College Football Preview: The 2015 Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois Fighting Illini Preview
2014 Record: 6-7 (78th of 128) Lost Heart of Dallas Bowl 35-18 vs. Louisiana Tech
Odds to Win National Championship: +200000 See the Latest Odds
Overview: Illinois finally reached a bowl game under Tim Beckman after three seasons and now hopes it can build on that heading into this year. After all, the Fighting Illini have won six or less games in five of their last seven seasons. This could be a make-or-break season for the current coaching staff.
Offense: Illinois’ numbers offensively aren’t exactly fair due to the constant injuries at quarterback. Bottom line is that this offense put up points with Wes Lunt on the field, as he completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and three picks on 241 pass attempts. The team has to be glad he’s healthy and ready for a full season. Josh Ferguson is one of the more versatile players in the Big Ten after rushing for more than 700 yards and picking up 427 receiving yards. Geronimo Allison looks ready for a breakout senior season and Malik Turner looks to build on an impressive freshman season in which he had 25 receptions. The team also hopes to have leading receiver Mike Dudek back at some point after suffering an injury. Illinois could have the most improved offense in the Big Ten with a lot of key players returned.
USA TODAY Sports
Defense: Illinois hopes to take big steps forward after ranking 112th in total defense last season. Jihad Ward will now be the face of this defense after 8.5 tackles for loss and 51 tackles in his first season with the program. Mason Monheim returns as the team’s leading tackler and T.J. Neal gives Illinois a strong linebacker corps to build around. Eaton Spence and V’Angelo Bentley form a solid tandem in the secondary and Dawuane Smoot proved he can do big things at linebacker. Also, having Teko Powell back on the defensive line is a big boost to this unit. Illinois has some reliable guys on this side of the ball and should be a lot more consistent now that the offense will be able to do a better job of keeping them off the field.
Special Teams: Ryan Frain will replace Justin DuVernois at punter. David Reisner and Taylor Zalewski return at kicker after making 52.9 percent of 17 field goal attempts.
Overall: Illinois has an offense on paper that should be able to move the ball with just about any team in the Big Ten. The real question with this squad is the defense. Even with some questions, it would be a big disappointment if Illinois didn’t clinch back-to-back bowl games for the first time since Lou Tepper coached the program.