2012 Record: 2-10 (0-8 in Big Ten)
Head Coach: Tim Beckman (2nd year at Illinois, 23-26 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Fight Hunger Bowl: beat UCLA 20-14
Stadium: Memorial Stadium in Champaign, IL (capacity = 60,670)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 67th out of 69 BCS teams
Out of Conference: 8/31 vs Southern Illinois, 9/7 vs Cincinnati, 9/14 vs Washington, 9/28 vs Miami (OH)
Toughest Home Game: 10/19 vs Wisconsin, 11/16 vs Ohio St
Toughest Road Games: 10/5 at Nebraska, 11/2 at Penn St
Stat to Fear: converted just 34.10% on third downs (last in B1G), scored on 74.19% of red zone trips (last in B1G), had 34 plays of 20 or more yards (last in B1G), allowed 39 sacks (last in B1G)
Stats to Cheer: held opponents to 31.76% conversion rate on third downs (2nd in B1G)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 110th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 4, Special Teams: 2
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Mason Monheim (86 tackles), LB Jonathan Brown (58 tackles, 3.5 sacks), S Earnest Thomas (69 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Nathan Scheelhaase (1361 yds pass, 4 TD, 8 INT), RB Donovonn Young (571 yds rush, 4.36 ypc, 3 TD, 38 rec), RB Josh Ferguson (312 yds rush, 29 rec), WR Ryan Lankford (37 rec, 5 TD)
Tim Beckman's debut season was certaintly not what Illini fans expected as Illinois followed up a 7-6 season by winning just two games with their new coach.
Nathan Scheelhasse will be a senior this year and hopes to bounce back from a disappointing season in which he threw less TDs than 2012, had more INTs and had a lower completion percentage. He also ran for about 300 less yards. Donovonn Young had a great freshman year in 2011 and followed it up with a decent sophomore year but didn't take the steps some thought he would. He will share time in the backfield with rising sophomore Josh Ferguson. Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris return at receiver and hope to provide the offense with some senior leadership. The OL returns 55 career starts which is 77th in the Nation according to Phil Steele.
On defense, the Illini took a huge step back last year as they went from allowing 19.6 ppg in 2011 to 32.1 in 2012. Losing Whitney Mercilus was a huge blow as the Illini went from 41 sacks (Mercilus had 16) to just 22. Not only did the Illini not get after the QB as well in 2012 but they also struggled with the run. They went from allowing just 3.13 ypc to allowing 4.53. The defensive line will have to step up if Illinois wants to compete this season and that will be a tall task as they must replace their four top tacklers.
I really thought Illinois had a chance to be pretty good last season. Take Ron Zook's players and put them with a different coach and it looked like it could be a recipe for success. This year the outlook is the opposite. Not only did the Illini only win two games last season but they also failed to compete as their closest B1G conference games were 14 point losses to Indiana and Minnesota. I like their chances against Southern Illinois and Miami (OH) but they will struggle to win games again this season.
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