Monday, July 14, 2014
B1G media day preview: Illinois
By Adam Rittenberg
The SEC has to be first with everything and kicked off its media days extravaganza earlier Monday in Alabama. Never mind that the season doesn't start until late August.
Big Ten media days are still two weeks away in Chicago, but we're here to get you ready. This series lists three of the pressing questions that each league squad will face at media days, and the possible answers.
Illinois is first up in the proverbial hot seat. In addition to coach Tim Beckman, the Illini are bringing offensive tackle Simon Cvijanovic, tight end Jon Davis and defensive tackle Austin Teitsma.
1. What's the plan/timetable for the quarterback competition?
The starting job technically remains open as Wes Lunt, Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey will continue to compete in camp. Beckman said in April that he wants the probable starter to start receiving more reps when the team begins two-a-day practices. Lunt seemed to have the edge for much of the spring and boasts the strongest arm, and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit seems to be high on his development. O'Toole's experience keeps him in the mix. Bailey is a tremendous athlete but must show improvement as a passer to remain in the race. Expect to see some separation by about Aug. 10.
2. Who must step up on defense for the unit to improve?
It starts with the front seven as Illinois finished last in the Big Ten and 116th nationally in rush yards allowed (238.6 yards per game). The Illini lose top linebacker Jonathan Brown and Houston Bates, who played the Leo position, transferred to Louisiana Tech. Beckman praised the play of T.J. Neal coming out of the spring, and he forms a potentially strong tandem with Mason Monheim. The line is a mix of veterans who need to blossom such as Teitsma and Kenny Nelson, and newcomers like Jihad Ward, Paul James and Joe Fotu, who must make an immediate impact.
3. What will it take for Beckman to leave the hot seat and return for a fourth season?
This isn't a new question -- it has been asked throughout the offseason -- but it will undoubtedly come up during media days as Beckman will be a popular choice as the Big Ten coach on the hottest seat. Illinois AD Mike Thomas has said the Illini need to win more going forward, but has wisely avoided specific numbers for this season. The big debate seems to be whether Beckman could survive at 5-7 -- a third consecutive bowl-less season -- or if Illinois needs to reach the six-win plateau and qualify for postseason play. Beckman and the players likely won't speculate on what it will take to prevent a coaching change, although they'll address a schedule featuring several tough road games (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska).