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Illini Desperate to Get Back on Winning Track

The good news for Illini fans is Ron Zook is still not the head coach in Champaign. The bad news is his stench is still floating over the football facilities. Zook was an excellent recruiter in his first few years at Illinois. He didn’t win football games, but he sure could recruit. Unfortunately, the recruiting dropped and now it’s up to the new man in town – Tim Beckman – to turn the tides. So far, the Illini haven’t done a good enough job recruiting Chicago under Beckman. That’s something that must change if he’s going to have success there.

The Illinois job isn’t a high-pressure job like Ohio State or Michigan. But fans expect consistent bowl game appearances with an occasional jump near the top of college football. Beckman has his work cut out for him. It’s not going to be an easy task. His first season wasn’t a success. In fact, it was downright pitiful. The Illini failed to win a Big-10 game so their first call of action will be to get that elusive first conference victory. Chances aren’t very good they’ll get many more than one or two in 2013, however.

The Fighting Illini Offense

As Scheelhaase Goes, So Go the Illini Offense

A new offensive coordinator (Bill Cubit, former coach at Western Michigan) might do Nathan Scheelhaase some good. Scheelhaase, the team’s 4th-year starting quarterback, had a disappointing 2012 campaign. It was his worst, by far, since taking over for the school’s all-time leading passer – Juice Williams – in 2010. Scheelhaase can run and pass, but he made far too many mistakes and bad decisions last year. If Scheelhaase can’t get back to form, Illinois will rank dead last in the conference in every offensive category for the second straight season.

Illinois likes to throw to their running backs and they have a pair of backs that can run and catch the ball. Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson combined for 67 catches last year and 883 yards. For Illinois to be successful offensively they’ll need at least 300 more yards combined out of those 2 backs. Scheelhaase loves throwing swing passes, but he’s going to have to get the ball downfield to his wide receivers more this year as well. Another issue the Illini will face this year in Tim Beckman’s second season is the offensive line. Illinois allowed more than 3 sacks per game (a total of 39) last year because the Illini offensive line was unable to hold blocks. We only wonder how many sacks they would give up if Scheelhaase wasn’t an effective runner.

The Fighting Illini Defense

Just as Mediocre as the Offense

We aren’t going to sugar coat it – Illinois is going to have a mediocre defense. They suffered key losses to the defensive line and return just one starter in the secondary. They’ll struggle to get pressure on quarterbacks. That’s bad news for a secondary with 3 brand new starters. As you know, pass defense starts up front. Rush defense won’t be much better. The starting tackles are expected to be Teko Powell (sophomore) and redshirt freshman Vontrell Williams. Both have potential but lack playing experience.

Even with a good pass rush – which Illinois likely won’t have – it’s going to be difficult for the Illini to contain high-octane passing games. With two new starting cornerbacks – expected to be Eaton Spence and V’Angelo Bentley – Illinois doesn’t have proven talent at such a crucial position. If Illinois’ defense is going to improve drastically this year, they will need at least a few inexperienced players to surprise.

A Final Word on the 2013 Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois isn’t expected to win many football games this year. Tim Beckman has a lot of work to do if he’s going to get Illinois into a position where they’re going to bowl games every year. The roster is depleted right now on both sides of the ball. We don’t expect more than 2-3 wins out of this team because there aren’t more than 4 or 5 winnable games on the schedule.

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