Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Best and worst of 2012: Illinois
By Brian Bennett
Our series examining the best and worst moments of 2012 for each Big Ten team continues now with the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Best moment: A solid debut
OK, it wasn't easy to pick out the best moment for a team that went 2-10 and lost its final nine games. But the season looked a lot more promising after a Week 1 win over Western Michigan. The Broncos were a bowl team in 2011 and had an accomplished senior quarterback in Alex Carder, but they were no match for the Illini in the start to the Tim Beckman era. Illinois ran out to a 17-0 lead at halftime, forced three interceptions from Carder and held Western Michigan to minus-6 rushing yards in a 24-7 victory. Despite an injury to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, it looked like the Illini would field a strong defense and be competitive in the Leaders Division. We ranked them No. 7 in our Week 2 power rankings. Unfortunately, this was also the apex of the season in Champaign.
Worst moment: Losing the Land of Lincoln -- loudly
If the pickings were slim for best moment, they were sure plentiful for worst. A 45-14 blowout at Arizona State, a 52-24 home loss to Louisiana Tech and a 45-0 drubbing by Michigan all could be considered. But arguably nothing hurt worse than the season finale at rival Northwestern. The Illini had played a little better in the previous two weeks, including a three-point loss to Purdue on Nov. 17. They would have loved nothing more than to spring an upset in Evanston against a team they'd beaten the previous two years in the Land of Lincoln rivalry. A Reilly O'Toole touchdown made it 17-14 early in the second quarter. But Northwestern would go on to score the final 33 points to hang half a hundred on the Illini, which was made even more embarrassing when Beckman was twice flagged for sideline interference and was even knocked over by an official during an interception return.