Fletcher Page, from IlliniPlaybook.com - I wouldn't say there's panic, but desperation is a tag that might apply. I'm sure more than a few people rolled their eyes when Tim Beckman listed doubling their win total in his post-season comments in December. His statement was true, but going from two wins to four isn't exactly a sexy trend.
The particulars have mostly been hashed out. The Beckman hire wasn't exactly met with open arms by the fan base, and Year One was a disaster of epic proportions. Two wins. 10 losses, mostly blowouts. And there were a few unnecessary, embarrassing moments that didn't include the terrible football being played - the recruitment of Penn State players, Beckman caught using tobacco products on the sideline and getting run over by a referee against Northwestern.
Year Two though saw massive improvement, especially on offense under coordinator Bill Cubit. The Illini won a conference game for the first time in two calendar years and could have won two or three more that were close late.
Now entering the third year, the expectation is to win more conference games and get back to a bowl. People don't believe me, but I think it's reasonable to predict this to happen. Six wins is absolutely a possibility, and the staff is working hard to get there.
2) What's the calling card? What about the Tim Beckman regime has helped with recruits?
A few things… A) Bill Cubit's offense is pass-happy, exciting and enticing for wide receivers and multiple purpose running backs.
B) The staff hasn't run from the negative aspects. Poor performance in the past means there are opportunities for new players in the future. It's the classic shed-light-on-your-weaknesses-to-make-them-a-positive philosophy. At least 10 true freshmen played in 2013. That's proof that the staff is willing to put the best players out there, regardless of class or experience level.
C) Beckman and recruiting coordinator/tight ends coach Alex Golesh have a proven track record of hitting player evaluations square on the head. Some of those true freshmen that played last season weren't highly rated and recruited by every Big Ten school. More times than not, you'd rather not rely on diamonds in the rough to get you through, but this staff has done a good job of digging out a few sleepers so far.
3) What's the No. 1 need the team needs to fill?
Defensive line. While we're at it, offensive line, too. That's where this program is drastically behind its conference counterparts. Illinois simply hasn't been able to compete in the battle in the trenches. Skill guys are a dime a dozen, and you can scheme, to a certain degree, around issues in those areas. It's not like that on the line, not on either side of the ball. That's where those hidden gems suddenly don't appear, for the most part. Illinois has to get better, bigger and more skilled on the lines. It's a big boy conference. That's just the way it is.