Big Ten Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

Ron Zook has had a few great recruiting years at Illinois, but when is the talent going to produce another Rose Bowl appearance? Illinois could go either way this year, if they stay healthy. Joe Pasquali is here to preview Illinois’ chances in the 2009 Big Ten season.

By the way, I wish I was named Juice.

Finishing T-#6 in the Big Ten
Illinois Fighting Illini (Predicted Finish 7-5)

Summary– 2008 was a disappointing season for the Fighting Illini and all signs point to them having a bit of a rebound in 2009. Juice Williams returns to lead a team that lost three straight games to end the season and kept Illinois home for bowl season. We’ll find out early on how good this team is, with Missouri, Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State all within their first five games. Not the way I’d want to start a season….

Offense (B+)– Juice Williams is one of the most exciting players to watch in the conference, showcasing his ability to run and pass every Saturday. Lining up with him will be another player equally as exciting in Arrelious Benn, a WR that every team has to plan for. Look for these two to hook up early and often in 2009.

Defense (C+)– Only two players of the front seven return to a defense that gave up way too many rushing yards last season (152 yards per game, 9th in Big Ten). The entire secondary returns, which is good news surprisingly for the rush defense as well. Ron Zook likes his safeties and nickelbacks to creep up to stop the run, experience back there should help the new defensive line and linebackers get acclimated.

Special Teams (B)– If Arrelious Benn returns kicks for Illinois, I’ll change my ranking to an A. He is that explosive. Matt Eller and Anthony Santella return to do the kicking and punting respectively. Both are fairly average.

Coaching (B+)– Ron Zook is an A+ recruiter but a pretty average big game coach. This will have to change for Illinois to get over the hump in the Big Ten. Don’t see it happening in 2009.
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