Tim Beckman has achieved very little since being named the head coach at Illinois prior to the 2012 season. From a pure football standpoint, he was undoubtedly on the hot seat this season. His tenure will end a little early as he was fired this afternoon amid an investigation into his conduct.
Reports suggest that Beckman pressured his players to play through injuries and on various occasions, made efforts to avoid reporting injuries. The athletic department made the change despite the fact that the final findings won’t be released until later in the season. Former offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic made a claim on Twitter in May that led the university to launch an investigation.
The team in place right now is undoubtedly the best the Illini have had since Ron Zook led the program. It’s a veteran group that should score more points than last season. The defense gave up 34 points per game last season which means the unit will continue to be a question mark heading into the season. The offense may have to carry the team and should have the playmakers to win them a few games on their own. Beckman’s firing will certainly cause a distraction that could stunt the team’s progress, but from a football standpoint, they have the talent to improve. Bill Cubit, a former head coach at Western Michigan and the Illini’s offensive coordinator will step in to coach the team this season. His experience should keep the team on the right track.
Wes Lunt is returning at quarterback after a very good season last year. The former Oklahoma State signal caller threw 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions after sitting out the 2013 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Lunt will have talented veteran receivers and a talented running back. Mike Dudek led the team in receptions as a freshman with 76 grabs and six touchdowns. Seniors Geronimo Allison and Justin Hardee will also be key contributors. Josh Ferguson ran for 735 yards and eight touchdowns and while also catching 50 passes for 427 yards and two more touchdowns.
Prediction: Illinois should have the talent offensively to win a few games without much defensive help, though they’re returning the majority of their starters on that side of the ball as well which suggests that we’ll see improvement. They play in the Big Ten‘s West Division which is the weaker of the two divisions, so they’ll have a few more winnable games than some teams in the East. They should be able to reach seven regular season wins and return to a bowl game if they play to their potential.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten Football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.