2004 Fighting Illini Football Season Preview

<b>Head Coach:</b> <A HREF=[PlayerNode:1437265]>Ron Turner</A> <br><br> <b>Last Season's Record:</b> 1-11 (0-8, 11th place in Big Ten) <br><br> <b>Last Bowl Appearance:</b> 2001 Sugar Bowl (47-34 loss to <A HREF=http://louisianastate.TheInsiders.com>LSU</A>) <br><br> <b>Key matchup(s):</b> Sept. 11 <A HREF=http://ucla.TheInsiders.com>UCLA</A>, Sept. 25 <A HREF=http://purdue.TheInsiders.com>Purdue</A>, Nov. 6 <A HREF=http://indiana.TheInsiders.com>Indiana</A>.

Star Power: QB Jon Beutjer, RB E.B. Halsey, RB Pierre Thomas, LB Matt Sinclair.

Notable Additions: FB Brock Bolen

Notable Subtractions: CB Christian Morton, OL Sean Bubin, DE Derek Strong.

Notable Returnees: OL Bucky Babcock, CB Kelvin Hayden, DE Mike O'Brien, WR Mark Kornfeld

09/04/04Florida A&M
09/18/04Western Michigan
10/09/04@Michigan State
Offensive Overview: Ron Turner's offenses in his time at Illinois have never been the problem for his football teams, and this year will be no different. QB Jon Beutjer received his sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and is back behind center calling the shots for the Illini offense. Beutjer will be happy when he looks at the trio of sophomore running backs behind him of E.B. Halsey, Pierre Thomas, and Marcus Mason because they will inevitably take pressure off the quarterback. Freshman Brock Bolen is expected to take snaps as well in single back situations for Illinois, and he may supplant Jason Davis as the starting fullback by mid-season. With the combination of Beutjer's passing ability and a solid running game, Illinois' offense should be able to score enough to keep them in football games.

Defensive Overview: After last season's horrific performance on defense, Ron Turner fired Defensive Coordinator Mike Cassity and replaced him with linebackers coach Mike Mallory. Turner is hoping that Mallory's simplified scheme, and a focus on defensive fundamentals will allow the Illini defense to hold opponents enough that his offenses can win the games. In an effort to bolster the overall team defensive speed, Turner moved WR Kelvin Hayden to corner back, and RB Morris Virgil to safety before Spring practice. Mike O'Brien, who was granted his sixth year of eligibility after suffering an injury in the Missouri game last season, is being counted on to bolster the Illini's defensive line and actually get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, something Illinois was not able to do last season. Senior Matt Sinclair is the leader of the Illini line backing corps.

Special Teams Overview: The Illini will head into the season with a competition at kicker, but the job will initially go to Steve Weatherford, the Illinois punter. The other kickers that will be looking to be the Illini place kicker are Sophomore Dominc Shafer and freshman Jason Reda. The return game will once again be bolstered by E.B. Halsey, Morris Virgil, Marcus Mason, and Travis Williams. Halsey will probably rest on punt returns and leave that duty up to Virgil or Travis Williams.

The Illini will surprise people if... they head into conference play at 3-0. The two most important games on the Illini schedule are the UCLA game on September 11 and the opening of the conference season against Purdue. With seven games at home, including their first four, Illinois has a chance to gain the confidence lost after last season. If Illinois defeats UCLA, the team could end up in a minor bowl with a 6-5 record, but if the Illini lose to the Bruins, they could end up with their third straight losing record.

TheInsiders.com 2004 College Football Preview
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