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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Can the San Diego Chargers Put Disappointing 2010 Behind Them?

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True, the San Diego Chargers missed the NFL playoffs for the first time in the last five years, but was the season really that bad? A 9-7 record isn’t the worst thing in the world and there were a lot of positives with the team last season. With a bit of fine tuning and some luck they could easily turn things around in 2011.

They helped themselves out in the draft by taking defensive lineman Corey Liuget out of Illinois with the 18th pick overall. Liuget’s good enough to put some pressure on the team’s current defensive tackles and could end up making the team as a starter. The former Illini star could also help stopping the run and provide a pass rush; freeing up the Chargers’ outside linebackers.

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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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Indianapolis Colts 2011 NFL Draft Preview

If there’s one thing that can be expected when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL Draft, it’s the unexpected.

Don’t believe what any mock draft says; chances are it won’t be right.

Why do the Colts annually defy seemingly conventional wisdom each April? It historically has worked, but is Indianapolis no longer executing its own strategy well enough?

By Drew Allen

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What we Learned from Fighting Illini Football Spring Game

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A small select group of things are certain in life- death, taxes, and Fighting Illini football seasons ending up much different than what you expected in the preseason. Last year’s team wasn’t expected to really do much- Yet the finished 7-6 (despite a very difficult schedule) and with a quite decisive bowl victory.

Conversely, in ’08 and ’09, expectations were sky-high heading into September, yet both of those teams flopped (and that’s putting it nicely). So what about this year? Expectations are kind of mixed, “up in the air” you might say as this year’s squad competes to become the first team to reach back-to-back bowl games since 1992.

And that’s fitting, because the 20th anniversary of the 1988-92 teams that made five consecutive bowl games will both be celebrated during the weekend festivities. If Red Grange and Robert Zuppke presided over the “Golden Years,” of Illini college football, then surely the Jeff George/Jason Verduzco/John Mackovic teams were the “silver era” of the program’s history.

That said, let’s begin the journey this fall to finding out whether or not this team will match the ’92 squad’s accomplishment.

By Paul M. Banks

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Fighting Illini Spring Football Game Preview

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Now that Mikel Leshoure left the Illini early for the NFL Draft, (and who can blame him really? He will be one of the first three running backs taken next week) Illinois college football is now headlined by sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase. It’s his team. And if he continue to makes strides like he did from the season finale to the Texas Bowl, things will be fine.

The 15 extra practices between the Fresno State loss and the 38-14 domination over Baylor did wonders for Scheelhaase as he completed his first 13 passes, played his best game of the season, and easily could have been co-MVP with Leshoure in that game. Even though Leshoure’s game was really quite special.

Something to really keep an eye on Saturday is Scheelhaase continuing to develop chemistry with wide receivers Ryan Lankford and Darius Millines.

But you won’t get to see the heir apparent to Leshoure at the tailback position. Jason Ford will not go Saturday.

By Paul M. Banks

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Breaking: Illini LB Martez Wilson Entering NFL Draft

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And the first of the three Illinois Fighting Illini dominoes falls. Linebacker Martez Wilson, the player with the lowest draft stock of the three, is declaring for the NFL Draft. This is a big surprising to me, as he had a good, but not great season in 2010. And his junior season was much more productive than his other two years in school.

Still, you know the NFL scouts love measurables and potential as much if not more than on-the-field resume, so maybe Tez should try his luck. No word on Corey Liuget yet, but rumors are he’s leaving. We have also heard nothing definitive on the Mikel Leshoure front as of yet.

According to the Chicago Tribune’s Shannon Ryan:

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2010 Illinois Football Season: the Official Exit Interview

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Back in June I gave an interview to collegefootballzealots.com previewing the upcoming University of Illinois college football season. I was pretty negative and pessimistic.

And it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. So I guess that makes me roughly the size of Jon Asamoah then because I was wrong about a few things. But fresh off a return from the Texas Bowl victory, here’s my exit interview for the same site; recapping the season.

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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