#58 Illinois Football 2015 Preview

Illinois Fighting Illini

Overall Rank: #58
#11 Big Ten

Illinois Team Page#58 Illinois Football 2015 PreviewBuy Illinois Football Tickets

Illinois deserves a lot of credit for making a bowl last season. All looked pretty hopeless after a mid-October loss to Wisconsin sent Illinois to 3-4 on the year. But the Illini beat Minnesota and finished the year with wins over Penn State and Northwestern to reach the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Ignore the off-field stuff and Coach Tim Beckman has done as much as anyone really could have hoped during his three seasons with the program. A lot has been made of Illinois’ inability to beat the top teams in the Big Ten, but do we really expect Illinois to beat Ohio State? The fact that this team was without their quarterback and went to Wisconsin and only lost 38-28 should be a positive sign.

2014 Record: 6-7, 3-5
2014 Bowl: Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Louisiana Tech (L 18-35)
Coach: Tim Beckman (12-25 at Illinois, 33-41 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bill Cubit
Defensive Coordinator: Tim Banks, Mike Phair

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Josh Ferguson, RB, 735 yards
Passing: Wes Lunt, QB, 1,763 yards
Receiving: Mike Dudek, WR, 1,038 yards
Tackles: Mason Monheim, LB, 111
Sacks: Jihad Ward, DE, 3.0
Interceptions: Mason Monheim, LB, 2

Other Key Returnees: WR Geronimo Allison, WR Malik Turner, DB V’Angelo Bentley, DB Taylor Barton, LB T.J. Neal

Key Losses: RB Donovonn Young, QB Reilly O’Toole, P Justin DuVernois, LB Earnest Thomas III, DB Zane Petty

When quarterback Wes Lunt was healthy, the Illinois offense was good. Lunt was basically only healthy for five games, the first four games of the year and the second Big Ten contest against Purdue. In those games he threw 13 touchdowns. He never recovered after that despite seeing some more action late in the year. Sure those were against the five easiest teams on the schedule, but Lunt is a very good quarterback. He has some good targets to work with too. Mike Dudek is out for at least half the season after tearing his ACL in the spring and that is a big blow. He caught 76 passes for 1,038 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman. Geronimo Allison is a big target who showed flashes in his first year out of the junior college ranks. He faded down the stretch, but will be Lunt’s favorite downfield threat while Dudek is out. What Lunt does particularly well is pass to running back Josh Ferguson. When Lunt was out, Ferguson was far, far less effective in the passing game and that is an important aspect to this quick hitting offense. Ferguson is not a bad rusher either, tallying 735 yards on the ground for eight touchdowns. He caught 50 passes for 427 yards and two more scores.

The Illini allowed 34.0 points and 456.4 yards per game last year, both worst in the Big Ten. The most memorable moments on defense were the team’s four defensive touchdowns. Other than that, there was not much to build on from last year and not any reason to think this group can do much better. The front four needs to find two new starters and do much, much better against the run. Any team with a halfway decent ground game should be able to slice right through this defense. At linebacker, Mason Monheim is the lone bright spot. He tallied 111 tackles last season. The secondary was not tested too much last season since everybody had so much success on the ground, but when they did throw cornerback V’Angelo Bentley was usually up for the challenge.

The Bottom Line:
Reaching six wins again will not be easy. The offense, if healthy, can outscore just about anybody, but it is hard to imagine everything going right for the Illini. They should be able to win their three non-conference home games against Kent State, Western Illinois and Middle Tennessee. However, like last year, that leaves three Big Ten wins. The home games are against Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State, with a neutral site game against Northwestern. A win over Northwestern is doable, but can we expect this team to win two road games against Iowa, Penn State, Purdue and Minnesota? At best, this looks like a five win team.

Projected Bowl: None

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 117.5 (111th in nation, 13th in conference)
Passing Offense: 249.8 (48, 2)
Total Offense: 367.2 (94, 8)
Scoring Offense: 25.9 (84, 9)
Rushing Defense: 239.2 (115, 14)
Pass Defense: 217.2 (47, 9)
Total Defense: 456.4 (109, 14)
Scoring Defense: 34.0 (107, 14)
Turnover Margin: -0.23 (81, 9)
Sacks: 1.77 (89, 12)
Sacks Allowed: 2.85 (103, 12)


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