As the 2013 season approaches, the Fighting Illini fan base, as per the standard, have high hopes for this upcoming season. Given the struggle that was the 2012 season, the hopes may be lower than usual, but the idea remains the same: win six games, get to a bowl. There are five members of the Illini squad that you may or may not know, but are vital to the success of the Illini in 2013.
5. QB Nathan Scheelhaase
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is one of those players in college football that you have a hard time figuring out. Is he the QB that in 2011 threw for over 2000 yards and rushed for another 600+, or is he the one that only threw four touchdowns and had just over two yards per carry in 2012? Time will tell, but the fan base is desperately hoping to see the Scheelhaase that everyone hoped he could be in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Granted, the talent around him is not what it has been in the past, and he has shown that the injury bug has been able to find him as of late, but the spring game showed the Illini faithful that there is potential to take some pressure off him with the improving running game and the improving offensive line. With Nathan having the potential to be drafted following this coming season, people are expecting a career year from him this season. Do not be surprised if he is able to turn some heads and post some good numbers.
4. RB Donovonn Young
Young, the team’s top running back heading into camp, has the potential to be one of the offensive leaders this season. He has shown the ability to break away from defenders, a la the 41-yard touchdown scamper over South Dakota State in 2011, but has been unable to find consistency in his play. Young’s play last year left something to be desired, as he only found pay dirt four times, one on a reception. It’s clear that the line struggled last year, surely limiting the numbers for him, however, nobody expected the drop-off that we saw from Young this past season. There were high hopes for the back in 2012, and nothing has changed in 2013. That said, the spring game showed that the potential for Young to have a coming out party season is there. He found the end zone a few times, and was able to find the holes that the offensive line created for him. He also showed better ability to run to the sides, showing better speed than last season. If Young is able to keep improving throughout the year, he could be a big reason this team finds wins.
3. DB Clayton Fejedelem
One of the most intriguing players this season who could make an immediate impact is Clayton Fejedelem. After recording eight tackles, one pick, and two pass break ups in the spring game, people are taking notice of the junior transfer from Saint Xavier University. Fejedelem showed Illini fans that he could come in immediately and give some much needed help on the defensive side of the ball. He is listed as a defensive back on the Fighting Illini website, but could possibly start immediately on a very weak and thin cornerback depth chart. Saying thin would be a disservice…the cornerback depth chart is fairly non-existent. Fejedelem could come in and help alleviate the lack of depth at corner and make plays against big time Big Ten receivers. Illini Nation may have just gotten a taste of what Clayton Fejedelem can bring to the table in the spring game. Plus, he’s a national champion (2011 NAIA National Championship at St. Xavier).
2. WR Miles Osei
Making a position change is never an easy thing. Changing from barely used backup quarterback to a possibly starting wide receiver, Miles Osei has shown that he is willing to be used however the Illini need him. In the spring game, Osei looked like someone who is still trying to get things worked out, as he dropped a couple sure grabs, but the potential is there. Out of high school, Osei was a great dual threat quarterback. He came into Illinois as a basic athlete, open to trying different things. Last season, he rushed a little bit while playing quarterback a little bit as Scheelhaase had some injuries last year. Osei comes into the season as a wide receiver on a team that is hoping to regain their passing game from the lack last year. Illinois believes Osei gives them an advantage as a receiver with his speed and his ability to evade runners and dodge tackles. He may take a little bit of polishing, but he could have a good debut at wide receiver this season for the Fighting Illini.
1. The Coaching Staff
Is there anyone more vital to the success of the Illini this season than coaches Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit? Those two worked together in the MAC, as Beckman came over from Toledo and Cubit came over from Western Michigan. With an offense that struggled to break 100 yards some games and a team that looked in disarray at time in 2012, these two have their work cut out for them in 2013. There is no doubt that Beckman will be on a warmer seat in 2013, but it is believed that he would not be on a hot seat at least until 2014. The addition of Cubit means the Illini will have big chances to improve their offensive from what it was last year. Cubit’s 2011 team set school records for several offensive categories, showing that Cubit is able to successfully run an offense. Coaching means a lot in college football, as guys have to be developed much more than they do in the pros. Finding schemes that work for guys and other teams can not stop is vital to finding success in college football. If the Illini have any hope of a bowl game this year, these coaches will need to step up their game in 2013, and fans should expect to see their team in a bowl game in 2013.
What do you think, Illini Nation? Who is an Illinois player that you will get to know before August?
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