That time of year is almost here once again. Football season! With spring practices already here, the Fighting Illini are ready to rebound from an abysmal 2012 season.
Attempting to improve on last season will be difficult and the schedule for this year has its challenges. Without further ado, let us look ahead to the season and break it down into three categories: players, personnel, and schedule.
The Fighting Illini will be without the seniors and some very talented underclassmen from 2012. Some of the biggest losses, without naming them all, are Nick Immekus, Akeem Spence, Michael Buchanan, Hugh Thornton, and Graham Pocic. These are big holes to fill. Now, I am not naive enough to think this will be an easy fix and I know that replacing them will be a challenge.
Given that, head coach Tim Beckman has done a pretty decent job with the players he was able to get, given how terrible their season was last year. Coming into this year, there are a few talented freshman and some talented JUCO kids that can really make a difference on both sides of the ball and provide some veteran leadership. Martize Barr, Zane Petty, and Dallas Hinkhouse should come in and make an immediate impact on the ball. Aaron Bailey, Caleb Day, and Darius Mosely could be impact type players by giving current starters a challenge in practice for their spots and raising their levels of play. I know that with the talent lost, a couple of new players may not make up for it all. However, I do believe that these kids are competitors, and will be able to surprise a couple teams in 2013.
This year, Illinois brings in three new coaches. Bill Cubit is the new OC, Greg Colby is handling the D-Line, and A.J. Ricker is in charge of the O-Line. Cubit fared well at Western Michigan, so it will be exciting to see what kind of offense he rolls out for Nathan Scheelhaase this coming season. Colby gained a lot of experience at Millersville in Division II. His defensive mind will do well with Illinois’ D-Line.
Ricker, like Cubit, came from Western Michigan, so these two are familiar with each other. It’s not easy having two news guys on both the lines, however, the positive note is that they came here ready to work. Beckman, while having a bad first year, still has time on his side. You cannot judge a guy by anything less than his system and his players. If the Beckman experiment is still going as it currently is in 2016, then we can talk. Until that happens, though, you have to give the guy a chance to get his players and system in place before you start working on your new “Fire Tim Beckman” site.
Here is where the preview goes from optimistic to realistic. The 2013 schedule is beyond brutal. Aside from a “should win” against Southern Illinois University, there are not a lot of good feelings about this year’s gauntlet. We have tough home games against Miami-Ohio and Cincinnati, a “neutral field” game in Chicago against a strong Washington team, and a Big Ten schedule that includes road games against Nebraska, Penn State, and Purdue, while hosting Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State.
Scheduling did Illinois no favors this year. Although, there will be plenty of chances for an upset this season. Realistically, if the Illini are able to get five wins, that would be incredible. A bowl game will be nothing short of a miracle. I love this team, so I want to say that anything is possible. Shoot, who would have thought last year would go like it did. Beckman will get his guys ready for these games, and as long as the home crowd shows up, Illinois will have a huge advantage.
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