ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
2012 Record: 2-10, 0-8 Big Ten. 6th in Leaders Division.
Head Coach: Tim Beckman, second year (2-10). 23-26 in five seasons overall.
Offensive Starters Returning: 9
Defensive Starters Returning: 4
After going 21-16 in three seasons at Toledo, Tim Beckman, a native of Berea, Ohio, was hired on December 9, 2011, by athletic director Mike Thomas and became the 23rd head coach in the history of Illinois football, replacing Ron Zook who was fired after seven years at the helm.
Prior to Illinois, Beckman led the Rockets to two bowl appearances and a Mid-American Conference West Division co-championship.
Beckman engineered an impressive turnaround at Toledo in his three years after inheriting a team that went 3-9 in 2008. The Rockets improved to 5-7 in 2009 before going 8-5 with a 7-1 record in the MAC and a berth in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2010. Toledo posted an 8-4 record in 2011, including another 7-1 MAC record, a share of the MAC West Division title and a berth in the Military Bowl. In his last two seasons, Beckman compiled a 14-2 record in MAC games, second best in the conference over that span.
Prior to landing his first head coaching job at Toledo, Beckman was an assistant with stops at Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Bowling Green, Elon, Western Carolina and Auburn.
But is Beckman able to orchestrate a turnaround at Illinois? After a dreadful season where the Illini garnered just two victories and went winless in the Big Ten in 2012, things look very bleak in Champaign.
One thing Beckman benefits from is that nine starters return on offense from last season that includes senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, junior running back Donovann Young, and sophomore running back Josh Ferguson.
Scheelhaase threw for 1,361 yards while completing 60.6 percent (149-246) of his passes with four touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also rushed for 303 yards on 125 attempts and three more scores.
Young is Illinois’ top returning rusher after gaining 571 yards on 131 carries and three TDs. Ferguson was second on the team toting the rock 75 times for 312 yards.
Ryan Lankford, a senior wide receiver, is the Illini’s top returning pass catcher as he recorded 37 receptions for 469 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Three of the five starting offensive linemen return with junior LT Simon Cvijanovic, junior LG Michael Heitz, and sophomore RG Ted Karras, along with junior TE Jon Davis.
While nine starters are back on offense, the problem is that Beckman has only four defensive starters returning from last season.
One plus is that three of the five top tacklers are back with sophomore MLB Mason Monheim, junior SS Earnest Thomas, and senior WLB Jonathan Brown.
Monheim led the Illini with 86 total tackles, while Thomas had 69 stops, and Brown added 59 tackles. Brown is also the team’s top returning pass rusher with 2.5 sacks, and he led the team with 7.0 tackles for loss in 2012.
The other returning starter on defense is senior DE Tim Kynard (18 tackles, 1.0 sack, 2.0 TFLs).
Of the 30 listed on Illinois two-deep depth chart on defense, 19 are either sophomores, redshirt freshmen or true freshmen, so this is a very young and inexperienced unit.
Conclusion and Prediction:
History may repeat itself. Looking at Illinois schedule, going 2-2 during the non-conference portion of the slate is very likely, but will the Illini win a game in Big Ten play?
Illinois first conference game is at Nebraska. Following a bye week, the Illini take on Wisconsin and Michigan State at home, before going on the road to face Penn State and Indiana. Then it’s back to Champaign to play Ohio State. I think it’s very possible Illinois is 2-10 heading into the final two games against Purdue and Northwestern. Even then, they will be underdogs to the Boilermakers and Wildcats.
Last season, Illinois ranked 10th or worse in the Big Ten in just about every major statistical category. The Illini were 12th in scoring offense (16.7 ppg.), 12th in total offense (296.7 ypg.), 11th in rushing offense (127.9 ypg.), 11th in passing offense (168.8 ypg.), 11th in scoring defense (32.1 ppg.), and 10th in total defense (387.6 ypg).
Unless Beckman has a magic wand or something, I’m not sure Illinois has enough talent to improve drastically on those numbers.