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B1G Review and Preview: Illinois

A quick look at last year's worst Big Ten team.

Zach Zwinak ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns in last year's matchup with Illinois
Zach Zwinak ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns in last year's matchup with Illinois

2012 Illinois Fighting Illini

Record: 2-10 (0-8 B1G)

Standing: Dead last in the Leaders Division

Offensive Stat Leaders: Passing: Nathan Scheelhasse: 1,361 yards, 4 TDs, 8 INTs and Reilly O'Toole: 564 yards, 6 TDs and 4 INTs... Rushing: Donovonn Young: 131 att., 571 yards, 4 TDs... Receiving: Ryan Lankford: 37 recs., 469 yards, 5 TDs

Defensive Stat Leaders: Tackles: Mason Monheim (86).... Sacks: Michael Buchanan (4.5).... Interceptions: Steve Hull (2)

Illinois and their coach Tim Beckman got on Penn State's bad side even before the season started after the school's decision to come onto Penn State's campus to try and lure players to Champaign after the NCAA declared open season on all Penn State football student-athletes in the wake of the sanctions they levied on the school. Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris wanted none of it and September 29th immediately became a date circled in red pen in the Nittany Lions' locker room.

After a 2-2 non-conference slate which included beatdowns from Louisiana Tech and Arizona State, Penn State came to Memorial Stadium and continued the trend as Zach Zwinak had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season and Michael Mauti picked off two passes, almost taking one to the house in a 35-7 domination of the Illini.

The rest of the season didn't go any better for Illinois, only playing Purdue to a one-score game the entire conference season and capped off by a 50-14 shellacking by Northwestern. The offense sputtered and the defense did not fair much better. All in all, it was far from a banner year for the Illini.

A Quick Look Ahead

Recruiting: Rankings - 247Sports: 46th - Rivals:47th - Scout: 42nd... Players of Note: QB Aaron Bailey - ranked a top-15 QB recruit nationally, consensus four-star prospect

Who They Lost: Buchanan, Ashante Williams (78 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT), Glenn Foster (31 tackles, 2.5 sacks)

The Illini lose five of their top tacklers from the 2012 season to graduation, but consider how bad the defense was at times last year, it might be good to get some fresh blood in there. Champaign Room's managing editor Tom Fornelli had this to add:

Just about every spot on the defensive line and in the secondary is up for grabs. It's hard to know for sure who is even going to be starting, let alone stepping up next season.

The key to this defense will be its linebackers, though. If Jonathan Brown can manage to stay healthy it'd be nice to see him deliver on the promise he was showing in 2011 when he had over 100 tackles and nearly 20 tackles for a loss. Then there's the improvement of Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina, both of whom saw a lot of time as freshmen last season and both of whom made a lot of tackles. If there was one benefit of Brown being hurt it's that Svetina earned plenty of experience.

After a stellar freshman season, Nathan Scheelhasse took a step back last year, partly due to an ankle injury that plagued the dual-threat quarterback from the start of last season. Incoming recruit Aaron Bailey is essentially a Juice Williams clone and has all the tools to become a great quarterback in the Big Ten. As The Champaign Room noted, there is a chance for him to give Scheelhasse a run for his money for the starting job this year. Again, from Tom:

Aaron Bailey will compete for the starting job when he finally gets to campus, but I just don't think that he's going to have enough time to make an impact great enough to unseat Nathan Scheelhaase. Coming off such a terrible year I feel like a lot of people are hoping Bailey can be some kind of savior, and while I'm certainly high on the kid, I'm just not sure he's going to be ready to play right away.

He comes from a program in high school that ran a lot of option and while he has good arm strength, he's far more developed as a runner than a passer right now. While it wouldn't shock me to see the Illini install some kind of package to exploit his talent this season, Bill Cubit's offenses have generally been pass-heavy.

However, I do not see him redshirting because I don't think Tim Beckman feels he has the luxury of making such a move.

Overall, we could see minimal improvement from Illinois in the 2013 season, but it would be hard to count on much. Non-conference games against Cincinnati and Washington don't make for an easy start to the year and they have to travel to Nebraska and Penn State while hosting Michigan State and Ohio State.

Way too early prediction: 3-9 (1-7 in B1G)

Illinois 2013 Schedule

For more Illinois information, head to The Champaign Room.

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