>> Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Following a trip to the Rose Bowl in 2007, Ron Zook was hailed as the savior of the Fighting Illini football program, and then came the entire 2008 season. The Fighting Illini of 2008 played more like, well, Illinois is expected to play. They struggled to a 5-7 record and lost any momentum that could have been retained from the 2007 season. Zook and his team must perform admirably this season, or they could be stuck in mediocrity for the foreseeable future.
Zook's offense returns several starters and he has some talented players at his disposable. Senior quarterback Juice Williams has fallen into the habit of the big play. The question this season is whether or not the 6'2", 235 pound senior can settle for making the right play and leading his team down the field. If Juice shows maturity, a bowl game is not out of the possibility. Juice has several players to throw the ball too, headlined by an All-American candidate, Arrelious Benn. Benn is a big play wide receiver who will require constant double teams on his side of the field, which should help Jeff Cumberland on the opposite side of the field. The passing game will require the help of Daniel Dufrene to keep the defense honest, but he'll be forced to run behind a revamped offensive line, lead by right guard Jon Asamoah.
The defensive unit for the Illini was far from a strong suit from the beginning of last season, allowing 52 points to Missouri in the season opener. However, the majority of the talent from last season's team returns this year, sans cornerback Vontae Davis. Davis has left for greener pastures in the NFL, but Dere Hicks and Tavon Wilson teamed with Harderman and Bellamy at safety should give Illinois a strong secondary. The defensive line should have the ability to get decent pressure up front, lead by defensive end Dough Pilcher. Defensive tackle Josh Brent has been suspended for DUI, but if he is reinstated he will team with Corey Liguet to provide a strong defensive line. The linebacking corps, except for weak side linebacker Martez Wilson, are a work in progress. The maturation of Russell Ellington and Ian Thomas will help stabilize their linebacking unit.
September 12th-Illinois State-Win
September 26th-@Ohio State-Loss
October 3rd-Penn State-Loss
October 10th-Michigan State-Loss
December 5th-Fresno State-Win
Season Projection: 8-4 (5-3 Big Ten)