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Crossfire Q&A: Illinois

We claim to know many things here at Rock M Nation, but insider knowledge and fandom of Mizzou's opponents isn't one of them. Luckily, other bloggers are here to help. Today, we feature our SBN counterparts from Hail to the Orange, who agreed to join us for a preview of the Mizzou/Illinois season opener in St. Louis.

RMN: Before we delve into the specifics of 2009, what are your thoughts on the "suspension" of the Arch Rivalry season after 2010?

Well, I have been to exactly one of the Arch Rivalry games (last years) but I would have to say that the 2007 and 2008 games, although they were both losses for the Illini, were both extremely exciting and for the most part competitive. I realize though that Illinois would much rather have that week as a home game rather than neutral site. I would hope the game could continue as a home and home, but that doesn't look like its going to happen. I will miss the game, but another home game would be nice.

RMN: What caused Illinois' regression from BCS to bowl ineligibility in one year? It can't just be the absence of Mendenhall, right?

Quite a few things that the Illini had in 2007 were not there in 2008. Specifically line play, offensive and defensive. The defensive line ended up being to small and was exposed to be weak against the run up the middle. Safety play was a big issue as well. On offense it was hot and cold. When the line gave Juice enough time to make his passes, the ball moved in huge chunks. But as the year wore on, teams blitzed more and more, and Juice spent a hell of a lot of time on his back. The defense was not what it needed to be, and the offense was too inconsistent.

RMN: For the 317th year, we're on Juice Williams watch. What's the word on his development headed into this year? Does he have many options outside of Arrelious Benn?

Juice if given time, (and hopefully some good coaching) Juice could actually live up to his height. As for weapons, depending on how things shake up this summer, he could have 3 HS AA Wide Receiver targets to throw to (or at, if you are feeling pithy.) Along with Arrelious, look for Florida transfer Jared Fayson, and East Saint Louis' own Terry Hawthorne to be targets. Along with A.J. Jenkins, Michael Hoomanawanui, and a slew of supposedly highly touted receivers, someone should be open. We hope.

More questions after the jump!

RMN: From an outsider's perspective, Illinois once again appears to be formidable on the defensive line. What kind of production do Illini fans expect out of the defensive unit in 2009?

Last year's unit was probably the most disappointing aspect of the whole season. Many fans and even supposedly smart football people thought they could be a top 10 D-line. Then D'Angelo McCray transferred, Sirod Williams busted his knee, and there was a weakness on the inside. Now Sirod is healthy and everyone says the line will be solid again. I am skeptical. Liuget had better be ready to play a lot more than last year and Sirod had better be all the way back from knee surgery. Otherwise, no matter how good the DEs are, the line is going to be porous, and we will be run to death all over again.

RMN: Outside of the obvious stars, give us the names of a few players that aren't getting enough love or that Mizzou fans should know.

Fred Sykes. The two star prospect from Tampa, Florida who overtook at least two far more heavily recruited and more talented players and got on the field as a freshman last year. Not because of his speed or his size, but because of his ability to run his routs and catch what was thrown to him. It seems odd to say but on a team that has a lot of speed at WR, one of the best weapons was a slower player who could get open and actually make catches. I don't know how much more we will see of him, given how competitive the position is, but give the guy some credit for doing what he could to help the team.

RMN: Finish the following statements:

-- Illinois will win if: Juice has enough time to throw to the open man, or the running backs give the offense a real running game.
-- Mizzou will win if: They can move the ball on the ground as well as they did last year. I am still very worried about the defense up the middle.

RMN: Give us your score prediction.

Let's see last year was 52 to 42, and 07 was 40-34, lets split the difference. Another track meet. Illini 45-Mizzou 39. I may get alot less optimistic of as the off season progresses though.