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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
Big Ten Leaders PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Tim Beckman, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill Cubit | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tim Banks
Illinois ranked last in the Big Ten in every major offensive category — which explains the 0–8 finish, also good for last place. The two-coordinator system has been abandoned, with former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit taking charge of the offense. He’s got an experienced player to lead his unit.
Entering his final season as a starter, Nathan Scheelhaase ranks sixth on the school’s career passing list and fifth in total offense. He needs 3,504 yards in 2013 to pass Juice Williams at the top of the total offense list. Coming off his least productive year, Scheelhaase spent the spring embracing Cubit’s offense. Changing systems is nothing new for the Kansas City, Mo., product, who is working on his fourth offense in five years at Illinois.
The Illinois coaches will tell you that the strength of offense is in the backfield. By a wide margin. Donovonn Young led the team with 571 yards in 2012. He showed good hands out of the backfield, catching a team-high 38 passes. Josh Ferguson was second on the team in rushing with 312 yards and fourth on the team with 29 receptions. Sophomore Dami Ayoola, the top recruit in the 2012 class, had a couple of highlight-reel plays and is looking to share more of the carries.
There are multiple candidates to be Scheelhaase’s go-to receiver, most notably seniors Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris, who were second and fifth on the team, respectively, in receptions in 2012.
The trouble for the Big Ten’s worst offense in 2012 started up front. Only nine schools nationally gave up more sacks than the Illini (39). Despite the negative numbers, Cubit sees potential among the returning linemen. The Illinois coaches consider sophomore guard Ted Karras a potential leader of the group.
No position on the team was hit harder than the defensive line, which lost starters to the NFL. That leaves end Tim Kynard as the lone experienced hand. Youth will be served at the two tackle spots, where sophomore Teko Powell and redshirt freshman Vontrell Williams are expected to start.
Coach Tim Beckman thought Mason Monheim would play as a freshman. He just didn’t realize how much. By the time Monheim’s rookie season ended, the Ohio native led the team in tackles (86) and potential. Leadership comes from senior Jonathan Brown, who missed the final three games of 2012 with an injury.
In the secondary, three of the four starters will be new, including both corners. Sophomores Eaton Spence and V’Angelo Bentley are the replacements. The lone returning starter is safety Earnest Thomas. The other safety spot likely will go to junior college transfer Zane Petty.
Sophomore Taylor Zalewski hit 4-of-7 field goals in 2012. Just as important to Beckman and his staff, he booted 23-of-43 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. With a struggling offense, junior punter Justin DuVernois was kept busy throughout the season. The Floridian helped Illinois finish 23rd nationally in net punting, an area that had been a problem in recent years.
Beckman inherited a team that won back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. He went 2–10. In the “win now” age, some fans actually wanted Beckman dismissed after one season. The school leaders didn’t listen. To limit the negative talk, Beckman’s second team will need to show improvement. Changes to the staff should provide a boost, especially on offense with the addition of Cubit. Beckman also added immediate help with 10 mid-year enrollees, five from the junior college ranks. While a bowl game is always the goal, four wins is a more realistic expectation as Beckman tries to rebuild the program.