Former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit has been brought in as the new offensive coordinator after last year and looks to be installing a lot more short passing plays to negate the effect of their below average offensive line. Last year they were the second-worst team in college football in yards and scoring, so he will have to make quite a few changes to bring in a winning culture.
Starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns for his fourth and final year. He was pretty good in his first year but regressed in his sophomore and junior seasons. He will be playing in a new system under coach Cubit and working hard to keep his starting position safe from Reilly O'Toole and four star recruit Aaron Bailey.
In their spring game, Illinois showed that they still need plenty of work before they can be a good team in the Big Ten. Scheelhaase looked more comfortable this year than he did last year and RB Donovonn Young played well, scoring three touchdowns. Also, defensive back and redshirt freshman Taylor Barton had two interceptions, a touchdown, and five tackles, adding to their defensive presence.
Quarterback Reilly O'Toole threw 3 interceptions and is going to have a hard time prying the starting job away from Scheelhaase. Their running backs and receivers all played well as well with players looking capable of making plays. The offensive line should be an area that the Bearcats can exploit, having given away nine sacks in what seems to be a continuation of last year's woes as one of the worst offensive lines in the BCS.
Their linebackers once again look to be the best part of their defense. Overall, their secondary will have some holes in it, but will not be completely incompetent. Look forward to Taylor Barton making a difference on the field. The best defensive players overall though, are probably senior linebacker Jonathan Brown and strong safety Earnest Thomas. The identity rest of the secondary (and a lot of the defense) will be a mystery until their first game.
Illinois' defensive line is generally good, but it might face some issues this year with lots of youth and a new coach. The offensive line of course is in a similar position and there is the possibility of only two seniors on both sides combined starting. The defensive line did not struggle that much in the spring game, but they are still inexperienced and did not get the benefit of playing against a good offensive line.
Overall this team is youthful and lacking in experience all over the place. They should be solid in a couple of positions, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and linebacker, but will struggle elsewhere, adapting to a new offensive coordinator. They shouldn't be favored against the Bearcats.