Big Ten Team Previews: Illinois


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Whether Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman is on the hot seat could be debated. Heading into just his third season with the Fighting Illini, it may be too early for his job to be truly in jeopardy.

Regardless of his seat’s current temperature, there’s no doubt whether it’s warming up. And if some form of promise or success doesn’t rear its head this season, then Beckman’s days at Illinois could be limited.

Fortunately for him, the players doesn’t appear to be too down on their chances to have success and maybe reach a bowl game this season. Whether that optimism is misguided has yet to be determined.

“I’m a competitive winner, I believe,” Beckman said. “And I want to win because I want our players to win, not because of me, but I want our players to feel what it’s like to be successful on the field and off the field.”

During Beckman’s tenure at Illinois, the Fighting Illini have combined for a 6-18 record over the course of two seasons — last season, they went 4-8.

At the top of the Illini’s problems last year was defense, particularly the run defense, which gave up 238.6 yards per game.

The defensive line’s failures weren’t just limited to the running game, though; the line failed on a consistent basis to provide pressure, compiling only 15 sacks all of last season.

But according to defensive lineman Austin Teitsma, the failures of last season have done nothing but add fuel to the fire this off-season.

“We have more of a fire on this side of the ball,” he said. “We want to prove ourselves; we have a little chip on our shoulder from last year.”

Things aren’t much better for Illinois on the offensive side of the ball. Last season, much of the Illini’s offense was centered on senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.

Scheelhaase threw for 3,272 yards in 2013, and he will be replaced by sophomore Wes Lunt, who sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma State following his freshman campaign.

“It’s different,” offensive tackle Simon Cvijanovic said. “We’ve rotated quarterbacks a lot, even when Nathan was here. It’s not too unfamiliar getting a new face behind me.”

Despite the change, Beckman noted that bringing back four starters on the offensive line has helped inspire a bit of confidence.

“I think through the maturity level of the four starters that we have back on the offensive line, we had very few mistakes throughout spring, and those guys continue to work by themselves this summer,” Beckman said. “So we don’t have those type of mistakes.”

The offensive line isn’t the only position with returning starters for Illinois; the Illini return 18 starters.

Returning starters can also help build on whatever foundation has been built in previous years. For Beckman, that’s the main thing he hopes to accomplish this season.

While the record may not reflect it, Beckman believes in his ways. He’s banking on this third season to show that those ways can work in the Big Ten.

“This program is heading in the direction that we are looking for,” Beckman said. “We want to win more football games. There’s no question about that. That’s why we play the game.”

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