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Cincinnati Bearcats Schedule First Look: Illinois Fighting Illini

In the second part of this ongoing series we take a look at the Bearcats second opponent of the year, Illinois. The Bearcats travel to Champaign to take on the Fighting Tim Beckman's and the running joke that is Mike Thomas's career.


The Basics

Name University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Fighting Illini
Location Urbana-Champaign, Illinois
Head Coach Tim Beckman
Career Record 23-26
2012 Record 2-10

2012 In Four Sentences Or Less

The Illini started the year with a 2-1 record in the first three games despite Nathan Scheelhaase missing most of the first, and all of the 2nd and 3rd games. The first loss, on the road against Arizona State, exposed the defense. The defense continued to be nothing but a disaster starting with a demolition at the hands of Lousiana Tech. Illinois' closest loss the rest of the way was a 20-17 defeat at the hands of the other Big 10 team on the schedule, Purdue.

Who Is Coming Back

Based off the depth chart from the Illini's final game of the year against Northwestern quite a bit, at least on offense. Beckman's crew had just three seniors listed as starers or co starters. The skill position groups return basically intact. There is a QB completion of some sort going on. But Scheelhaase a likely bet to be making his 38th career start against the Bearcats. The top two rushers (Donovonn Young, Josh Ferguson) and the top six pass catchers (Ryan Lankford, Darius Millines*, Spencer Harris, Ferguson, Justin Hardee and Young). The offensive line is largely intact with three starters and 6 members of the depth chart coming back.

* Millines has an awesome last name/is suspended for spring practice.

The defense is a different matter. Three starters are departing along the defensive line and the secondary, the resulting hit to experience is obviously meaningful in some way. On the flip side of the coin both full time linebackers are returning, though both Mike Svetina and Mason Monheim will be the experienced vets, as sophomores.

What Will They Run

There has been massive turnover in the coaching staff, but 2-10 records have that effect. Last year’s co offensive coordinators are gone, former longtime Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubbit now calls the shots. Cubbit calling the shots will change the nature of the Illini's offense. They will spread the field with receivers, but they will do so to pass. WMU attempted 500 or more passes in four of his last five seasons. That emphasis will be a change for an Illinois program that was (among Big 10 teams) an early adapter of the spread to run philosophy (remember Juice Williams? Couldn't pass).

The defense is still being run by Tim Banks. Remember Tim Banks? I have been trying to forget, but I still remember. Lots of cover 2, lots of cover 3, very little blitzing, a shocking willingness to concede the flats defensively. In other words, shut up and play the hits.

Can You Wrap This Up? I Have Things To Do

Last year Illinois was a dreadful team. They finished last or next to last in the Big 10 in scoring offense and defense, passing, rushing and total offense and rushing defense. The only thing they did kind of well was defend the pass, but that has more to do with no one in the Big 10 being able to pass than anything else.

Yes they have some pieces that could, in theory, make a leap on offense. But the personnel is, at first glance, ill suited to the philosophy. Meanwhile Tim Banks will have to press the reset button defensively. That means the defense they are likely to run is going to be even more bland and unimaginative than it usually is, which is quite a statement when you think about it. In short, Illinois is still a dreadful team.