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After all, he was never a head coach
before becoming a curious hire to replace Steve Spurrier at Florida
where he had mediocre success with some of college football's most
To be fair, he had little to no Big Ten talent to work with in last
season's disaster and deserves a few years to see if his recruiting
classes can make a difference. However, he and his staff tried to
make the square pegs fit the round holes and did little to come up
with the proper adjustments as the season went on.
Head coach: Ron Zook
2nd year: 2-9
5th year overall: 25-23
Off. 21, Def. 24, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 15
Best Illinois Players
1. RB Pierre Thomas, Sr.
2. OT Akim Millington, Jr.
3. DT Chris Norwell, Jr.
4. RB E.B. Halsey, Sr.
5. OG Matt Maddox, Sr.
6. CB Alan Ball, Sr.
7. LB Brit Miller, Soph.
8. FS Justin Harrison, Jr.
9. SS Kevin Mitchell, Jr.
10. S Justin Sanders, Jr.
at Michigan St
at Penn State
2005 Record: 2-9
2005 predicted wins
W 33-30 OT
San Jose State
at California L 35-20
Michigan State L 61-14
at Iowa L 35-7
Penn State L 63-10
Wisconsin L 41-24
Ohio State L 40-2
at Purdue L 37-3
The biggest issue is on each line, and for that Ron
Turner and the previous regime is to blame. The Big Ten is more of a
finesse conference than you might believe from its reputation, but you
can't be successful in the league if you can't stop the run or push
someone around in the ground game (unless you're Northwestern, which
somehow succeeded with no run defense whatsoever). Illinois had major
problems on the offensive line giving the quarterbacks no time to
operate and opening few holes for tremendous backs E.B. Halsey and
Pierre Thomas. The defensive line generated no consistent pass rush and
got steamrolled over on the way to becoming the nation's worst run
defense. Unfortunately, there won't be a huge upgrade on the lines this
year despite the addition of Oklahoma's Akim Millington at tackle to go
along with five other starters.
Despite the concerns with the coaching staff and the lines, there's
still reason to be optimistic for a surprise season thanks to all the
returning experience with 49 letterwinners and 21 starters returning. The
skill players on offense aren't that bad, and there are several very
athletic, very promising players on defense that should grow into steady
The schedule isn't all that bad with enough average games to reasonably
shoot for six wins, which would obviously be hailed as a huge campaign
considering the program has won four D-I games in the last two seasons.
And when it comes to Zook, think what you will about him, but he's a
master motivator and he kept his team trying hard in the midst of a
nightmare of a year. Keeping the team's motor running won't be a
If nothing else, the Illinois season will be entertaining because of
Zook. Will teams crank out 469 yards of offense and close to 40 points
per game again? Will the offense start to produce? Will Zook meltdown
like he did at Florida if there's criticism for another bad year, or
will he be the Big Ten coach of the year leading the team to a bowl
game? It'll be worth watching.
It's not all that bad, but the Illini
have to take advantage of every opportunity at home and must come up
with a Big Ten shocker or two on the road. A win over Syracuse is a
must to provide some momentum going into the Big Ten opener against
Iowa, and there's no recovering if there's another loss to Indiana
like the 36-14 debacle of last year. Central Michigan provides a
welcome mid-season respite before playing at Penn State, at
Wisconsin and at home against Ohio State. In other words, Illinois
had better have a big first half of the season.
Senior RB Pierre Thomas. Fellow backfield mate E.B. Halsey and
newcomer tackle Akim Millington could also be considered the team's
best offensive player, but Thomas is the one who keeps the offense
alive with his power running and enough speed to become a decent
Defensive Player: Junior DT Chris Norwell. A good interior pass
rusher and one of the few decent playmakers against the run, the
290-pound junior should grow into a stronger anchor the rest of the
line can work around.
player to a successful season: The entire offensive line. Tackles
Akim Millington, J.J. Simmons, Charles Myles, guards Martin
O'Donnell and Matt Maddox and center Ryan McDonald have improve the
pass protection and start to open more holes for the good backs to
run through. The ground game ran for 158 yards per game, but it
should be doing more.
season will be a success if ... Illinois wins five games. Getting
to six and a bowl game might be a little too much to ask out of a
team that still needs a few years to emerge, but winning five games
would set the tone for a potentially big 2007 when all the fast
young players will finally mature.
game: Sept. 23 vs. Iowa. Illinois has to start making Memorial
Stadium a dangerous place to play. A win in the Big Ten opener would
do wonders for the program's confidence going into a road trip to
Michigan State, but just playing well and hanging around a potential
top ten team like the Hawkeyes should grow into would show how the
team might be going in the right direction.
The Last Time Illinois…
- Fourth quarter scoring: Opponents 112 - Illinois 47
- Punt return average: Opponents 15.3 yards per return - Illinois
4.6 yards per return
- Third down conversion percentage: Opponents 76 of 150 (51%) -
Illinois 65 of 173 (38%)
…played in a bowl game…2001 (Sugar Bowl vs. LSU)
…missed a bowl game…2005
…pitched a shutout…2000 (Iowa)
…was shutout…2004 (Minnesota)
…scored 50 points…2004 (Florida A&M)
…won a conference title…2001 (Big Ten)
…had a 3,000-yard passer…2001 (Kurt Kittner)
…had a 1,000-yard rusher…2002 (Antoineo Harris)
…had a 1,000-yard receiver…2002 (Brandon Lloyd)
…had a first-round draft choice…1996 (LB Kevin Hardy)