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MnB Opponent Q&A: Fighting Illini

Illinois football could be good this year. Find out what their site editor Jim Vainisi has to say about their chances in the 2015 season.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

How much of a distraction was it for the program when all those former Illini players spoke up about Coach Beckman's disciplinary style? Without getting into the validity of the rumors, is this a do-or-die year for this coaching staff or is hot seat talk premature?

The allegations were a huge distraction. Simon Cvijanovic's Twitter rant came out of nowhere and, of course, the athletic department didn't exactly do a great job addressing the situation. With that said, the current players and their families certainly grouped together on social media to give the coaching staff support. We heard next to nothing about the investigation since the initial claims (which is positive news given what's going on with our women's basketball program), but it hasn't disappeared all together. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming weeks/months.

As for hot seat talk—it's absolutely in play. Tim Beckman needs to win 6 games or he's gone. Our AD Mike Thomas was pretty much forced to keep him after the team's miraculous bowl appearance last season.

When Illinois held their spring game did anyone jump out as being someone that could make an immediate impact in the fall?

There wasn't really anyone in particular, but the defense did look pretty good. Senior defensive end Jihad Ward seems poised for a breakout season in his second year with the team—he's an athletic freak.

Most of the freshmen weren't on campus for the Spring game, but the three to look out for this season are Gabe Megginson (OL), Ke'Shawn Vaughn (RB), and Sam Mays (WR). Vaughn appears to be the favorite for the backup role behind Josh Ferguson and he'll get plenty of carries. With Mike Dudek's ACL injury it look like Mays will have an opportunity to fill in for most of the season.

SBN's Bill Connelly lists a lot of good things for Illinois' on-the-field product but lacking some roster depth. Agree/disagree that the Illini, with some luck, could do very well in 2015?

I think that was a pretty fair assessment. Looking at the schedule, the Illini have four winnable non-conference games (only one really in question is @ UNC) which means there's potential to make some noise in the Big Ten. Illinois' home field advantage hasn't exactly been that formidable in recent years, but all of their ‘tough' conference games—Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State—will be played in Champaign. So there's chance, albeit extremely slim, that Illinois could win seven or eight games.

How do the players/fans/coaches feel about Jim Harbaugh being back in college? Even though Illinois isn't on Michigan's schedule *this* year, does it change the perception of -- or even preparation for -- Michigan in any ways?

We hate Jim Harbaugh. Remember his introduction during on ESPN during the Wolverines' basketball game? You were playing the Illini. All we wanted to do was watch the game, but it turned into a unending conversation about Michigan football. Oh, and it caused all your football fans to show up to a basketball game and it gave you what was probably your biggest home court advantage of the season.

I don't really think it'll impact our perception/preparation for Michigan because you typically kick our ass anyway.

Beer question: What local brew is getting you through the long summer ticking off the days until football season?

Well I don't turn 21 until next July. But if I were to have a favorite beer this Summer (totally don't, you guys), it'd probably be an ice cold bottle of 312.

Thanks, Jim!