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Spring Snapshot 2012: Illinois Fighting Illini

<a href="">(Photo: Mike Pettigano)</a>
(Photo: Mike Pettigano)

Following its uncharacteristically strong non-conference schedule -- no Indiana State's to be found this year -- Penn State opens up the Big Ten conference schedule with a trip to Illinois.

Where they call home: Memorial Stadium, Chambana, Illinois

Endless running begins/ends: Started March 7, ends April 14 with Orange and Blue Spring game.

If they suck, this guy gets fired: Tim Beckman

The lowdown...

Just doesn't feel right, does it? For seven glorious years, Ron Zook provided endless comedic value to the otherwise stoic Big Ten conference. Riding the teacups with his players at amusement parks. The infamous waterskiing picture. Whatever the hell this is. And the losses! Oh, the losses! Zook finished with a 34-51 record at Illinois, including the six-game losing streak that led to his firing at the end of last season.

Beckman takes over this year, following three years as the head coach of Toledo. As the Rockets' head coach, he put together a 14-2 conference record over the past two seasons. SB Nation's fantastic MAC blog, Hustle Belt, adds a little flavor to Beckman's brief accomplishments at Toledo here.

More specifics below the fold...

More 2012 Spring Snapshots
Ohio Bobcats - 3.12.12
Virginia Cavaliers - 3.13.12
Navy Midshipmen - 3.14.12
Temple Owls - 3.15.12
Illinois Fighting Illini - 3.19.12
Northwestern Wildcats - 3.20.12
Iowa Hawkeyes - 3.21.12
Ohio St. Buckeyes - 3.22.12
Purdue Boilermakers - 3.26.12
Nebraska Cornhuskers - 3.27.12
Indiana Hoosiers - 3.28.12
Wisconsin Badgers - 3.29.12

What they return...

QB's Nathan Scheelhaase (also 2011's leading rusher with 624y) and Reilly O'Toole both saw action last season, but Scheelhaase is the obvious returning star on offense. Sophomore RB Donovonn Young (451y, 6 TD) replaces the Ford/Pollard combo. Junior WR's Spencer Harris and Darius Millines will be counted upon to fill the void left by A.J. Jenkins. On defense, DE Michael Buchanan also returns, although the big-ticket player is junior LB Jonathan Brown. Brown had 10+ tackles in six conference games last season, and is a good bet to end up on many B1G preseason first-team lists.

What they lost...

Defensive end Whitney Mercilus and his 16 QB sacks. Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins and his 16 receptions of 20 yards or more. Running back Jason Ford and his 26 career touchdowns. They also lose second-team All B1G OL Will Allen, DB Trulon Henry, backup RB Troy Pollard, honorable mention All-B1G LB Ian Thomas and DB Tavon Wilson.

Additionally, Illinois loses Derek Dimke, the most accurate placekicker in Illiini history (despite the miss which sealed Joe Paterno's 409th win, the last time everything was beautiful and nothing hurt in Happy Valley).

Stylin' Illini...

If the Illini are dreaming big, they don't have a very favorable conference schedule (at Ohio State, at Michigan, at Wisconsin). However, there are enough winnable home games to achieve the somewhat reasonable goal of bowl eligibility (Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota all visit Chambana, and they get Penn State early in the season as PSU installs a new offense). Losing Mercilus a year early to the NFL draft is a dagger, and the defensive-minded Beckman will have his hands full building around Brown. Offensively, Scheelhaase looked lost at times last season and replacing Ford, Pollard, and Jenkins will be the unenviable task of co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty.

See you tomorrow, as Spring Snapshot 2012 continues with the Northwestern Wildcats.

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