Expectations for the 2015 edition of Illinois football

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Expectations for the 2015 edition of Illinois football

Illinois' head coach Tim Beckman walks towards the

Illinois' head coach Tim Beckman walks towards the "Block I" after the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on  Nov. 15. Beckman will return as head coach for the Illini in 2015. 

Illinois' head coach Tim Beckman walks towards the "Block I" after the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on  Nov. 15. Beckman will return as head coach for the Illini in 2015. 

Illinois' head coach Tim Beckman walks towards the "Block I" after the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on  Nov. 15. Beckman will return as head coach for the Illini in 2015. 

By Daily Illini Staff Report

Illini football still has a bowl game to play this season, but The Daily Illini is looking into the future. Athletic director Mike Thomas gave head coach Tim Beckman a vote of confidence and another year at the helm of the program on Sunday. Members of The Daily Illini sports staff weigh in on what they want to see from Beckman and Illini football in 2015. 

Johnathan Hettinger — Editor-in-chief

For the past three seasons, the Illinois defense has been terrible. The story, game after game, was that the defense couldn’t stop anyone. Even louder than the calls for Beckman’s head were the calls for defensive coordinator Tim Banks to be fired. But back-to-back strong defensive outings led to back-to-back Big Ten wins and a bowl berth. In order for Beckman to continue to keep his job, the defense must improve. At Cincinnati, Banks led one of the best defenses in the nation. Next year, with all juniors and senior starters, Banks’ unit needs to be better than mediocre.

Sean Hammond — Sports editor

The biggest improvement for Illinois football in 2015 needs to come on the defensive end, specifically the run defense. Illinois ranks last in the Big Ten in rush defense by a wide margin — some 40 yards per game behind the next closest team. The schedule is highly favorable, with Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State all at home. A signature upset would really help Beckman’s staff, but even just staying competitive with those teams would be an improvement. Unless quarterback Wes Lunt gets hurt again, the offense shouldn’t be a concern. But Beckman has his roots in defense and the Illini defense needs to improve. 

Michael Dwojak — Assistant sports editor

The key for Beckman will need to be consistency. He can’t afford to not make a bowl game next year. Outside of getting more experience, making two straight bowl games will help build the foundation and draw the interest of recruits.

The big question is whether Lunt can stay healthy. He’ll have a talented receiving corps that includes standout Mike Dudek. The offensive line should be healthy and running back Josh Ferguson should bounce back from a rough 2014 season. If Lunt stays healthy, the offense can break school records as it was on pace to do before his injury. 

Peter Bailey-Wells — Assistant sports editor

Without late-season wins against Penn State and Northwestern, Beckman would be jobless right now. Without a doubt, next season he must make a bowl game and establish the Illini as a contender in the Big Ten. That could mean six wins, or it could mean eight, but Illinois has to show consistent play. Beating nonconference teams by a touchdown isn’t good enough, and losing to Ohio State by 41 isn’t good enough. With most of the offense returning, the Illini should beat up on early season opponents and hang around with superior Big Ten teams. Beckman needs to establish that 2014 wasn’t just dumb luck.

Sean Neumann — Staff writer

Tim Beckman’s going to need offensive consistency heading into his fourth year with the Illini. The battle for the starting quarterback position heading into this season unexpectedly lasted all year with the injury to Lunt midway through the season and backup Reilly O’Toole’s surprising performance during his absence. With O’Toole graduating, there’s no doubt next season’s starter will be Lunt, and the offense needs to regain the reliable production that made from the beginning of this year that made it one of the most threatening in the Big Ten. And with an entire offseason knowing who will be taking the snaps, next season’s offense should look the best it has since Beckman arrived in Champaign.

Torrence Sorrell — On-air sports editor

It looks like “Timmy B” is here to stay for another year after defeating in-state rival Northwestern. Within the last two years, Beckman’s win total increased by two. More importantly, the defense showed up in those big games against Minnesota and Penn State. While the defense is a common topic that will remain in discussion next season, the special teams is a concern that starts first with the kicking game. While special teams doesn’t get as much attention, it can simply make or break a crucial game and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I’m looking forward to the growth and development of receiver Mike Dudek and hopefully attendance numbers will rise.

Alex Ortiz — Video editor

It is hard to imagine Illinois will ever be a football school because basketball is, and will always be, king. But it is possible to build enough success and momentum to at least generate more excitement than there has been the past few seasons. It’s understandable that the programs does not sell out every game, but to get to the point of social media laughing at Block I card stunts should not become the norm. For opposing fans to basically negate home crowd advantage is embarrassing. It should not be acceptable to go to a few bowl games a decade. Illinois does not have to be a football powerhouse, but should at least be able to generate enough excitement and respect to not be at or near the bottom consistently.

Stephen Bourbon — Senior writer

The Illini took steps forward in 2014 but will need to continue to improve in 2015 if Beckman will remain here long term. It all starts with the defense. The Illini defense fueled the team in each Big Ten victory. They will need to be better on a consistent basis to take the next step. I think the schedule is manageable for next season, but I want to see Illinois actually compete in its games against the big boys. With a winnable game on the road at North Carolina, the Illini will have a chance to get off to an early start and be 4-0 before hosting Nebraska on Oct. 3, with a big game looming on Homecoming against Wisconsin on Oct. 24.

Erik Prado — Sports columnist

There are two areas Beckman should focus on: recruiting and competitiveness. It’s time for Beckman to show off those recruiting chops he was known for and have his 2015 class ranked in the top 30. 

I will also look for the team to be competitive in their games against Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State. The last three years have seen the Illini blown out in all their meetings with those teams. The Illini don’t necessarily have to win; rather, keep it close and don’t get embarrassed.

Sam Sherman — Sports columnist

The most important thing Beckman needs to improve on is his public persona. For the most part, Beckman is kind to the media, and generally answers the reasonable questions. That being said, during his time at Illinois, Beckman has found himself receiving negative attention for things he’s said in press conferences. If Beckman wants the state of Illinois to take his program seriously, he should watch what he says from time to time. It’s never a good thing when your football team is receiving negative press for something happening off the field. Everyone makes mistakes, but if Beckman believes the Illinois football arrow is trending up, he should make sure people see him as a competent leader on and off the field.