Illinois returns to Penn State on November 2nd, for the first time since October 29th, 2011, a game that will always be remembered as Joe Paterno’s 409th (try to stop me Emmert!), and ultimately final win. Now, you could also make a point that Illinois was here last summer, but that’s another story. After last year’s 2-10 debacle, including an 0-fer in the Big 10, Tim Beckman may be coaching for his job in year two.
- Head Coach – Tim Beckman, 2nd season (2-10)
- 2012 Record - 2-10
- Key Departures – LT Hugh Thornton, C Graham Pocic, DE Michael Buchanan, NT Akeem Spence, DT Glenn Foster, CB Terry Hawthorne,
- Key Returners – QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Donovonn Young, WR Ryan Lankford, LB Jonathan Brown, LB Mason Monheim
Nathan Scheelhaase is back, and finally senior. After emerging as one of the better dual threat quarterbacks early in his collegiate career, calling 2012 a regression may be an understatement. After throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns over his first two seasons, Scheelhaase threw for just 1,361 yards as a junior, and a miniscule 4 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. He suffered the same fate on the ground, falling to just 303 yards and 4 TDs last season. Although, a portion of that can be attributed to an offensive line that struggled to slow anyone down.
After a strong freshman season (5.2 yards per carry, 6 TDs), Donovonn Young seemed poised to breakout in 2012. Instead, he joined the rest of the Illini in taking a step back, dropping his yards per carry to 4.4, and only finding the end zone 3 times. If that continues in 2013, sophomore Josh Ferguson is poised to take over.
At receiver, Ryan Lankford returns after leading the Illini with 37 receptions, 469 yards and 5 touchdowns. However, JUCO transfer Martize Barr is a name to keep in mind, along with senior Spencer Harris.
The biggest issue to address is the sieve of an offensive line, that lost arguably its two most important components. Guard Michael Heitz may be the best returning starter, but guys like JUCO transfer Dallas Hinkhouse and Simon Cvijanovic will need to step up, and keep Scheelhaase upright, and open the occasional hole for the tailbacks.
The Illini’s struggles on the defensive side of the ball a season ago may be one of the more difficult things to explain. While the talent level may not have been Alabama like, it certainly was better than 95th best scoring defense in the country. Now, they must find a way to improve after losing loads of talent on the line and in the backfield.
The strength of the defense will be at linebacker, Jonathan Brown, Mason Monheim, and Mike Sventina all return. Everywhere else on the defensive side, the Illini must deal with significant losses.
On the line, only end Tim Kynard returns, after losing Buchanan, Spence, and Foster. While that trio represents quite a bit of experience and talent, they did not exactly produce a year ago. Junior DE Houston Bates should play opposite Kynard. On the inside, some combination of Jake Howe, Vontrell Williams, Austin Teitsma, and Teko Powell should try to improve a terrible rush defense.
Senior strong safety Earnest Thomas will have 3 new mates in the secondary as well. Either Taylor Barton or Nick North should join Thomas in the backfield at free safety, while V’Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence may have the inside track to assume the starting roles at corner. JUCO Zane Petty may find his way into the rotation somewhere as well.
Well, it can’t get worse, can it? I suppose the Illini could go muster just 1, or dare I say, 0 wins, but I don’t think that will be the case. There is talent there, especially at the skill positions on offense, but the million dollar question is just how much this team has bought into Beckman. If they have, 5-6 wins may be possible, if they haven’t it will be another 2-10 kind of year, and Illinois will be in the market for a new coach.I’ll say 4-8, and Beckman gets 1 more year.
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