#71 Illinois Football 2014 Preview

Illinois Fighting Illini

Overall Rank: #71
#12 Big Ten

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Illinois doubled their win total in Coach Tim Beckman’s second year at the helm. Going from two wins to four wins is a good start, but the Fighting Illini expect more. In 2014 the goal is to reach a bowl game and there will not be much sympathy for the coaching staff if they fail.

2013 Record: (4-8, 1-7)
2013 Bowl: None
Coach: Tim Beckman (6-18 at Illinois, 27-34 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bill Cubit
Defensive Coordinator: Tim Banks

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Josh Ferguson, RB, 779 yards
Passing: Reilly O’Toole, QB, 141 yards
Receiving: Josh Ferguson, RB, 535 yards
Tackles: Ernest Thomas III, LB, 101
Sacks: Mason Monheim, LB, 1.0; Teko Powell, DL, 1.0; Dawuane Smoot, DL, 1.0
Interceptions: Taylor Barton, DB, 1; V’Angelo Bentley, DB, 1

Other Key Returnees: RB Donovonn Young, WR Martize Barr, DB Zane Petty, OL Ted Karras

Key Losses: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, WR Steve Hull, WR Miles Osei, WR Spencer Harris, LB Jonathan Brown

Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit boosted the Illini’s offense production last year with his quick, short passing attack. It ended up as the second most productive passing offense in the Big Ten. The Illini hope to build off of that improvement even while they replace quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Scheelhaase had a nice collegiate career, but his inconsistency was a big reason this offense never really found its groove. Wes Lunt, a transfer from Oklahoma State, is a nice fit for the offense and is the most likely candidate to step into a starting role in 2014. However, he failed to secure the job away from Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey in the spring. The top receivers from 2013 are gone, but Coach Beckman has high hopes for junior college transfer Geronimo Allison. With the short passing game, it was running back Josh Ferguson who was second on the team with 50 receptions for 535 yards and four scores. He also rushed for 779 yards and seven touchdowns. Ferguson will once again be a major part of this offense. Donovonn Young is a capable back as well and can pick up those tough yards. The offensive line was not very good in 2013, but with four starters back, they should at least be better.

The defense ranked towards the bottom of the Big Ten in every major statistical category. As a result the staff is reworking much of the lineup in an attempt to get more speed on the field. Earnest Thomas III has moved from strong safety to linebacker and T.J. Neal moved to the middle linebacker position, with Mason Monheim sliding over to the outside. It remains to be seen if those changes will help all that much. And it certainly will not make a huge difference if the front four fails to get into the backfield. No returning player tallied more than one sack in 2013 and the team as a whole totaled just 15. The secondary does have some talent, led by strong safety Zane Petty and cornerback V’Angelo Bentley, but they will not be able to make many big plays without the help of the front seven.

The Bottom Line:
Illinois should get to four wins relatively quickly. They host Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, Texas State and Purdue among their first six games of the year. Those are all very winnable games. After that, the Illini will be chasing bowl eligibility for the rest of the season and could very well lose that battle. Finding two wins against Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State at home and Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Northwestern on the road will not be an easy task.

Projected Bowl: None

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 139.0 (92nd in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 287.7 (22, 2)
Total Offense: 426.7 (46, 5)
Scoring Offense: 29.7 (61, 6)
Rushing Defense: 238.6 (116, 12)
Pass Defense: 242.9 (81, 9)
Total Defense: 481.5 (110, 11)
Scoring Defense: 35.4 (104, 10)
Turnover Margin: -0.8 (112, 11)
Sacks:  1.25 (112, 11)
Sacks Allowed: 2.50 (93, 9)


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