The offseason for Illinois ended with a shocking twist, as head coach Tim Beckman was fired following allegations of him pressuring players to play injured, shrouding a very promising season in a cloud of uncertainty.
The Illini have a veteran team, and many (including myself) thought that this was their best shot at a winner since Ron Zook left the program. Offensive coordinator and former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit was promoted to the position left vacant by Beckman on an interim basis, and is certainly making his case for maintaining the job permanently.
Illinois is 4-1 on the season and 1-0 in conference play with an upset win over Nebraska last weekend. The result certainly doesn’t make it look like the offense showed up, but the Illini were very consistent. With a lot of defensive help, they pulled off the upset to keep the momentum going. The team failed to show up in a 48-14 loss to North Carolina a few weeks back, but aside from that and a tight win over Middle Tennessee State, the Illini have been very impressive offensively.
Geronimo Allison is leading the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yardage, and has been a safety blanket for quarterback Wes Lunt. Allison is averaging 14.2 yards on 32 receptions and has two touchdowns. As a junior last season, Allison recorded 519 yards and five touchdowns through the air.
Lunt played in eight games last year, which was his first with the Illini after transferring from Oklahoma State. He was one of the conference’s most consistent passers with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. With more experience and weapons around him in 2015, he was expected to take a huge step forward, and he hasn’t disappointed.
Through five games, Lunt has eight touchdowns and two interceptions, and played very well in the conference opener last week against Nebraska, helping to deliver the 14-13 upset.
The Illini don’t have an individual runner who is among the ground leaders in the conference, but have two consistent backs who have been key factors in their early success. Josh Ferguson and Ke’Shawn Vaughn have combined for 706 rushing yards and five touchdowns, which collectively ranks near the bottom of the conference. That said, you have to take into consideration the fact that their quarterback isn’t going to add much, if anything, to the rushing totals like the top rushing teams in the Big Ten.
Illinois is a well-balanced and veteran group that has been impressive, and they surprised a lot of people with their upset win Saturday. This makes their matchup with an improved Iowa team this weekend that much more enticing.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten Football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.