2009 Illinois Fighting Illini Football Preview
2008 Record: (5-7, 3-5)
2008 Bowl: none
Coach: Ron Zook (18-30 at Illinois, 41-44 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Schultz
Defensive Coordinator: Dan Disch and Curt Mallory
Other Key Returnees: OT Jeff Allen, G Jon Asamoah, S Travon Bellamy, DT Josh Brent, G Eric Brock, WR Jeff Cumberland, RB Daniel Dufrene, K Matt Eller, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, DE Doug Pilcher
Key Losses: CB Vontae Davis, DE Will Davis, OT Xavier Fulton, WR Will Judson, DT David Lindquist, C Ryan McDonald, LB Brit Miller, LB Rodney Pittman, DE Derek Walker
After surprising in 2007 and reaching the Rose Bowl, Illinois was a big disappointment in 2008 and failed to reach a bowl game of any sort. Coach Ron Zook continues to bring in talented recruiting classes and it is time for those players to produce on both sides of the ball. If they do not, the Fighting Illini could fail to reach a bowl game again this season.
There is no reason for this not to be the best offense in the Big Ten. Quarterback Juice Williams threw for 3,173 yards last year and rushed for 719 more. When he is healthy and making good decisions, Williams is an extremely dynamic playmaker who can make things happen. And now that Arrelious Benn has another year of experience, he should be one of the best receivers in the nation. After tallying 1,055 yards as a sophomore, Benn is in for a huge campaign. The offensive line returns three starters and that should be enough to keep the offense ticking. It should also create plenty of running room for Daniel Dufrene. If he can get more rushing yards than Williams, Illinois’ offense will be the most dynamic in the Big Ten.
The defense was not as good as it could have been last year. And now arguably the best four defenders on the team are gone. Corner Vontae Davis is gone as is linebacker Brit Miller and ends Will Davis and Derek Walker. Without those four why would anyone believe the Illini defense could be any better than it was last year? Miller was the heart and soul of the linebacker corps last year and now that job falls to Martez Wilson. Wilson did a decent job on the outside in 2008, but now he will be asked to move into the middle. The spring went very well for him, but can he keep up the tradition of Illinois linebackers? Dere Hicks is an experienced corner, but Tavon Wilson has some big shoes to fill if the Illini secondary wants to keep the opposition from throwing over 200 yards per game again this season.
The Bottom Line for the Fighting Illini:
Coach Zook needs to turn his great recruiting classes into results. It worked in 2007, but it certainly did not in 2008. Before losing starts to become a habit in Champaign, again, results have to start happening. The goal for this season should be getting back to a bowl game, but it could be much better for the Illini if the offense can stay healthy and the defense can replace those big losses.
By Joel Welser
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