Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chief on the Chief - Ilini Gridder Preview 2k9

There are high expectations in Champaign - Urbana this year for Illinois football, no doubt. This is Zook's team and talent pool. Everyone remembers what he assembled in Gainesville enabling Meyer to win his first national title. And while a championship may not be in the cards this year, hopes are high that we'll return to the form of 2007/8 when we went 9-3 with Rose Bowl appearance.

First off, nobody should stop the offense this year. Led by 4th-year man, Juice Williams, the offense should amass 450 yards and 33 points / game, easily. I look for Benn, Fayson, Uh Oh!, Cumberland, and other youngins to step it up in the passing game. AB is a leading candidate on many pre-season watch lists. This part of our game is due for a quantum leap in performance over last year's disappointing output. The running game will likely be just as strong with LeShoure, DuFrene, and Ford leading the way. And Juice isn't shabby and matriculating the rock up and down the field either. I look for the rushing Zookers to average ~ 200 yards / game on the ground and ~ 250 yards / game through the air. By air, land, and sea (not sure how yet), the Chief will move the sticks and burn-up scoreboards all over the BIG-10 in 2009.

Defense is my only real concern (besides special teams). We lost a lot last year wtih Miller and Davis moving on and out. But those voids should be filled by hungry under-classmen looking to claim their slice of the glory pie. Brent, Pilcher, Liuget, and Wilson should lead the way as defensive stoppers. All are big-time hitters and playerss. As a squad, we need to improve from 10th in the league last year if we're going to improve on the 5-7 record. The offense will consistently post 30-40 points / game, but the defense can't give up 40-50.

CNN / SI (link above) has us going to the Outback Bowl on Jan.1 to face Georgia. That would be a good year with an 8-4 or 9-3 record mostly likely. Most pre-season polls have the Chief ranked in the high 20's or low 30's heading into the Battle under the Arch with Mizzou. Whatever, pre-season polls are about as useful as more rain in February. Personally, I think we're a bit underrated going into the season, but it only matters where you finish. It is, however, the Zooker's fifth season in CU. And the numbers don't lie, 18-30 in his first four years. That's not quite getting the job done. And coach knows it. He'll be the first to tell you it's not where he wants this team to be.

With a tough non-conference schedule and games against Mizzou, Fresno State, and Cincy it's going to be a tough road. Good news is that we get Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan (Halloween night) at home this year. We do have to travel to Columbus, Bloomington, St. Paul, and West LaFayette. So a quick start will be key to success this year. Getting out 2-1 is essential, and that likely includes winning the opener against the Tigers. If that happens, then 9-3 or even 10-2 is possible. Anything less than 8-4 will be a disappointment in my mind.

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