Illini look to move beyond disastrous 2012

The Illinois football team is anxious.

A word often associated with head coach Tim Beckman’s demeanor now represents the team’s craving to get back on the football field.

After a 2012 campaign that saw the squad lose its last nine games en route to a 2-10 mark, the Illini are looking to start 2013 off right against FCS opponent Southern Illinois.

“You want to see how far this team, this family has come,” Beckman said. “From the classroom, to discipline, to being involved in the community, it’s leaps and bounds higher than what it used to be. Now we have to see if it translates to the football field.”

For the Salukis, their offense is headlined by a big pass-catching target at the tight end position: MyCole Pruitt. The 6-foot-3 junior was named second team FCS preseason All-American by Phil Steele as well as The Sports Network. He led the team in receptions (49), yards (577) and receiving touchdowns (4).

“They’ve got an outstanding tight end in Pruitt,” Beckman said. “He’s definitely a fine talent.”

Pruitt will test the Illini secondary, a unit that lacks depth and experience. Projected starting corners V’Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence have started a combined two games, while starting safety Taylor Barton will be making his collegiate debut after redshirting the 2012 season.

The secondary experienced its share of success in 2012, ranking 19th in the country in pass defense, but only Earnest Thomas was a consistent starter in that group.

On the other side of the ball, the Illini have familiar faces lining the offense. Fifth-year senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will be at the controls for the fourth consecutive season, although offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said he would like to see backups Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey see action on Saturday.

“I think Reilly sees himself as a starter,” Cubit said. “With Aaron, it’s the same way. He’s a little behind on the X’s and O’s department, but at the same time, he’s working at it and he knows he’s one or two plays away from being the starter.”

While O’Toole is second on the depth chart and has played in 17 games, including two starts, there could be room for Bailey to see the field as well. The true freshman Bailey, who comes as a four-star recruit, according to Rivals.com, was a great runner in high school, racking up 589 yards rushing in his senior season.

Cubit confirmed this week that Bailey would not redshirt, increasing the chance the freshman could see live action Saturday.

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and @steve_bourbon.