Big Ten Football Countdown: No.11 Illinois

QB Nathan Scheelhaase must bounce back for Illinois to be successful in 2013 - Getty Images

Illinois must find a way to overcome their doomed defense if they expect to win ball games this fall

It was a tough first year for Illinois Head Coach Tim Beckman, seeing his Fighting Illini lose eight straight games and go 0-8 in conference play. Year two should go more smoothly for Beckman whose team returns nine on the offensive end, including all starting QB's, RB's and Receivers. The defense will take a huge plunge as almost all the starters leave from a defense that wasn't all that great. A tough schedule will not favor Illinois to win too many games, and may result in them winning even less games (if that is possible), though most of the improvement may not reflect their record. Illinois was a young team in 2012, featuring many playmakers who were Freshmen and Sophomores, and will benefit from an off-season with a coach who is known for turning programs around.

2012 Record: 2-10 (0-8)

Returning Starters: 15 (9 OFF, 4 DEF, 2 ST)

Key Losses on Offense: OT Hugh Thornton, C Graham Pocic,

Key Losses on Defense: DE Michael Buchanan, DT Akeem Spence, DT Glenn Foster, LB Ashante Williams, CB Terry Hawthorne, CB Justin Green, S Supo Sani

Head Coach: Tim Beckman: 2-10 (2nd Year)

Strength: Backfield and Receivers

If one thing is for certain, it is that Illinois will be much stronger on the Offensive end. It would almost be impossible for them to get worse, returning all the starters from their backfield and receiving core to an offense that ranked 122nd in points per game (16.7). Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (1361 yds. 4 TD) regressed in offensive production last season, but should bounce back as his top receivers WR Ryan Lankford (469 yds. 5 TD), WR Darius Millines (319 yds.), WR Spencer Harris (252 yds. 2 TD) and RB/WR Josh Ferguson (251 yds.) all return. The Running game should also improve as well as RB Donovan Young (571 yds. 3 TD) ,RB Josh Ferguson (312 yds.) and RB Dami Ayoola (117 yds. 2 TD) return for Illinois.

Weakness/Questions: Secondary and Defensive Line

If there is only one reason that Illinois doesn't win games, it will be because of their defense. The defense as a whole returns only four starters from a defense that allowed 32.1 points a game. DE Tim Kynard (18 TOT) is the only returning starter from a defensive line that ranked 95th in rush defense with 193 yards allowed per game. The secondary is also crippled by departures as S Earnest Thomas (69 TOT) is the only returning starter from a defensive backfield that ranked 19th in pass defense with 193 yards per game. The Linebacker situation remains relatively in tact as both LB Mike Svetina (40 TOT) and LB Mason Monheim (86 TOT) return.

Projected Record: 3-9 (1-7)

Bowl Game: None

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