Best case-worst case rewind: Illinois

January, 8, 2010
1/08/10
9:00
AM ET
As promised, the best case-worst case rewind will resume with ... Illinois.

In case you missed it: Illinois' best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: The Illini avoid the chemistry issues that plagued them in 2008 and ride a high-powered offense to a 10-win season. Quarterback Juice Williams reclaims the form he showed early last season and capitalizes on the nation's best wide receiving corps, led by Arrelious Benn. Illinois surges into the top 20 midway through the season and finishes 10-2 before beating Ron Zook's old team, Florida, in the Capital One Bowl.

Worst-case synopsis: The team falls apart again, starting with Williams at quarterback. Benn is a nonfactor, and the defense once again can't stop the run. Special teams remains a a major weakness and linebacker Martez Wilson doesn't blossom into a star. Illinois stumbles to a 1-4 start and misses the postseason for the second straight year despite a talented roster.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The inconsistency that has plagued the program throughout its history surfaces again." ... "Opposing defenses constantly double-team Benn and keep him out of the end zone." ... "An iffy defensive line generates no pass rush and struggles against the run for the second straight season. Special teams continue to hurt Illinois." ... "Missouri beats the Illini in yet another St. Louis shootout, setting the tone for a shaky season." ... "Zook energizes his critics who say he's simply a recruiter, and he enters 2010 on the hot seat. Benn goes bye bye."

Lies, lies, lies: "Wide receiver Arrelious Benn adds touchdown catches to his already impressive résumé and headlines one of the nation's best receiving corps." ... "Illinois starts things off by finally beating Missouri. Williams breaks his own total offense record in the Edward Jones Dome and makes pulp out of Tigers linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. The Illini hang 50 on Mizzou and enter Big Ten play riding high." ... "The upset of Penn State sparks a winning streak, as Illinois' offense overwhelms Michigan State and steamrolls Indiana and Purdue." ... "Head coach Ron Zook answers his critics by maximizing his talent." ... "Illinois finishes No. 12 in the final polls." ... "Despite winning the Biletnikoff Award, Benn decides he loves Champaign too much and shocks everyone by staying for his senior season."

Reality check: How bad did it get for Illinois this fall? Reality (3-9) was worse than the worst-scenario (5-7) by two games. After an encouraging preseason, things went downhill for the Illini from the get-go. A miserable performance against Missouri in the season opener set the tone. Williams struggled for much of the year, losing his starting job midway through Big Ten play. Wilson suffered a season-ending neck injury after appearing in only one game. The offense took too long to click, and by that point the defense had fallen apart down the stretch. Illinois ended up retaining Zook, but the coach dismissed four assistants and demoted two others, creating a win-or-you're-done mandate for 2010. Benn bolted for the NFL, and recruiting took a hit.

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