Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (University of Illinois / August 10, 2012)
The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 86: Illinois
Coach: Tim Beckman (2-10, second season; 23-26 overall)
2012 record: 2-10 (0-8 in Big Ten Conference, sixth in the Leaders Division)
Look back: Looking to re-energize its program, Illinois reached out and hired former Toledo coach Tim Beckman in 2011. The Rockets were one of the most explosive mid-major programs in the country and many hoped that Beckman would bring that familiar style to Champaign. However, his first season was a difficult one after the team opened the season by winning two of its first three games before dropping its final nine contests. Those losses were by an average of 24 points. The offense, which many expected to be better, finished last in almost every statistical category in the Big Ten.
Offensive starters returning: 9
Offensive starters lost: 2
Defensive starters returning: 4
Defensive starters lost: 7
Key losses: OL Graham Pocic, OL Hugh Thornton, DE Michael Buchanan, DL Glenn Foster, CB Justin Green, CB Terry Hawthrone, DL Akeem Spence, OLB Ashanti Williams
Top returnees: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Donovonn Young, WR Ryan Lankford, LB Jonathan Brown, DL Tim Kynard, LB Mason Monheim, S Earnest Thomas
Strengths: In an effort to re-tool the offense, Beckman hired former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit as the team’s new offensive coordinator. It will be his job to help turn around an offense that was last in the Big Ten in both scoring offense (16.7 points per game) and total offense (296.7 yards per game). The key to the turnaround focuses on senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (1,361 passing yards, 4 TDs), who will direct the team’s spread offense in 2013. The senior will direct an offense that includes junior running back Donovonn Young (571 yards, 3 TDs) and wide receiver Ryan Lankford (37 receptions, 469 yards, 5 TDs).
Weaknesses: While the offense had its struggles, the defense wasn’t much better for the Illini. The group ranked 10th in the Big Ten in total defense (387.6 ypg), but sixth in the league in passing defense (193.7 ypg). The unit returns only four starters including linebackers Mason Monheim (86 tackles) and Jonathan Brown (59 tackles, 2.5 sacks). … The offensive line returns three starters from a group that gave up a league-leading 39 sacks last season.
Outlook: Every first year coach goes through some growing pains and Beckman sure had his in 2012. His team was near the bottom in just about every statistical category in the Big Ten, but the good news is that there is nowhere to go but up. The key could be Scheelhaase, who will be counted on to direct the new spread offense. If the team cuts down the number of turnovers (it was tied for last in the league in turnover margin (-12) with Nebraska), there is room for improvement in 2013.
Aug. 31 Southern Illinois
Sept. 7 Cincinnati
Sept. 14 vs. Washington
Sept. 28 Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 5 at Nebraska
Oct. 19 Wisconsin
Oct. 26 Michigan State
Nov. 2 at Penn State
Nov. 9 at Indiana
Nov. 16 Ohio State
Nov. 23 at Purdue
Nov. 30 Northwestern
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