Returning Starters – Offense: 7 Defense: 7
Preview: Illinois was able to close last regular season with back to back wins against Penn State and Northwestern to reach bowl eligibility. In their bowl game Illinois was throttled by Louisiana Tech by a final of 18-35. The Illini have shown progress under head coach Tim Beckman, but if the team goes in the wrong direction this season Illinois might have to let Beckman go.
The offense was inconsistent last season partly due to the health of Oklahoma State transfer QB Wes Lunt. Heading into the season Lunt should be healthy and ready to go and if he can stay upright he’s the key to this offense taking a step forward in 2015. Lunt will be playing behind an O-line that’s lacking depth, but steady at tackle with DeLauro and Schmidt returning. The offense will be boosted by the versatile back Josh Ferguson who’s a threat both on the ground and through the air. The WR position needs to replace some pieces, but the staff is hopeful that Allison and Turner will progress this season.
The defense should be better in 2015 with many starters returning mixed with depth ready to battle for playing time. The D-line will be led by Jihad Wards who’ll be looking to progress coming off a successful 2014. Wards will be joined on the line by Powell whose job is to clog the middle. The LB position is more experienced and this unit will be led by Monheim and Neal. The secondary also looks to progress with 4 guys proven and ready to compete with Bentley and Spence at CB and Barton and Fejedelem at safety.
Prediction: There’s no question the Illini have improved under head coach Beckman, but the fans want a lot more than a 6 win season, which is what they got in 2014. Illinois has a tough schedule, but a bowl game should still be a goal for this team. Anything short of bowl eligibility and Beckman is likely out in Champaign.
Projected Record: 5-7 (2-6)