Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Dawn Of A New Season

     August is a month that wears many hats.  For some, it signals the end of summer for parents and the eventual return to school of their kids, while others that still have baseball teams in the playoff race (sorry White Sox and Cubs fans), envision dreams of their clubs getting to the World Series.  But for many, August is the beginning of the football season on all levels, from youth leagues to the NFL.  The Fighting Illini began practice on Monday in preparation for the upcoming season, and for second year coach Tim Beckman, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.  The roster is markedly different than it was last year, as it has been overhauled to include 33 new players, either as incoming freshmen or junior college transfers. There are also four new coaches on the staff, including Bill Cubit, who takes over as offensive coordinator and brings to the position a lot of experience, having been a head coach at Western Michigan for the past seven seasons.  Cubit, who was hand-picked by Beckman, will take sole responsibility of the play calling duties on offense, a much different approach than it was last year when the duties were handled by Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, both whom were not retained.  Beckman is in a tough situation this season, having not a lot of depth at many positions, and losing quite a few players to the NFL last season, especially on defense.  Tim Kynard is the lone returnee on the defensive line, and will anchor that unit by bringing along quite a few players that have limited or no experience.  A couple sophomores that played extensively last season as freshmen, Mike Svetina and Mason Monheim, are now considered seasoned veterans, and will lead the linebacking corps along with senior Jonathan Brown, who was named a preseason player to watch on the Butkus Award list.  With the defense having a lot of questions coming off a season that saw the Illini give up a ton of points, there is room for much improvement.

     On the offensive side of the ball, redshirt senior Nathan Scheelhaase returns for his fifth and final season at quarterback, but he will have some competition as Reilly O'Toole and true freshman Aaron Bailey are second and third on the depth chart, respectively.  Transfer Wes Lunt, who played last season and started as a freshman at Oklahoma State, left Stillwater last season and due to Cowboys coach Mike Gundy limiting Lunt to transfer anywhere he wanted, basically okayed Louisville and Illinois as the destinations for Lunt to transfer to.  From nearby Rochester, Lunt always wanted to play for the Illini, but several factors detoured him from Champaign to Oklahoma State, but that is a topic for another day.  The Illini begin training camp at the former Chanute Air Force Base this week, and over the course of the next couple of weeks, I will preview each of the units leading up to the season opener on August 31st against the Salukis of Southern Illinois.  Camp Rantoul practices are open to the public, and can be viewed at

     Summer is a slow time on the basketball front, but the recruiting news seems to be ongoing year-round.  The hot commodity these days is big man Cliff Alexander from Chicago Curie, who apparently still has the Illini on his final list.  Alexander would be a huge coup for Coach John Groce, and could very well be the domino that leads a lot of others to fall downstate.  Groce has made major strides on the recruiting front since arriving in Champaign, and is trying to build the Illinois program back up from where it sagged in the last couple seasons under former coach Bruce Weber.  The schedule, which is still being finalized for the 2013-14 season, will hopefully be released in the next few weeks.

     The last few seasons have been some of the best for the Fighting Illini women's track team, but those days may be coming to an end as coach Tonja Buford-Bailey made the decision to leave Illinois and take the associate head coach at the University of Texas.  When that news surfaced, immediate concerns were realized about the Illini's star Ashley Spencer, who was recruited by Bailey to Illinois.  Sure enough, Spencer and Morolake Akinosun have decided to join Bailey at Texas, and their departure will significantly hamper the program, at least for the next couple for years.  Having known Tonja for many years, I wish her nothing but the best in her new position.

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