Illinois Fighting Ilini Season Preview: Defense

If there’s one thing I know in life, it’s that Illinois college football never ever conforms to your expectations. No one saw their two BcS appearances coming (2001, 2007); and since they followed both seasons up with sub .500 choking, both these bowl appearances are now looked upon as fluky. Whenever Illinois has been predicted to do well (2000, 2002, 2008, 2009) they fell flat on their faces. And their bowl wins (last year, 1999) come in seasons when everyone predicts them to finish near the Big Ten basement.

And I know a lot about this stuff.

My first ever sports memory was their destruction at the hands of UCLA in the 1984 Rose Bowl. I attended my first Illini game in 1991. In addition to covering the team for the school paper when I was in school there, two of my older siblings went to UI. In other words, it’s “my team,” and one of the three teams I cover regularly.

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NFL Draft’s First Two Rounds Will Feature Some Illini

For the fourth year in a row, the first couple rounds of the NFL Draft will feature a couple names from your Illinois Fighting Illini. Tailback Rashard Mendendall went in the first round in ’08, cornerback Vontae Davis was the 25th overall pick in ’09, and last year, wide receiver Arrelious Benn was just a couple picks off from being a first round selection.

With all this next level talent in Champaign, you may wonder “how come they went 8-16 during 2008-09? Well, that’s why we saw two new coordinators come in the summer before 2010. Explains a lot.

This draft will see three prospects likely to go in the first two rounds. We won’t see as many Illini choosen in this draft as we did last year, but this trio of underclassmen RB Mikel Leshoure, DT Corey Liuget and LB Martez Wilson will go higher (or as Bulls analyst Stacey King said “GO HIGHER”) than last year.

But this year, the draft seems much more satisfying because the Illini actually won a bowl game; their first since 1999.

By Paul M. Banks

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Illini Football Next Level Defenders: Corey Liuget and Martez Wilson

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Don’t be surprised if the Illini run the table the rest of the way. Even if they don’t, already at 5-3, (3-2 in Big Ten) they have greatly improved upon last year’s 3-9 mark and will likely make their way into a pretty decent bowl. This season is a pleasant surprise to say the least.

The MVP of 2010 is probably newly installed defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. The Illini rank 12th nationally in points allowed (16.8 ppg), 15th in total defense (301.4 ypg), 19th in pass defense (183.9) and 26th in rushing yards allowed (117.5 ypg), all while facing the toughest schedule in the nation.

At the end of last season, Illinois was 96th in scoring defense (30.2 ppg), 100th in pass defense (248.8), 91st in total defense (403.3 ypg) and 76th in rushing defense (154.4 ypg).

And Koenning and company have personnel too. Among the talent on the Illini roster is a trio of juniors with NFL level measurables and potential. Tailback Mike LeShoure, Middle Linebacker Martez Wilson and Defensive Tackle Corey Liuget will probably all be playing on Sundays.

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Illinois Fighting Illini Showing a VASTLY Improved Run Defense

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Through the first three games of the season, there’s one facet of the 2010 Illinois Fighting Illini football team that is GREATLY improved over the 2009 squad- run defense. The Illini were terrible against the run last year, finishing ninth in the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed per game, and within the bottom third nationally.

Through the first two games, the Illini ranked 12th in the nation with 72.0 yards allowed per game, and 22nd nationally in points allowed (13.0 per game) They did surrender 163 yards on the ground and 22 points to MAC foe NIU today, but the comparison over last year is still very favorable.

In 2010, the defense has yielded 48 points and 999 yards through the first three contests, while last year the Illini gave up 84 points and and 1,158 yards. That’s a difference of 12 points and 50+ yards per game.

And the change starts at the top, with new Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning in place.

By Paul M. Banks

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