Big Ten Football Preview: Illinois
Tim Beckman and Bill O’Brien were the only two new head coaches in the Big Ten in 2012. O’Brien inherited a program that was all but down and out heading into last year, while Beckman was named responsible to make the Illini relevant again. After a 2-10 campaign including one win over an FBS opponent, there is only room to improve for the Illini in 2013.
Bill Cubit is one of two new coaches on the offensive side and will take over as offensive coordinator. Cubit was previously an offensive coordinator for Missouri, Rutgers and Stanford, as well as head coach at Western Michigan for eight years. Cubit will bring plenty of experience to a young Illini offense, that possess plenty of talent at the skill positions. He is also familiar with what head coach Tim Beckman will want to devise week in and week out.
Senior Nathan Scheelhaase is one of only two quarterbacks in Big Ten history to lead a team to bowl wins as a freshman and a sophomore and will be the starter this year. The backup remains a competition with junior Reilly O’Toole, who saw limited action in 2012, and freshman Aaron Bailey. Bailey was a four star recruit by Rivals, Scout and ESPN and is expected to appear in some offensive packages this year for the Illini.
Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt will sit out this season and be available in 2014.
The running game will be a strength of the Illini, with two dynamic running backs with game experience. Junior Donovonn Young led the Illini is rushing yards and receptions last year and will be expected to have a repeat performance. Sophomore Josh Ferguson is much more agile and will great complement Young’s downhill running ability, if able to stay healthy.
Other than Ryan Lankford, there are questions at every receiver position. Former quarterback Miles Osei and juco transfer Martize Barr can provide big targets for Scheelhaase.
Only two offensive linemen are seniors for the Illini this year. Jake Feldmeyer made six starts last year at center and Corey Lewis returned from three ACL surgeries to start the last six games at right tackle. The scrambling abilities of Scheelhaase will be put to the test as a young offensive line will be the weakness of this Illini team.
Second year defensive coordinator Tim Banks will have his work cut out for him with an inexperienced line after losing Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence to graduation. Houston Bates will look to be the big pass rusher listed at the “Leo” position. Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe will look to be staples on the interior of the line.
Linebacker Mason Monheim led the Illini in tackles last year as a true freshman. Monheim is a ball-hawk who has shown great closing speed, yet is a bit undersized. Sophomore Mike Svetina will also look to be an immediate contributor and can play at any linebacker spot.
The Secondary has a lot of upside after losing Terry Hawthorne to graduation. A lot of hype is around the cornerbacks V’Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence. Bentley and Spence played in all 12 games as true freshmen in 2012. Safety Taylor Barton gained a lot of attention after a terrific spring game. Barton is a great athlete and is a leader to win the free safety position battle as a redshirt freshman.
The 2013 schedule for the Illini will provide lots of trouble early. The non-conference slate includes tough matchups at home with Washington at Soldier Field and Cincinnati. Nebraska, Michigan State and the end of the year rival with Northwestern will be the three games the Illini will delve into the Legends division.
This year will not be a year to judge Illinois by their record. Nobody would like to see another 2-10 campaign, but with a young team, that could be the most reasonable guess this year. If the coaches can get a hold of all the talent this year and get players to buy in, 2014 will be something to look forward to for the Illini. For 2013, 3-9 or 4-8 will be a formidable result, but there is hope that Tim Beckman can turn the Illini around.
Ryan Stevens is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.