in America.
2012 Illinois Football Schedule and Predictions
Coach Beckman needed a favorable schedule and got that. The Illini play one of the weakest schedules in the Big-10. They started 6-0 last year and could start 5-0 if they can grind out a road victory at Arizona State on September 8th. They do face a tough stretch from October 6th to November 3rd, with road games against 3 of the top teams in the conference sandwiched around a home game against Indiana. After the Ohio State game on November 3rd, the schedule lightens up to finish off the year.
Illinois has the potential to be a surprise team in the Big-10. They have a talented starting unit on both sides of the ball and a favorable schedule. Few experts are projecting the Illini to win more than 5 or 6 games, but they have more talent than most of the teams they will face. Under Ron Zook, talent didn’t even matter. Illinois consistently under performed against lesser competition. Maybe things will be different with Tim Beckman.
Because of Illinois’ lack of a big reputation, don’t expect them to be favored often. However, they could be a team bettors make a ton of money off of. They have more talent than their reputation, which means they’ll often cover the spread. Illinois is definitely a team worth considering when placing bets on College Football this year.
Sept 1 vs Western Michigan – WIN
Sept 8 at Arizona State – WIN
Sept 15 vs Charleston Southern – WIN
Sept 22 vs Louisiana Tech – WIN
Sept 29 vs Penn State – WIN
Oct 6 at Wisconsin – LOSS
Oct 13 at Michigan – LOSS
Oct 27 vs Indiana – WIN
Nov 3 at Ohio State – LOSS
Nov 10 vs Minnesota – WIN
Nov 17 vs Purdue – WIN
Nov 24 at Northwestern – WIN
Overall Record: (9-3)
Conference Record: (5-3)
Games Favored: 7
Games Underdog: 5
Illinois Fighting Illini: Final Analysis
It’s a new era for Illini football. The previous coach didn’t work out for Illinois despite bringing in a few highly ranked recruiting classes. We don’t know if Tim Beckman can get Illinois over the hump. His resume is really nothing impressive. But Illinois’ new AD Mike Thomas was confident enough in him to hire him. Beckman needs to start landing some big-time recruits or this program will never take off. The 2012 recruiting class doesn’t appear to have much star power. If Illinois has another mediocre recruiting class next year, it will be difficult for Beckman to ever build the program.
Illinois’ only real advantage in recruiting is its proximity to Chicago. But then again, there are about a dozen other quality programs within a short driving distance to Chicago. Champaign, Illinois is a tough place to recruit to because it’s located out in the middle of nowhere. Zook was able to recruit well – somehow – but unable to do anything with those recruits. We’ll see if Beckman can do something with those recruits.