Beckman, Illinois hope for better days ahead

By Nate Atkins
Updated 7/29/2014 8:51 PM
  • Coach Tim Beckman is confident that the tide might be turning for his Illini this fall.

    Coach Tim Beckman is confident that the tide might be turning for his Illini this fall. Associated Press

Entering the third year of Tim Beckman's tenure, the numbers of the past loom over the Illinois football program like a scoreboard that won't turn off.

This week at the Big Ten's annual media days get-together, they came in the form of losses on the schedules of opposing media guides and the jarring record under Beckman's name on the pages of his own school's booklet: 6-18 overall, 1-15 in Big Ten play.

But as he stood in front of the league's media Monday at the Chicago Hilton, Beckman wanted to discuss the numbers of the present and future. The team returns 40 of the 50 players on last year's two-deep roster. Of those 40, 34 will be back for the next season.

They aren't yet wins, which he acknowledges are the only numbers that matter in the end. But Beckman is confident the translation could be happening soon.

"You can see the maturity this football team has progressed through," said Beckman, 27-34 overall at Toledo and Illinois. "To me, it's exciting. … This program is heading in the direction we are looking for."

Beckman's challenge is to show that returning almost everyone from a team that went 1-7 in the Big Ten actually is something good.

He will start by looking at his side of the ball -- defense -- where the Illini return 18 of 22 members on the two-deep that finished 110th in total defense and 104th in scoring defense.

"We all have chips on our shoulders this year," defensive tackle Austin Teitsma said. "We're just trying to prove ourselves."

Beckman said he hopes the defense takes off this year the way the offense did last year, when it finished 46th in scoring offense and 61st in total offense. The unit flourished under the leadership of fourth-year starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who threw for 3,272 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Quarterback is the only position on the depth chart that does not specify a projected starter. Next to the names of senior Reilly O'Toole, sophomore and Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt and sophomore Aaron Bailey is a bold "OR."

Whoever wins the job will throw to two new starting wide receivers but will have a proven running back behind him. Josh Ferguson made the Doak Walker Award watch list this preseason after running for 779 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also was second on the team with 50 receptions for 535 yards.

The new season starts Aug. 30 at home against Youngstown State.

In Beckman's first year, the Illini went 2-10 and winless in conference play. Last year they improved to 4-8 and 1-7 in league competition. For tight end Jon Davis, the next step is clear.

"A bowl game should be the least place to aim for," Davis said. "We have the talent. We will improve on last year's team."

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