It’s not a stretch to say that Illinois football has been a struggling program. In it’s long history (est. 1890), the program has accumulated a winning record of 578-546-50, though most of it’s success came its the early years. The Fighting Illini have had five head coaches since 1988 and only one, John Mackovic, has produced a winning record.
Tim Beckman took over the program in 2012 and has yet to have a winning season. Beckman endured a disastrous first year in Champaign, winning just two games while losing all contests in the Big 10. In three years at Illinois, Beckman has a 12-25 record and has won just four conference games. I’ve always been an advocate of giving a coach time to build a program with their own athletes, but the clock for Beckman at Illinois is about to expire.
Beckman has been a coach in college football since 1988 and prior to accepting the job with the Illini, was the head coach at the University of Toledo and led the Rockets to a 17-7 record in three seasons. He took over for Ron Zook, who had just three winning seasons in seven years.
Beckman’s best shot at having a successful team at Illinois might come in 2015. First off, four-star quarterback Wes Lunt will be one of the more experienced signal callers in the Big 10 and is coming off a very good individual season in which he threw 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Lunt also has experience at Oklahoma State, starting five games as a true freshman in 2012.
In addition to returning Lunt in 2015, the Illini should have a solid running game with senior Josh Ferguson. Lunt will also have five of his six top targets and an experienced offensive line. The defense was poor last year, though Illinois will be returning nearly everyone on that side of the ball.
Don’t expect Illinois to be good enough to contend for a Big 10 title this year, but they should be good enough to at least give their head coach another year. That said, Tim Beckman will no doubt have to take the Illini back to the postseason this year to make it through 2015.
My 2015 prediction: Illinois will go 7-5 in the regular season and have an opportunity to play in a bowl game for the second straight year. I don’t expect the Illini to win more than four games in conference, but expect them to challenge some of the better teams and maybe pull off an upset. Should Illinois earn a postseason berth, I expect Beckman’s job to hinge on the outcome.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten Football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.