As a part of their countdown to football in 2014, NFL.com has been releasing their rankings of college football teams starting from 128.
This week, NFL.com unveiled its teams from 81-88 in college football, and the Illinois Fighting Illini fell in at the 85th spot.
Here’s what NFL.com had to say about the Fighting Illini in 2014:
Beckman is entering his third season but already is on the hot seat. The defense has been atrocious in each of the past two seasons, and that must change.
The offense has some potential, thanks to Lunt, an Illinois native who began his career at Oklahoma State (and started as a true freshman in 2012 before suffering an injury) and sat out last season after transferring. He has a good arm and will get ample opportunities to put it up in coordinator Bill Cubit’s pass-happy attack.
One issue: There is an underwhelming group of wide receivers. Ferguson is a solid runner and an excellent receiver. Davis needs to produce; he has the skill set to do so. The line could be OK, headed by the interior duo of Heitz and Karras. Karras is the grandnephew of the late Alex Karras, who was an NFL star/actor.
Monheim should be among the league leaders in tackles even though he plays behind a defensive line that hasn’t done much of late. Bentley is a speedy cover guy who doubles as a dangerous return man.
A 3-1 start to the season seems likely, but the conference schedule is rough; road trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin are among the first three Big Ten games. It might take a bowl bid for Beckman to keep his job — and it’s hard to see this team getting to a bowl, though Lunt should make the Illini fun to watch.
There’s no question that the defensive unit will get most of the focus from Illini Nation as they are the only thing holding the team back at this point in time.
However, NFL.com might be underestimating the receivers for the Fighting Illini.
Yes, the team lost a TON of talent at the wide receiver position this offseason, but they have replaced it. Geronimo Allison should be a solid #1 option for any Illini quarterback this season, and Tim Beckman was able to gain a commitment from JUCO transfer Raphael Barr as well.
Besides those two, Illinois also returned senior Martize Barr and gained JUCO transfer Tyrin Stone-Davis. They also have true freshman and Illinois native Mike Dudek. Dudek has tons of potential in the Cubit offense and should be able to produce for the team in 2014.
Another receiver I’ll point out is Zach Grant. I’m high on Grant this season because him and Wes Lunt use to be high school teammates at Rochester High School. There’s a possibility that the two could re-create their chemistry as members of the Orange & Blue.
As for NFL.com’s final prediction for Illinois, I’m optimistic that the team can make a bowl game in 2014. A 3-1 non-conference record seems more likely, but Illinois could go 4-0 because Washington lost their star running back to the NFL and head coach to USC.
With a 4-0 non-conference record, Illinois would only need two Big Ten wins to be bowl bound. Those two wins could come against Purdue and Northwestern.
However, all of this will be moot if the defense isn’t able to show any kind of improvements in 2014.
What do you think, Illini Nation? Will the Illini be bowl bound in 2014?
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