RB Isaac would help Beckman’s case in 2014

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Illinois’ Tim Beckman watches a game at Memorial Stadium. Beckman has received criticism for his 6-18 record, and pressures mount for this next season to show some wins. 

The stakes are high for Tim Beckman this upcoming season.

It will be a make-or-break year for the Illinois head football coach, who has amassed a 6-18 overall record in his two years in Champaign. While on-field success will certainly play a large role in Beckman’s job security in his third season at the helm, Athletic Director Mike Thomas will want to see other signs that the program is showing overall improvement.

In a Sports Illustrated article published in March, Beckman was quoted as saying “five or six wins” would be an improvement for his team in 2014. It’s hard to argue with that, because on paper it’s true. Technically, five or six wins would be an improvement from his first two seasons. But the statement left some Illini fans feeling miffed. Even though Beckman claimed he was misquoted, some felt the perception was that a program that has long been mired in mediocrity is content with aiming for, well, mediocrity.  

It’s hard to imagine that Beckman would be fired if he’s able to pull off a six-win season in 2014.  A bowl appearance would at least lower the volume of the vocal Illini fans calling for his removal. Four wins or less, and Beckman is likely looking for a new job come December.

But what if the Illini win five games in 2014? In this scenario, Beckman would need some insurance to keep his job, something that proves he’s building a winning program at Illinois.

Enter former USC running back Ty Isaac. The sophomore-to-be from Joliet, Ill., was granted a release from his scholarship at University of Southern California on May 14, and he’s looking to transfer to a school that is closer to his hometown. Illinois, Northwestern and Michigan are possible destinations for the former four-star recruit, who has said he’s leaning towards a move to the Big Ten.

If (and it’s a big if) the Illini are able to land Isaac, Beckman’s hot seat would get considerably cooler. According to rankings on 247sports.com, Illinois reeled in the Big Ten’s worst-ranked recruiting class in 2014. Dead last. No. 14 out of 14 teams. If the Illini manage only five wins next season, recruiting is where Beckman needs to make up ground.

As always, rankings don’t tell the whole story. With the help of offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, Beckman was able to lure highly-touted quarterback Wes Lunt after he transferred from Oklahoma State following the 2012 season. 

As a transfer, he doesn’t factor into the recruiting rankings. Beckman also landed four-star junior college transfer Jihad Ward to bolster the defensive line — a desperate area of need for the Illini. And looking further down the road to the Class of 2015, four-star offensive lineman Gabe Megginson committed to the Illini on April 25.

So there’s some momentum. Cubit’s arrival prior to last season seems to be a godsend, as he elevated an Illini offense ranked No. 117 in the country in 2012 to No. 39 in 2013. Lunt, Ward and Megginson could all be big-time players. Beckman’s assembling some nice pieces, and he has to hope it all comes together before his time runs out.

Isaac would be a huge on-field addition for the Illini, especially if he’s able to play right away. There’s a chance the NCAA will grant him a hardship waiver that allows him to take the field in 2014, since he transferred to be close to his ailing mother. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he would be a nice backfield complement to the speed and agility of Josh Ferguson.

But regardless of his on-field performance, an Isaac commitment would indicate more positive momentum for Beckman. Isaac would be another reason to have confidence in Beckman’s plan. And if there’s one thing Beckman could use, it’s confidence, from Mike Thomas and fans alike.

Alex is a sophomore in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] and @aroux94.