To say the Illinois Fighting Illini struggled in 2012 would be a major understatement. Despite having an experienced signal-caller in Nathan Scheelhaase, the Illini finished with just two victories and failed to win a conference game. With several starters returning, including nine on offense, Illinois will try to improve things this season.
The awful 2012 season should not have been much of a surprise, as 2011 didn’t end very well. Though Illinois won the first six games that season, it ended by losing six of its last seven games. That losing streak resulted in the firing of head coach Ron Zook. First-year head coach Tim Beckman found little success in 2012, but will look to improve on the unimpressive win total during his second season.
Things went terribly wrong for Illinois last year, starting with a Week 4 blowout loss at home to Louisiana Tech. The Illini had problems on both sides of the ball and were never able to improve as the season went on. Illinois finished last season ranked 12th in the Big Ten in total offense and 10th in total defense.
Though last year was disappointing, there are nine starters returning on offense. That experience should help when it comes to moving the ball and putting up points. Unfortunately, only four starters return on defense, meaning that a defense that has proven to be bad will now be inexperienced as well.
Scheelhasse returns this year to lead the team at quarterback and will try to turn things around in his senior season. After throwing for a career-high 2,110 yards in 2011, he struggled to find consistency last season, throwing for just 1,361 yards with only four touchdowns and eight interceptions.
If he’s able to return to his form from a few years ago, the Illini will have a great chance to improve on last year’s win total. Leading running back Donovonn Young and leading receiver Ryan Lankford also return in 2013.
Looking at the schedule, the Illini face tough non-conference opponents in Washington and Cincinnati. Both games are home though, which should help. As far as the Big Ten portion of the schedule, Illinois gets the luxury of hosting tough opponents such as Ohio State, Wisconsin and in-state rival Northwestern. Games against Penn State and Nebraska are both on the road.
Though many of the tough teams will be traveling to Champaign, the games still won’t be easy. With an offense that should be improved, but a defense that may struggle, the Illini will once again find tough sledding. While another two-win season may not be in the cards, don’t expect them to reach .500 either. Somewhere around four wins seems likely for this team in 2013.