That's right...it's that time of year again...time for some 2009 previews! For those who were around last summer, the schedule is set up about the same this time around. On Monday, we'll give you some general 2009 links for the given opponent--2008-in-review pieces, spring football links, etc.
First, a 2008 review. An inexplicably mediocre year for Illinois overall. They outgained opponents by 88 yards per game, and they outscored opponents as well, but they only went 5-7, beating only one team with a winning record (Iowa), barely beating UL-Lafayette, and losing to Western Michigan...and still maintaining the "dangerous team with potential" vibe. How did the season go wrong? Well, either bad luck, bad bounces, or bad coaching. Or all three, I guess. And the fact that they only intercepted six passes on the season despite the presence of a badass corner in Vontae Davis. Projecting their 2009 season based on stats and proven quantities, you can get anywhere between 3-9 and 9-3 for Illinois in 2009. They will have much more experience than Mizzou in 2009, only they're every bit as baffling.
Links from IlliniHQ.com:
Will Illini be able to tackle challenge?
The defensive unit lost three of its top four tacklers in Brit Miller, Vontae Davis and Rodney Pittman, plus quality starters David Lindquist, Will Davis and Derek Walker. On top of that, uncertainties cloud the fall status of two top returnees, tackle Josh Brent and safety Donsay Hardeman. Brent faces a DUI hearing next week, and Hardeman's neck surgery has created a question about his football future.
Thus, to a great extent, co-coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory are starting fresh. And critics have every right to pinpoint linebacking as a concern. But take note, as Zook emphasized this week, opening foes Missouri and Illinois State and the majority of UI opponents operate out of multi-receiver, spread formations which call for a nickel and dime response. The nickel, which removes a linebacker and inserts veteran Travon Bellamy as the fifth defensive back, almost replaces the 4-3-4 alignment as the base defense in 2009.
The four Illinois tailbacks each had at least seven carries Saturday. And none of the four had more than 10.
"I don't think that you have to have one guy," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "If one guy separates himself, great. You need everybody and you need them all."
Zook will get no arguments from the competing players. Mikel Leshoure, Jason Ford, Daniel Dufrene and Troy Pollard all expect to play during the 2009 season.
"The rotation is going to change probably every game," Leshoure said. "The only thing different with the starter is he'll be on the field first and he'll probably take the first series. Other than that, it's not really a big deal."
No matter what you think of Juice Williams (and for obvious reasons, we're all pretty impressed with Eddie McGee around here), it's clear that Arrelious Benn has become the most high-profile Illini weapon.
Ron Zook: Twitterhead.
Our SBN mates at Hail to the Orange are unimpressed with the 2009 slate.
There may not be the glaringly poorly scheduled game like last year's debacle at Ford Field in Detroit, (seen on computers everywhere as the low point in the season.) But this schedule seems to simultaneously overreach and shortchange its fanbase, which is very impressive when you think about it.
I don't believe he was projected to start, but former high-upside recruit Reggie Ellis has asked for a transfer. The defensive line will still likely be a strength for this team, as we will discuss (with numbers...!!!!) later in the week.
Finally, another SBN mate, The Rivalry, Esq., takes a look at Juice Williams's passing mechanics and has mostly good things to say.