When Illinois hired Tim Beckman, the administration did so taking a bit on a gamble on a head coach who managed to take Toledo to one bowl game (which the Rockets lost) and never won more than eight games in a season. Now in year three of the Beckman Era, the Illini have gone 10-22. Yes, Beckman finally hit double digits in the win column at Illinois after his Illini managed to upset Minnesota on Saturday afternoon. It was just the second conference win under Beckman since he was hired. Is it warm in here, or is that just the coaching hot seat?
Success of a college football coach can be evaluated and judged in different ways. In Beckman’s case, it is difficult to see many bright spots anywhere you look. Illinois is ranked 14th in the 14-team Big Ten in total defense and the offensive numbers have slipped a bit this season as well. Despite those minor trends, Illinois sits in a decent position to make a run for a potential bowl trip. That became much more of a realistic opportunity after Illinois overcame nearly blowing a game against Minnesota to get a win.
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Just how did Illinois win that game? The offense was outgained 411-263 and converted just four of 14 third-down conversions. The difference turned out to be turnovers, which have tended to go the other way for Illinois this season. Illinois forced three Minnesota turnovers, a feat in itself considering the Gophers have protected the football well this season. V’Angelo Bentley’s 12-yard fumble return for a touchdown proved to be the game-winning score midway through the fourth quarter.
With the win, Illinois evened its record at 4-4, which is already equal to last season’s win total. Is this a sign of progress being made at Illinois? Beckman took over a program that had plenty of young talent that was quickly victimized by a rash of injuries, and keeping key players on the field has been a struggle beyond Beckman’s control. But this excuse will only have so many legs to stand on for any coach, especially when the program let go of a coach that led it to a Rose Bowl trip and two bowl victories to hire that new coach.
When it comes to the Big Ten coaching hot seat, none may be hotter than Brady Hoke’s at Michigan. Beckman’s seat is not quite as hot following a home victory over the Gophers, who had been undefeated in Big Ten play coming into the week. The question now is whether Beckman can find a way to coach his team to two more victories to become eligible for postseason play. Right now, it may be a toss-up.
Illinois visits Ohio State next weekend. Catching the Buckeyes looking ahead to a road game at Michigan State the following week will likely be off the table after Ohio State escaped Happy Valley with a double overtime victory over Penn State Saturday night. That may have been the worst thing to happen for Illinois, because Ohio State may be in a position to answer back with vigor next weekend. That spells bad news for Illinois, which ranks last in the 14-team Big Ten in total defense.
Illinois may very well fall shy of postseason eligibility in the end. If that proves to be the case, Beckman will have to prove he is making progress some other way and empty seats in the stadium on Saturday tend to speak pretty loudly.
-By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)