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Odds and Schedule
There weren't a ton of positives from Tim Beckman's first year as the Illini's coach. Actually, there probably weren't any as Illinois went 2-10 and didn't win a game in conference play. That's what tends to happen when your offense scores less than 17 points per game and the only team your defense can stop is Charleston Southern. This year could be much of the same with an even younger defense (four returning starters), although a new offensive coordinator (Bill Cubit from Western Michigan) may be able to spark the offense.
Oddsmakers agree. Illinois is listed at odds of 2000 to 1 to win the BCS Title and is favored to come in LAST in the Big 10 with odds of 175 to 1 to win the Big 10 Title. Those odds are courtesy of 5 Dimes Sportsbook as of mid July.
The offense does have some promise even though they were terrible last year. Nathan Scheelhaase is back for his final season and has some weapons to work with. Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson both have the ability to make plays out of the backfield. Young with strength and Ferguson with speed, but that never really came to fruition last year. Receivers Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris are both in their senior seasons and should provide some familiarity for Scheelhaase. Their line was terrible last year and returns three starters from that group. The players are there for Cubit, it's just a question of putting it all together.
Defensively, Illinois may have a longer way to go. With only four returning starters, this is one of the most inexperienced units in the nation. Jonathan Brown and Mason Monheim are solid at the linebacker spot, but all other areas of the field are question marks. It's going to be tough for them to improve on last year's 32 points per game allowed.
2013 Illinois College Football Schedule
Aug. 31 vs. Southern Illinois
Sept. 7 vs. Cincinnati
Sept. 14 vs. Washington
Sept. 28 vs. Miami (OH)
Oct. 5 at Nebraska
Oct. 19 vs. Wisconsin
Oct. 26 vs. Michigan State
Nov. 2 at Penn State
Nov. 9 at Indiana
Nov. 16 vs. Ohio State
Nov. 23 at Purdue
Nov. 29 vs. Northwestern
The Fighting Illini have one thing in their favor, they'll start the season with four straight home games. That wasn't the case last year as they had to travel to Arizona in their second game of the year. While they should be able to get a couple wins in non-conference play, games against Cincinnati and Washington in back-to-back weeks are looking like losses as both have strong defenses.
To make matters worse, their Big Ten schedule opens with games against Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State. For a team that has lost 14 straight conference games, it's not going to be easy to break that streak. Going further, their final two home games will be against Ohio State and Northwestern which possibly means their only chance at a conference win will come on the road at Indiana or Purdue.
Scheelhaase would like to leave his career at Illinois on a positive note, but that doesn't look like a good possibility right now. Two wins will likely be their win total again unless the offense can provide a spark that was missing all last year.
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