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Taking the Pulse of Illinois Football

Fresh off a dominating performance against Purdue in week one the Bearcats get ready to face yet another Big 10 opponent in the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois. The Illini are coming off their first win since last September, and yet expectations remain low among the faithful.

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It has been a rough couple of years for the Fighting Illini. Just 7 years ago the Illini made a miracle run to the Rose Bowl behind the legs and arms of Juice Williams and a phenomenal performance against Ohio State. For their trouble they were quickly, and brutally, dispatched by the Men of Troy. It was the high water mark for the Zooker, even though he remained on the job for a full five seasons. Zook had his moments, but he was never that consistent, with any momentum gained quickly squandered.

Mike Thomas dropped the axe at the end of the 2011 regular season.    A year that summed up Zook and his tenure almost too perfectly. They shocked a good Arizona State team in September to get into the polls, won the next three against Western Michigan, Northwestern and Indiana to climb as high as 16th in the AP. They then promptly lost the last 6 of the year and Zook was gone.

Mike "MAC mentality" Thomas did what he does in hiring a new coach. He went after the hottest name in the MAC, Tim Beckman. Beckman made Toledo competitive again, but he never really had the breakthrough, he topped out with 8 wins and never won the division, let alone the conference. That itself is enough to raise question marks with the hire. The fact that most of his offensive staff stayed behind with Matt Campbell, thus robbing him of the one thing that made Toledo good, had to set alarm bells ringing. Then he decided to dispatch 8 assistants to State College to persuade two Nittany Lions, who were made free agents by the NCAA punishment for the Jerry Sandusky Scandal, to come to Champaign-Urbana. Then the season started, and things got worse.

Basically the Illini have spent the last six seasons digging for rock bottom, hitting it, continuing to dig and, in the process, finding new more exciting bottoms on which to rest before the next, inevitable, round of digging starts. As far as I can tell there is next to no support for Beckman from the fans or the media. No one is running out any of the tropes so commonly associated with struggling head coaches. He isn't trying to fix "the culture" or "instill toughness and discipline" on a bunch of ill suited inherited players. It seems that everyone simply acknowledges that it was a bad hire. That there is next to no hope of preventing the good ship Illinois from sailing head first at top speed (OK, A speed) into the first iceberg it can find is just a given.

Beckman might last through this season. If he wins three games (1 down, 2 to go!) Mike Thomas can keep him around without too much fuss. But there is a ticking clock on Beckman's head, and even if it keeps ticking through this December, it won't be ticking through the next December unless there is drastic improvement. Drastic improvement though, that's just not a club that Tim Beckman has in his bag.