We’re back with the latest installment in our series of UW 2014 opponent previews. Next up: Illinois.
ILLINOIS AT WASHINGTON, Saturday, Sept. 13 (Kickoff time TBA)
STADIUM: This is obviously a UW home game at Husky Stadium, as Illinois makes a return trip to conclude the home-and-home series that began in Chicago last season with a 34-24 UW victory. The Illini, however, play in Memorial Stadium, an on-campus venue that seats 60,670.
ILLINOIS LOCATION: Champaign, Illinois (population 82,517 as of 2012).
ENROLLMENT: 44,520 in 2013 (includes both undergraduate and graduate enrollment)
MASCOT: The Fighting Illini.
2013 RECORD: 4-8 (1-7 in Big Ten). Illinois’ only conference victory was a 20-16 triumph over Purdue, the Big Ten’s worst team at 1-11 (and 0-8 in conference play). The Illini posted non-league victories over Southern Illinois, Cincinnati and Miami (OH).
COACH: Tim Beckman (6-18 in two seasons at Illinois; 27-34 in five seasons overall)
RETURNING STARTERS: 18 (7 offense, 8 defense, 3 special teams, according to the school)
KEY RETURNERS: RB Josh Ferguson (Jr.) (141 carries, 779 yards rushing, 7 TDs; 50 catches, 535 yards receiving, 4 TDs); RB Donovonn Young (Sr.) (93 carries, 376 yards, 4 TDs); OL Michael Heitz (Sr.) (31 career starts); OL Simon Cvijanovic (Sr.) (26 career starts); OL Ted Karras (Jr.) (22 career starts); STAR Earnest Thomas III (Sr.) (101 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 FF, 7 PBU); CB Eaton Spence (Jr.) (started every game at corner in 2013); DT Austin Teitsma (Sr.) (Started every game at DT in 2013);
KEY LOSSES: QB Nathan Scheelhaase (287-for-430 passing for 3,272 yards, 21 TDs and 13 INTs with a 66.7 completion percentage in 2013); LB Jonathan Brown (119 tackles, 15.0 TFL); WR Steve Hull (59 catches, 993 yards, 7 TDs); OL Corey Lewis (started every game at right tackle in 2013)
2013 STATISTICAL RANKS: 46th in Total Offense (426.7 yards per game); T-92nd in Rushing Offense (139.0); 22nd in Passing Offense (287.7); 110th in Total Defense (481.5); 116th in Rushing Defense (238.6); 81st in Passing Defense (242.9). Here’s the full report.
BIGGEST 2014 PRIORITY: Despite the crazy yardage and scoring numbers you saw across the country last season, there are still a few collegiate teams that play defense. Illinois, in 2013, was not one of them, checking in near the bottom of the national rankings in total defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense and scoring defense — and the Illini intercepted only three passes all season. Hard to imagine defense isn’t the biggest area of concern heading into 2014, as the Illini attempt to beat a Big Ten team other than Purdue. But they lose a good bit on the offensive side of the ball, too, including their four-year starter at quarterback (Scheelhaase) and their leading receiver (Hull). They do return eight defensive starters, so experience at least shouldn’t be a problem.
SCHEDULE NOTES: This trip to Seattle represents Illinois’ only real out-of-conference challenge. Their other three non-league games should be cakewalks: Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State, all at home. A pretty tough conference road schedule will balance that out, with games at Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
UW-ILLINOIS ROSTER TIES: Not much of a west-coast presence on Illinois’ roster, which features zero players from Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and only five from California.
UW-ILLINOIS HISTORY: The Huskies hold a 6-4 all-time advantage, winning six of the last seven meetings between the schools after losing each of the first three. UW and Illinois have met once in the Rose Bowl, a 17-7 Illini victory in 1964. Last season’s game — a 34-24 UW victory — was the first meeting between the teams since 1972. That was also the last time Illinois visited Seattle.
ILLINOIS’ BEST SEASON: The Illini recognize four or five national championships, depending upon which service you want to use. The first four of those came under coach Bob Zuppke — first in 1914, then in 1919, 1923 and 1927, an era in which several teams finished unbeaten each season and multiple schools claimed national titles. Illinois also recognizes an end-of-season No. 1 ranking by the Boand System in 1951, as it also does for the 1919 season. They finished unbeaten and untied in 1914 and 1923. Their best season in recent memory was in 2007, when the Illini finished 9-4 after losing 49-17 to USC in the Rose Bowl.
THIS IS INTERESTING: QB Wes Lunt, who transferred from Oklahoma State and sat out the 2013 season, is thought to be the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. He has an interesting and well-publicized back story, thanks to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and the restrictions he placed on Lunt’s transfer process.
NOTABLE NON-FOOTBALL GRADS: Here’s a good list compiled by the school. The highlights: Roger Ebert (’64), the supremely talented film critic (here is an outstanding profile of him, written a little more than three years before his death in April of 2013); Ang Lee (’80), the famed movie director, whose works include Hulk, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi; Nick Offerman (’93), the actor who is best known for his portrayal of Ron Swanson in NBC’s great comedy series Parks and Recreation; Suze Orman (’77), the author/TV host/financial advisor; and Jawed Karim (’04) and Steve Chen (’02), who co-founded YouTube with Chad Hurley.
FOR COVERAGE: Bob Asmussen covers the Illini for the Champaign News-Gazette, and has since 1996.
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple