2014 Illinois Fighting Illini Team Preview
Illinois Fighting Illini
Head Coach: Tim Beckman
2013 record: 4-8 overall, 1-7 Big Ten Leaders
2013 Bowl result: None
2014 Returning Starters: 6 offense, 8 defense
Odds to Win 2015 College Football Championship Game: Field 30/1
Odds to Win 2014 Big Ten Championship Game: 200/1
Odds to Win 2014 Big Ten West Division: 33/1
Regular Season Wins: under 5 -130 / over 5 Even
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Last season, Illinois went 3-1 in non-conference play including a 45-17 rout of Cincinnati. However, they would only win one more game for the rest of the season 20-16 at Purdue.
It was a forgettable first season for Tim Beckman who came over from Toledo. Fourteen starters return for the Illini in 2014.
Illinois used a pass heavy offense in 2013 averaging 288 passing yards and just 139 rushing yards per game. They scored just under 30 points a game. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit returns to run the offense.
Illinois must replace quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase who threw for 3,272 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, along with 271 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt won a three way battle in the spring with Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey to be the starter. Lunt sat out last year but threw for 1,108 yards with 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions as a freshman for Oklahoma State in 2012.
Running back Josh Ferguson returns after having 141 carries for 779 yards with 7 touchdowns, and he also made 50 catches for 535 yards and 4 touchdowns. Donovonn Young also returns and had 93 carries for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 12 catches.
Besides Ferguson, the top three receivers are gone. Steve Hull made 59 catches for 993 yards and 7 touchdowns last year and is now with the New Orleans Saints. Miles Osei and Spencer Harris have also departed. Geronimo Allison, Martize Barr, Justin Hardee and Mike Dudek all look to be the go-to receiver. Barr made 26 catches for 246 yards and a touchdown last season. Tight ends Matt LaCosse (20 catches, 237 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Jon Davis (25 catches, 208 yards and 2 touchdowns) will also get a lot of targets.
The offensive line returns four starters including four year starter guard Michael Heitz and tackle Austin Schmidt.
Illinois gave up 482 yards and 35 points a game in 2013. Eight starters return from that unit. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks has said he wants to see more sacks and turnovers from his defense, but every defensive coordinator would like that.
Illinois had only 15 sacks in 2013. Tackles Teko Powell and “Chunky” Clements, and ends Kenny Nelson and Dawuane Smoot look to improve on those numbers.
The linebackers will be led by Mason Monheim a two year starter. Illinois moved safety Ernest Thomas to outside linebacker in order to add speed to the unit.
The secondary will be led by returning corners V’Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence. Like the line and linebackers the secondary needs to play much better.
Kicker Taylor Zalewski made 12 of 17 field goals but only 2 of more than 40 yards. Punter Justin DuVernois averaged 41 yards per punt in 2013. Bentley returned both a punt and a kick for touchdowns last season.
Illinois has home non-conference games against Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State. They also travel to Washington. In Big Ten play Illinois travels to Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Northwestern. The Illini host Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State. With such a tough schedule I can’t see any more than 5 wins for Illinois in 2014.
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