Illinois Fighting Illini 2009 NCAA Football Preview

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Illinois Fighting Illini

Big Ten Conference


2008 Record: (5-7, 3-5)

2008 Bowl: none

Coach: Ron Zook (18-30 at Illinois, 41-44 overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Mike Schultz

Defensive Coordinator: Dan Disch and Curt Mallory


Returning Leaders

Rushing: Juice Williams, QB, 719 yards

Passing: Juice Williams, QB, 3,173 yards

Receiving: Arrelious Benn, WR, 1,055 yards

Tackles: Martez Wilson, LB, 73

Sacks: Martez Wilson, LB, 3.0

Interceptions: Donsay Hardeman, S, 1; Dere Hicks, CB, 1


Other Key Returnees: OT Jeff Allen, G Jon Asamoah, S Travon Bellamy, DT Josh Brent, G Eric Brock, WR Jeff Cumberland, RB Daniel Dufrene, K Matt Eller, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, DE Doug Pilcher

Key Losses: CB Vontae Davis, DE Will Davis, OT Xavier Fulton, WR Will Judson, DT David Lindquist, C Ryan McDonald, LB Brit Miller, LB Rodney Pittman, DE Derek Walker


After surprising in 2007 and reaching the Rose Bowl, Illinois was a big disappointment in 2008 and failed to reach a bowl game of any sort. Coach Ron Zook continues to bring in talented recruiting classes and it is time for those players to produce on both sides of the ball. If they do not, the Fighting Illini could fail to reach a bowl game again this season.



There is no reason for this not to be the best offense in the Big Ten. Quarterback Juice Williams threw for 3,173 yards last year and rushed for 719 more. When he is healthy and making good decisions, Williams is an extremely dynamic playmaker who can make things happen. And now that Arrelious Benn has another year of experience, he should be one of the best receivers in the nation. After tallying 1,055 yards as a sophomore, Benn is in for a huge campaign. The offensive line returns three starters and that should be enough to keep the offense ticking. It should also create plenty of running room for Daniel Dufrene. If he can get more rushing yards than Williams, Illinois’ offense will be the most dynamic in the Big Ten.



The defense was not as good as it could have been last year. And now arguably the best four defenders on the team are gone. Corner Vontae Davis is gone as is linebacker Brit Miller and ends Will Davis and Derek Walker. Without those four why would anyone believe the Illini defense could be any better than it was last year? Miller was the heart and soul of the linebacker corps last year and now that job falls to Martez Wilson. Wilson did a decent job on the outside in 2008, but now he will be asked to move into the middle. The spring went very well for him, but can he keep up the tradition of Illinois linebackers? Dere Hicks is an experienced corner, but Tavon Wilson has some big shoes to fill if the Illini secondary wants to keep the opposition from throwing over 200 yards per game again this season. End Doug Pilcher is full of potential and he may be the key to the entire defense. If he can consistently get pressure in the backfield, the Illini defense will be better than most expect.


The Bottom Line:

Coach Zook needs to turn his great recruiting classes into results. It worked in 2007, but it certainly did not in 2008. Before losing starts to become a habit in Champaign, again, results have to start happening. The goal for this season should be getting back to a bowl game, but it could be much better for the Illini if the offense can stay healthy and the defense can replace those big losses.


2008 Team Stats:

Rushing Offense: 169.50 (38th in nation, 5th in conference)

Passing Offense: 269.33 (20, 1)

Total Offense: 438.83 (19, 2)

Scoring Offense: 28.67 (40, 3)

Rushing Defense: 152.92 (77, 9)

Pass Defense: 197.42 (49, 6)

Total Defense: 350.33 (56, 6)

Scoring Defense: 26.58 (67, 9)

Turnover Margin: -.50 (89, 9)

Sacks: 2.67 (17, 1)

Sacks Allowed: 2.08 (71, 6)