(This originally ran earlier in the year, but we are reposting it to go along with the rest of the MnB B1G preview. -Zach)
Welcome to Part 2 of this series, where we take a look at how the rest of the Big Ten did in 2012. The last installment was the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
This time, we're talking the Illinois Fighting Illini.
There is probably no better way to sum up how Illinois did in 2012 than when a buddy of mine (an Illinois alumnus) posted this in a Facebook discussion between myself and a few B10 friends shortly after the Illinois-Northwestern game:
WTF, TIM BECKMAN??
You had All Big Ten defensive end Michael Buchanan, who decided to stay and lead the defense instead of bolting for the NFL, which seems like bad move now, since practically no one remembers who he is, quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole, and a host of talent on both sides of the ball. It's not like Ron Zook left the cupboard completely bare.
Beckman took what many thought was going to be 9-3 team (or at the very least 6-6 for the third year in a row) and put together a product that resulted in a face-slappingly disappointing 2-10 record. The Illini were terrible on both sides of the ball, despite having veterans and playmakers with experience, and played like an inexperienced team who were getting aw shucks motivation but no actual coaching.
Expectations Coming In:
Ron Zook was fired at a time when the program seemed stuck in neutral at .500 and supposedly needed a shot in the arm from a fresh face and a new direction.
What they got was Tim Beckman, the hilariously over-enthusiastic MAC coach du jour. Fans looked at his fired-up, speak-loudly-too-close-to-the-mic enthusiasm and saw ambition. The rest of us saw hilarity.
Beckman came from Toledo (where he nearly upset Ohio State in 2011) to Champaign with the direct and highly-publicized expectation that he would take an underachieving but talented Illinois team and immediately succeed where Zook seemed to stall. At the very least, fans expected him to match Zook's record in 2012 and have a breakthrough in 2013.
Best Moment of 2012:
There... isn't one?
The season started with probably more hype and anticipation than Illinois fans were used to. The Fighting Illini's athletic department put together a campaign that Beckman's first year was the "Dawn of a New Era" and that everything had changed.
Pre-season, word was that players were responding extremely well to Beckman's new regimentation and running "eight different tempos," as well as making sure they were "doing everything ten minutes early." The Big Ten Network loved them.
The season started well enough with a win over a mediocre Western Michigan team, but fans started to sense something was wrong when Illinois got shredded by Arizona State, 45-14, in the following week.
Worst Moment of 2012:
Pick your poison. There are too many problems and bad experiences to count.
Of the 10 losses Illinois suffered, seven were outright blowouts (losses by three or more touchdowns). Most Illinois fans hoped the season had hit rock bottom when the Illini were shut out at home by Michigan, 45-0, and prayed afterwards the program would go nowhere but up. The Illini were most competitive, if you want to call it that, against Minnesota, Purdue, and Indiana, but lost all three because of a fourth quarter turnover. In Beckman's first season, he didn't win a single conference game.
Adding insult to injury, Beckman's debut year as Illinois's 23rd head coach was riddled with embarrassing storylines. His staff was caught on Penn State's campus, standing outside players' dorms and trying to recruit them shortly after the Nittany Lions were hit with NCAA sanctions. While every other Big Ten coach publicly said they would not pursue Penn State athletes looking to transfer, Beckman defended his tactics.
He also got into a bit of a tussle with a referee during a game and drew a flag that didn't really do anything except make a bad loss look worse. And finally, he broke a minor NCAA rule by chewing tobacco (lol) on the sidelines during a game.
Yeah, it was not a great year.
Expectations Going Forward:
Ask again later.
With the talent that Illinois supposedly had going into 2012, Beckman's debut as a Big Ten coach was so atrocious it is possibly only matched by the utter nosedive Michigan took under Rich Rodriguez in 2008. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Beckman will be in the hot seat if he doesn't turn things around quickly.
Beckman pulled a Ron Zook and decided that the best way going forward was to swap out bad coordinators for new ones. It's been reported that he recently hired Bill Cubit, the recently fired head coach of Western Michigan, to be his offensive coordinator. Stroke of brilliance or desperate move? We'll find out in 2013.
It was never the offensive scheme that seemed to be the problem at Illinois. It was the utter ineptitude to do any of the basics. Illinois could not hold onto the ball, they couldn't capitalize in the red zone, they couldn't sustain drives, they couldn't force turnovers, and they couldn't stop anyone.
That might be a coordinator problem, or it might go straight to the top. Beckman's the one who thought those coordinators were a good idea in the first place.
Because of the putrid performance by what was thought to be a decently talented team, you'll be hard pressed to find an Illinois fan screamingly optimistic about the immediate future. They're in full-on "wait and see" mode.