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Illini have to make some strides to give Tim Beckman a boost

Tim Beckman

Tim Beckman

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• Saturday vs. S. Illinois (W)

Long-awaited victory — the Illini’s first in 349 days.

• Sept. 7 vs. Cincinnati (W)

You’d better believe this ­qualifies as an upset.

• Sept. 14 vs. Washington (L)

Soldier Field doesn’t suit these Central Illinoisans.

• Sept. 28 vs. Miami (Oh.) (W)

For a fleeting moment, 3-1 feels like 12-0.

• Oct. 5 at Nebraska (L)

Uh-oh.

• Oct. 19 vs. Wisconsin (L)

Did anyone get the license plate of that truck?

• Oct. 26 vs. Michigan State (L)

Home-field advantage ain’t what it used to be.

• Nov. 2 at Penn State (L)

Season has taken a rather ugly turn, wouldn’t you say?

• Nov. 9 at Indiana (L)

Close, but no cigar.

• Nov. 16 vs. Ohio State (L)

Close? Don’t be ridiculous.

• Nov. 23 at Purdue (W)

Finally! That Big Ten losing streak couldn’t last forever.

• Nov. 30 vs. Northwestern (L)

There’s still a long way to go.

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Updated: August 27, 2013 10:06AM



This is not one of the more talented Illinois teams to come around the bend. Nor do the 2013 Illini have a lot of experience. Momentum? They have only the bad kind, carrying a 14-game Big Ten losing streak into what could be another extremely difficult season for second-year coach Tim Beckman, his program and, given the plummeting attendance figures of late at Memorial Stadium, the school’s athletic department.

Or maybe junior defensive tackle Austin Teitsma nailed it: “National championship, Big Ten championship — we’re shooting for the highest we can go.”

It’s wonderful to be young and unburdened by reality.

The Illini won’t sniff a title race this season. It might take a miraculous bounce of the ball or 20 for them to reach a bottom-of-the barrel bowl game. But you know what? Even if they’re pretty bad, they can be a whole lot better than they were during the zero-hope stretch run of a 10-loss 2012.

And that’s all anyone should want from them. To ask for more than general improvement from this group would be unfair.

“I’m not going to put a number [of wins] on it, never would put a number on it,” Beckman said. “But I want to see this football team respond and understand its responsibility to the University of Illinois.”

Beckman said his players are motivated and positive-minded and have banded together, and throughout training camp, that indeed appeared to be the case. How many additional victories can a much-needed attitude adjustment bring? Maybe a couple or even a few?

Regardless of the win-loss record, frustrated Illini fans will know a more praiseworthy team if they see one. As will athletic director Mike Thomas, who defines success in 2013 as “moving the needle in the right direction . . . and [being] competitive in all areas.”

Beckman doesn’t have to win big to strengthen his standing with his boss and Illini Nation, but the arrow had better start pointing up.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SLGreenberg

5 players to watch

• QB Nathan Scheelhaase: His entire game has improved since the arrival of first-year offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. Quicker reads will equal more completions and fewer hits.

<< RB Donovonn Young: A downhill running game is a major part of Cubit’s system. The burly Young fits the bill and could really break out.

• T Corey Lewis: The offensive line is so thin. Can a survivor of three ACL tears hold up?

• LB Jonathan Brown: He was banged up and bummed out in 2012. Can he get back to his old dominant self?

• DE Tim Kynard: His goal as a senior is simple — to revive the Illini pass rush. Easier said than done.

stats corner

12 The number of redshirt freshmen and true freshmen in the two-deep depth chart heading into the opener vs. SIU.

4.5 Former Illini Michael Buchanan’s team-leading sack total last season. Kynard and junior Houston Bates intend to leave it in the dust.

50,000 Average attendance at Memorial Stadium slipped below that number last year, an awkward subject in Champaign. Capacity is 60,670.

SCHEDULE AND PREDICTIONS

• Saturday vs. S. Illinois (W)

Long-awaited victory — the Illini’s first in 349 days.

• Sept. 7 vs. Cincinnati (W)

You’d better believe this qualifies as an upset.

• Sept. 14 vs. Washington (L)

Soldier Field doesn’t suit these Central Illinoisans.

• Sept. 28 vs. Miami (Oh.) (W)

For a fleeting moment, 3-1 feels like 12-0.

• Oct. 5 at Nebraska (L)

Uh-oh.

• Oct. 19 vs. Wisconsin (L)

Did anyone get the license plate of that truck?

• Oct. 26 vs. Michigan State (L)

Home-field advantage ain’t what it used to be.

• Nov. 2 at Penn State (L)

Season has taken a rather ugly turn, wouldn’t you say?

• Nov. 9 at Indiana (L)

Close, but no cigar.

• Nov. 16 vs. Ohio State (L)

Close? Don’t be ridiculous.

• Nov. 23 at Purdue (W)

Finally! That Big Ten losing streak couldn’t last forever.

• Nov. 30 vs. Northwestern (L)

There’s still a long way to go.



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