The Maize n Brew Big Ten Preview returns; first stop, Illinois

USA TODAY Sports

It is summer and football is still over three months off. What better way to pass the time than to learn a little bit about all those teams we hate so fervently?

Summer is a wonderful time of year. We'll spend it basking in the sun on long weekends, going on vacations and attending weddings, and almost habitually looking for some body of water in which we can cool off -- while maybe still drinking out alcoholic beverage of choice. Summer's main downfall, you know, other than: sunburn, what A/C does to your electric bill, and your plummeting productivity at work, is that there is no football until the very tail end of the season. It is simultaenously a nice little cherry on top of the sundae that is summer and also the thing that makes you groan at least a dozen times, "god, I wish summer would just END so football could start."

Well, bloggers get bored too. With Fort Schembechler in full effect there isn't a whole lot of news to run with, and one can only focus on the college decison of a bunch of 17- and 18-year olds for so long before going stir crazy. So, for the second year in a row, we here at Maize n Brew have decided to take a look at the rest of the Big Ten to try and entertain ourselves, while learning a little bit more about those teams we should be most familiar with. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, as they say.

This week we start at the bottom of the barrel: Illinois.

Gone are the days of Ron Zook, when Illinios fans pound their head against the wall searching for consistency. Those frustrations have been replaced by Tim Beckman, who caught some bad breaks in his first year on campus leading Illinois to a 2-10 record and a perfect 0-8 in conference, but also looked woefully unprepared to lead a Big Ten football program after just three years as the head coach of Toledo.

The good news for Illinois is that pretty much everyone on offense returns. Although given last year's pitiful output, that might not be entirely good. Nathan Scheelhaase is back for his final year on campus, and he will have some work to do if he wants his legacy at Illinois to be peppered with words other than "erratic" and "not much of a passer". He has flashed promise before, and his top options at running back and receiver are back for year two in Beckman's system.

On the other side of the ball Illinois also has a long way to go after a year spent barely in front of Indiana at the bottom of most conference defensive stats. The Illini return linebackers Jonathon Brown and Mason Monheim, but lose two multi-year starters on the line -- Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence -- as well as Terry Hawthorne in the secondary.

It is hard to talk about the coaching hot seat after just one year, but without any demonstrable proof of improvement by December, the FireTimBeckman.com website (that probably already exists) is going to be the most trafficked Illinois site on the internet. Illinois might not be a sleeping giant, but last year's team had more talent than the two-win outfit it ended up being. A similar performance in 2013 would be disaster.

Is Tim Beckman capable of weathering the storm, and did Ron Zook really leave him enough talent to bridge the gap until his system and recruits are in place? Only time will tell, but early returns aren't good. Unless Tim Beckman has a few tricks up his sleeve, this seems like another three years of spinning wheels before another coaching search.

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