Illini football showed improvement in year two of Beckman regime

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This is going to sound a little bit nuts, but this Illini football team is very close to being genuinely mediocre. Not train wreck awful like they’ve looked in the Big Ten, but actual mediocrity. We know Northwestern could “Northwestern this away” quite easily in the second half. Even though they’re a field goal favorite, some Northwesterning might happen today. If we get an Illini football win, they entered the second half trailing by just three, that’s 5-7.

If Bill Cubit had shown ANY FAITH AT ALL in his running game at Penn State- that’s 6-6. A very unimpressive 6-6 and the bowl bid would be to a sixth tier bowl, but it’s mediocrity nonetheless. Not anything to be proud of, nor aspire to. But mediocrity is better than abysmal, which is what they were last year. Illini football has progressed this year. Not much mind you, and certainly nowhere near as enough as any of us would like, but it’s progress nonetheless.

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Look at it this way. Illini football had zero wins versus Big Ten opponents in 2012. They had one, and maybe a second here coming up in 2013. Illini football doubled its win total.

The blowout win over a good Cincinnati team, which is going to a decent bowl, is much much more impressive than the only comfortable win over a bad MAC team in Western Michigan.

Last year all three phases of Illini football were bad. This year, only the defense is beyond awful. The offense is really good, and the special teams are decent. Again progress.

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Senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase has blossomed in offensive coordinator Bill Cubit’s system, leading the Big Ten and ranking in the top 25 nationally in total offense (289.2 ypg, 22nd), passing yards per game (269.5, 21st) and completions per game (23.3 cpg, 12th). Scheelhaase also ranks second in the conference in passing touchdowns (19) and completion percentage (66.5). The revamped Illinois offense, directed by new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, has made huge improvements from 2012. The Illini have jumped at least 50 spots in the national rankings from last year to this year in first downs, long scrimmage plays, passing offense, passing efficiency, total offense and scoring offense, with the biggest turnaround an 88-place jump in first downs per game.

I could go on and on about the offense. But it’s been done. The defense?…well it regressed horribly. Entering the 12th game, they had already given up over 5,200 yards, the worst in Illini football history. Well, Illinois Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks will see his contract expire this year. Problem solved.

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Of course, then there are the Illinois football crowds, or lack thereof. They don’t even enough kids in the student section to pull off the I card trick. And today, when they did their halftime stunt, it was just laughable. On a day when it’s 50+ degrees, beautiful and sunny. With a nice late, afternoon start. Here’s what the crowd looked like at kickoff

I’ll be back postgame to update this with the final score, put a bow on this season and include reaction from Illini football players and Illini football coaches.

Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. He’s also an analyst for multiple news talk radio stations across the country; with regular weekly segments on NBC and Fox Sports Radio. Follow him on Twitter (@paulmbanks) and RSS Catch him Tuesdays talking Illini and Northwestern for KOZN 1620 The Zone, Fridays talking Chicago Bears for WAOR 95.7 The Fan

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