Illinois Football Predictions
Illinois set a record in 2011, one it would have just as soon avoided. It became the first FBS program to finish the regular season with a 6-6 mark following victories in each of his first six contests.
Despite the collapse, the Fighting Illini should be applauded for showing up in the Fight Hunger Bowl. They could have easily called it a season after enduring an embarrassing 27-7 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 26. Instead, they played hard and took home a 20-14 win over UCLA. That victory gives them something to build on in 2012.
Junior signal caller Nathan Scheelhaase has the daunting task of learning a third system in as many seasons. While many would fail with such a task, I expect Scheelhaase to succeed.
The dual-threat quarterback completed over 63.0 percent of his throws for 2,110 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2011 and also ran for 624 yards and six touchdowns.
Scheelhaase won’t have A.J. Jenkins to throw to this season, but there is still plenty of talent in the receiving corps with Spencer Harris, Darius Millines and Jon Davis. Harris is the team’s top returning receiver, but don’t be surprised if Millines, who missed four games with an injury in 2011, ends up being Scheelhaase’s favorite target.
Three starters return along the offensive line, including All-Big Ten candidate center Graham Pocic. The boys up front should be able to provide adequate protection for Scheelhaase and open some holes for Donovonn Young, who ran for 451 yards and six scores as a freshman.
The Illini finished second in the Big Ten in total defense last season with 286.2 yards allowed per game. They led the league in pass defense with 162.3 yards allowed per contest and finished second in the conference in run defense with with 123.9 yards allowed per game. With seven starters returning, this unit should once again be among the best in the Big Ten.
The front seven in stacked with talent. Junior tackle Akeem Spence, senior end Michael Buchanon and junior linebacker Jonathan Brown are NFL-caliber performers.
Brown, who put together a 108-tackle season in 2011, is among the best linebackers in the league.
A defensive backfield that brings back three of four starters is led by senior cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who intercepted three passes last year and took one to the house in the bowl game.
Big Ten Leaders Prediction: 3rd Place
Illinois has the potential to win the Leaders division, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it finished fifth. The coaching changes in the division have created a level of uncertainty to say the least. However, I like Tim Beckman’s chances of competing in his first season on the job.
Beckman appears to be coming to Illinois at the perfect time. Ohio State isn’t eligible for a Big Ten title because of NCAA sanctions, and the NCAA just cracked down hard on Penn State. And, Wisconsin doesn’t look as scary this year after losing Russell Wilson.
Matchups at Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State will be very difficult, but the Illini should have a good opportunity to win the rest of its games.
The stop unit will be sound. So this team could turn some heads if the offense improves on last season’s numbers.
|ACC||Big 12||Big East||Big Ten|
|Conference USA||Independents||MAC||Mountain West|