Aug 26, 2013
The Fighting Illini open their 124th year of football on Saturday, the second for head coach Tim Beckman, who was 21-16 in three years at Toledo before going 2-10 in his first season in Champaign-Urbana.
Illinois has won 15 consecutive home-openers, including last year's 24-7 win over Western Michigan, and is 85-33-5 all-time in home-openers.
The Illini have an all-time record of 76-42-5 in season-openers and are 53-27-4 when opening the season at home. The Illini have won their last seven season-openers at Memorial Stadium dating back to 1997.
Illinois opens the 2013 season looking to reach a bowl game for the third time in the last four years, something that hasn't been done at Illinois since a run of three bowl games from 1991-94.
Illinois is 12-0 all-time against FCS teams (formerly I-AA), with an average margin of victory of 30 points per game. See page 2 for a full list of Illinois FCS results.
Illinois is 13-0 all-time against the other public universities in the state. The Fighting Illini are 4-0 against Northern Illinois, 3-0 against Southern Illinois and Illinois State, 2-0 against Eastern Illinois and 1-0 against Western Illinois. The combined score of those meetings is 511-190 in favor of the Illini.
Senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase begins 2013 with 36 career starts under his belt, tied for the 14th-most of any active FBS player and tied for the third-most by a quarterback behind only Georgia's Aaron Murray (41) and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (39).
Scheelhaase is slated start his fourth-consecutive season-opener on Saturday, making him one of only seven quarterbacks in the nation expected to start four straight openers. Scheelhaase joins Kolton Browning (Louisiana-Monroe), Logan Kilgore (Middle Tennessee), Taylor Martinez (Nebraska), Taylor McHargue (Rice), Aaron Murray (Georgia) and Corey Robinson (Troy) in the select club.
Scheelhaase begins 2013 ranked fifth on the UI career in total offense list (7,091 yards), sixth in career passing yardage (5,296), sixth in career passing efficiency (124.5), sixth in career completions (488), eighth in career passing attempts (801) and 18th in career rushing yardage (1,795) - second among quarterbacks - at Illinois.
Senior OT Corey Lewis is one the feel-good stories in college football over the last year. After missing more than two-and-half years (34 games) recovering from three ACL tears and five different knee surgeries, Lewis saw his first game action in over 1,000 days at Ohio State on Nov. 3, 2012, and played in the season's final four games. With a bachelor's degree in communication already in hand and a sixth year of NCAA eligibility granted, Lewis emerged from spring practice as the projected starter at right tackle heading into 2013.
Entering 2013, Illinois has streaks of 49 games and 134 attempts without missing a PAT, the fifth- and sixth-longest active streaks in the nation, respectively. The last time the Fighting Illini did not convert a PAT kick was on Sept. 5, 2009, against Missouri.
Offensively, the Fighting Illini return 100 percent of their passing production, 99.5 percent of their rushing production and 80.3 percent of their receiving production from last season in 2013. The only major loss for the offense from last year to this year is WR Darius Millines, who was second on the team with 319 receiving yards in 2012.
New OC Bill Cubit inherits eight starters returning on offense -- OL Simon Cvijanovic, OL Michael Heitz, OL Ted Karras, WR Ryan Lankford, WR Spencer Harris, QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Donovonn Young and the TE tandem of Evan Wilson and Jon Davis.
The Last Meeting
September 11, 2010
SIU SERIES NOTES
Saturday's meeting will be only the fourth between Illinois and Southern Illinois. The Fighting Illini lead the all-time series 3-0, winning 28-25 in 1985, 56-21 in 1990 and 35-3 in 2010. All three games were played at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
In the 1990 game, Illini running back and current BTN analyst Howard Griffith helped Illinois overcome a 21-7 first-quarter deficit by scoring three touchdowns in the second quarter and four in the third quarter. His eight total TDs on the ground broke the NCAA records for rushing TDs in a game (8) and points scored in a game (48), which both still stand today. Overall, Griffith had 21 carries for 208 yards and also caught three passes for 44 yards in the victory.
Seven current Illini played in the 2010 win over SIU, including two that started the game - QB Nathan Scheelhaase and TE Evan Wilson. Scheelhaase completed 14-of-18 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns, while Wilson had one catch for 34 yards against the Salukies. LB Jonathan Brown, then-DB Steve Hull, DL Tim Kynard, WR Ryan Lankford and then-QB Miles Osei also saw action against SIU as freshmen.
ILLINOIS AGAINST FCS/I-AA TEAMS (12-0)
The Fighting Illini are 12-0 all-time against FCS opponents (formerly I-AA). All but one of those wins have been by at least 21 points, including last year's 44-0 drubbing of Charleston Southern. Three of UI's 12 FCS wins have come against Southern Illinois, including the only close game of the dozen, a 28-25 win over the Salukies in 1985 in the first-ever Illini game against an FCS team.
Year Opponent Score
1985 Southern Illinois W, 28-25
1990 Southern Illinois W, 56-21
1998 Middle Tennessee W, 48-20
2002 Illinois State W, 49-22
2004 Florida A&M W, 52-13
2006 Eastern Illinois W, 42-17
2007 Western Illinois W, 21-0
2008 Eastern Illinois W, 47-21
2009 Illinois State W, 45-17
2010 Southern Illinois W, 35-3
2011 South Dakota State W, 56-3
2012 Charleston Southern W, 44-0
ILLINI ON THE BIG SCREEN
When the 2013 season kicks off on Saturday, Fighting Illini fans will see a new Daktronics video display and hear a new state-of-the-art sound system at Memorial Stadium. The south end zone features a new HD video display measuring 36 feet tall by 96 feet wide, nearly four times larger than the previous display. In addition, a new supplemental ribbon display hangs below the video display in the south end that measures over 50 feet wide, and two LED ribbon displays measuring more than 420 feet in length are attached to the fascia between the seating decks on each side of the field. Additional video displays measuring 17 feet by 10 feet are mounted to the northeast and southeast towers.
LINEBACKER U, IT'S NOT WHERE YOU THINK IT IS
Like many Illini teams over the years, the 2013 Illini defense will be led by the linebacking corps of senior Jonathan Brown, a 2012 Butkus Award semifinalist, and sophomore Mason Monheim, a 2012 Freshman All-American. Brown has piled up 167 tackles, 29 TFLs and 8.5 sacks over the last two seasons, while Monheim became the first true-freshman ever to lead the Illini in tackles and led all Big Ten freshmen with 86 stops last season.
Illinois' history at the linebacker position is up there with any program in the nation. It begins with the greatest linebacker in football history, Dick Butkus, who was a two-time All-American and led the Fighting Illini to a 1964 Rose Bowl win over Washington. The Orange and Blue boast two Butkus Award winners, Dana Howard in 1994 and Kevin Hardy in 1995, and several first-team All-Americans like Darrick Brownlow (1990), Simeon Rice (1994 & `95) and J Leman (2007), in addition to Butkus, Howard and Hardy.
ILLINOIS NFL DRAFT FACTS
Illinois led all Big Ten schools with four players selected in the 2013 NFL Draft - OL Hugh Thornton (third round, Colts), DT Akeem Spence (fourth round, Buccaneers), CB Terry Hawthorne (fifth round, Steelers) and DE Michael Buchanan (seventh round, Patriots).
Illinois has had four players chosen in each of the last four drafts (2010-2013).
At least three Illini have been drafted in each of the last five drafts (2009-2013).
Sixteen Illini have been drafted since 2010, including 10 in the first three rounds (most in the Big Ten).
Despite not having a first-rounder in 2013, Illinois has had five first-round draft picks since 2008, which is the most of any Big Ten team.
Akeem Spence was the eighth Illini in the last six years to enter the draft with eligibility remaining. All eight were taken in the first four rounds, including four first-rounders.
Four Illini defensive linemen have been drafted in the last three years - Corey Liuget (first round, 2011), Whitney Mercilus (first round, 2012), Akeem Spence (fourth round, 2013) and Michael Buchanan (seventh round, 2013).
Illinois has 31 former players in 2013 NFL training camps (as of Aug. 26), including nine players from the 2012 roster (Buchanan, DL Glenn Foster, DB Justin Green, Hawthorne, OL Graham Pocic, Spence, DL Justin Staples, Thornton and LB Ashante Williams) and seven from the 2012 defense (Buchanan, Foster, Green, Hawthorne, Spence, Staples and Williams).
WHOSE HOUSE? SCHEEL-HOUSE
Junior QB Nathan Scheelhaase opens the 2013 campaign ranked fifth at Illinois in career total offense (7,091); sixth in passing effeciency (124.5); sixth in completions (488), seventh in passing yardage (5,296), eighth in TD passes (34) and attempts (801); and 18th in rushing yardage (1,795), a total that ranks second at Illinois among quarterbacks (Juice Williams, 2,557).
After tossing four touchdowns and seven interceptions in the first six starts of his career, Scheelhaase has thrown 30 touchdowns against 15 interceptions since the midpoint of 2010.
In 15 wins he has engineered since the beginning of the 2010 season, Scheelhaase has completed 199-of-298 passes (66.8 percent) for 2,553 yards, 22 TDs and six INTs for a 159.1 efficiency rating. He also has rushed for 980 yards on 210 carries (4.7 ypc) and seven TDs in those 15 games. For comparison, Scheelhaase is 289-of-503 (57.3 percent) for 2,745 yards, 12 TDs and 18 INTs for a 104.0 rating in Illinois' 21 losses during that span.
Scheelhaase led Illinois to bowl victories in each his first two seasons (2010 Texas Bowl and 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl), making him one of only two QBs in Big Ten history to start and lead their teams to bowl wins during both his freshman and sophomore seasons (Brooks Bollinger, Wisconsin). After missing a bowl in 2012, Scheelhaase is looking to end his UI career with a third bowl win, something no Illini QB has done previously.
ILLINI DUO CLIMBING CAREER CHARTS
Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase finished the 2012 season ranked 18th in Illinois history in career rushing yards (1,795), a total that ranks fourth among active Big Ten players entering 2013 (see list below). Junior running back Donovonn Young also is one of 14 Big Ten players to enter 2013 with over 1,000 career rushing yards (1,022).
LOVE IS IN THE AIR
This past July, Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase married his high-school sweetheart, Morgan Miller, with several of his Fighting Illini teammates by his side. WR Miles Osei served as Scheelhaase's best man, while QB Reilly O'Toole, WR Ryan Lankford and WR Steve Hull served as groomsmen. And Scheelhaase isn't the only Illini with wedding bells on his mind. Redshirt-junior offensive lineman Alex Hill is engaged to Mariah Smith, a thrower on the Illinois track and field team, with a winter 2014 wedding planned.
DEFENSIVE YOUTH MOVEMENT
The entire defensive three-deep includes only two seniors (LB Jonathan Brown and DL Tim Kynard). In fact, the three-deep lists only nine players with junior or senior eligibility, the same as the number of true-freshmen listed. And two of those upperclassmen are junior college transfers who have never played a down of Division I football (DL Abe Cajuste and DB Zane Petty).
FOUR ILLINI EARN SCHOLARSHIPS
Coach Beckman awarded scholarships to four Fighting Illini walk-ons for the 2013 campaign. Senior safety Ben Mathis, redshirt-freshman long snapper Zach Hirth, tight end/holder Tim Russell and kicker Taylor Zalewski, all walk-ons in 2012, are now on full scholarship for 2013.
SWEET HOME CHICAGO
Illinois will host the Washington Huskies at Soldier Field for "Chicago Homecoming" on Sept. 14, 2013. The game will mark Illinois' second game at the historic home of the Chicago Bears. Illinois' only other game at Soldier Field was against current Pac-12 member Washington State on Sept. 1, 1994, a 10-9 victory for the Cougars. The 2013 contest against Washington will be Illinois' first in the city of Chicago since the 48-27 victory over Northwestern at Wrigley Field on Nov. 20, 2010. Tickets for the Sept. 14 Chicago Homecoming game are available now at the UI Athletic Ticket office by calling 1-866-ILLINI-1 or online: http://bit.ly/ChiHCTix.
The projected starters on the Illini offensive line are massive, as all five are listed at at least 300 pounds and have an average weight of 309 pounds (Cvijanovic - 310, Heitz - 305, Hill - 315, Karras - 300, Lewis - 315). In addition, the first back-ups likely to get minutes are Joseph Spencer (300), Jake Feldmeyer (295) and Pat Flavin (300).
Running back Donovonn Young led a balanced ground attack with 571 yards on 121 carries (4.4 ypc), including three touchdowns, and led the team with 38 receptions for 172 yards and another TD in 2012. The junior from Texas surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for his career in the 2012 finale at Northwestern and now has 1,022 yards.
Senior WR Ryan Lankford emerged as Illinois' top receiver and big-play threat in 2012. He had nine "big plays" (20+ yards) in 2012, which was best on the team among non-quarterbacks. Lankford led the Illini receiving corps with 469 yards on 37 receptions with five TDs in 2012.
Junior tight end Jon Davis was Mr. Versatility in 2012, lining up at tight end, receiver and running back throughout the season. He led the Illini in rushing in the season-opener against Western Michigan with 54 yards on six carries. For the season, he had 102 rushing yards and led the team in yards per carry (4.9). A 2011 third-team freshman All-American, Davis was one of only two Illini players this season with both a receiving and rushing touchdown (Donovonn Young).
After three seasons and 15 starts as a safety, senior Steve Hull is back at wide reciever, which is where he started his college career. Hampered by injuries for much of 2012, Hull still made a big impact on defense, snaring a team-high three interceptions despite playing in just five games. Now as a receiver in his final season, Hull hopes to have many more catches this year than he had interceptions last season.
Junior QB Reilly O'Toole had a record-breaking day against Charleston Southern on Sept. 15, 2012. Against CSU, O'Toole completed 26-of-31 passes (.839) to set the Illini single-game completion percentage record. His single-game passing efficiency rating of 220.9 in the CSU game is the ninth-best in school history, and his five touchdowns against CSU made him just the fifth Illini to toss at least five TDs in a game.
Sophomore RB Josh Ferguson was fourth on the team with 29 receptions for 251 yards in 2012, and also threw his first career touchdown pass, a 22-yard strike to Spencer Harris against Penn State.
Sophomore WR Justin Hardee ranked sixth on the team with 17 receptions for 192 yards in 2012.
The defense returns only four starters fron 2012 -- DE Tim Kynard, LB Jonathan Brown, LB Mason Monheim and safety Earnest Thomas III.
Illinois returns three of its top five tacklers from last year's defense. Monheim led the way last season with 86 stops, leading all Big Ten freshmen in tackles. Thomas III was fourth on the team with 69 stops, while Brown was fifth with 59 tackles despite playing in only nine games.
Senior LB Jonathan Brown put up monster numbers over the last two years when healthy. Brown was leading the Illini with 59 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2012 before having his season cut short by a shoulder injury. That followed a breakout 2011 season, when he earned All-Big Ten honors with 108 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. He ranked sixth in the nation in TFLs per game (1.63) and led the Big Ten in TFLs per game during conference play (2.07). Brown is a member of preseason watch lists for the Butkus Award, Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy.
Sophomore LB Mason Monheim will look to follow up a stellar freshman season that saw him earn second-team freshman All-America honors by Phil Steele. Monheim started the final 10 games of the season and led all Big Ten freshmen with 86 tackles. Monheim ranked 15th in the conference in tackles per game (7.2), while no other B1G freshman was in the top 50. He was the first Illini true-freshman ever to lead the team in tackles.
Senior safety Earnest Thomas III was fourth on the team with 69 tackles and ranked fourth in the Big Ten with three forced fumbles. He is one of only two upperclassmen in the secondary listed on the depth chart, and the only other junior is Zane Petty, a junior college transfer who has never played Division I football.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Junior punter Justin DuVernois enters 2013 as a Ray Guy Award candidate after averaging 41.9 yards per punt in 2012, fourth-best in the conference and 3.6 yards per kick better than 2011. As a team, Illinois led the Big Ten and ranked 23rd nationally in net punting in 2012, averaging 39.2 yards per kick.
Illinois opens 2013 with streaks of 489 games and 134 attempts without missing a PAT, the fifth- and sixth-longest active streaks in the nation, respectively. The last time the Fighting Illini did not convert a PAT kick was on Sept. 5, 2009, against Missouri.
Sophomore kicker Taylor Zalewski nailed a 54-yard field goal against Purdue last season, the third-longest field goal in school history and the longest in the Big Ten in 2012. Zalewski scored the first points of his career last year against Charleston Southern and hit 4-of-7 field goals and 12-of-12 extra points on the season. Zalewski also handled kickoff duties last season, kicking off 43 times for an average of 63.0 yards per kick and 23 touchbacks in 12 games.
Senior holder Tim Russell converted a pair of two-point conversions at Ohio State on Nov. 3, throwing for one to TE Matt LaCosse and rushing for the other after a bobbled snap. It marked Illinois' first successful two-point conversion since Nathan Scheelhaase found Spencer Harris against Northwestern in 2011.
Sophomore DB V'Angelo Bentley blocked a goal attempt against Penn State last season, marking the first blocked FG for an Illini since Derek Walker at Michigan on Oct. 4, 2008, and the first blocked kick of any kind for an Illini since Clay Nurse swatted away a PAT at Fresno State on Dec. 3, 2010.
Senior WR Ryan Lankford saw some time at punter in 2011. A rugby-style punter, Lankford kicked 19 times for an average of 39.4 yards, including seven 50+ yarders with a long of 59 during his sophomore season. Lankford also returned 19 punts in 2011, becoming the first Illinois player since Bob Bess in 1969 to both punt and return a punt in the same season.
With the loss of three-year long-snapper Zak Pedersen to graduation, the Illini will turn to redshirt-freshman Zach Hirth for long-snapping duties this season. Hirth was ranked the No. 2 long-snapper in the nation by ESPNU coming out of high school.
ILLINI PRESEASON HONORS
A number of Fighting Illini players have earned mention on award watch lists and preseason All-Big Ten teams. Below is a list of the honors that Illinois players earned heading into 2013:
LB Jonathan Brown - Bednarik Award Watch List (Defensive POY), Butkus Award Watch List (LB), Nagurski Trophy Watch List (Def. POY), CFPA Linebacker Watch List, First Team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele)
P Justin DuVernois - Ray Guy Award Watch List (punter), CFPA Punter Watch List, Second Team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele)
LB Mason Monheim - Fourth Team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele)
PK Taylor Zalewski - CFPA Specialist Watch List
NIKE REBRAND IN THE WORKS
Illinois athletics is in the midst of a large-scale, 18-month brand evaluation program with Nike. The collaboration begin in January 2013 and will result in an updated brand identity for 2014, including logos, marks, uniforms and equipment for all 19 Fighting Illini sports. In the meantime, the football team will be wearing a new primary orange helmet for the 2013 season. This year's orange helmet features a navy blue Block I logo on the sides in place of the slant ILLINOIS wordmark, along with navy facemasks and the traditional blue-white-blue center striping. The 2013 secondary helmet will remain the navy blue matte finish with orange Block I logo and no stripes that was introduced during the 2012 season.
GETTING IT DONE IN THE CLASSROOM
The football team once again excelled in the classroom during the 2013 spring semester, with 51 players earning at least a 3.0 grade-point average, 12 more than Spring 2012 and nine more than fall 2013. As a team, the Illini posted a 2.87 cumulative GPA, up from a 2.70 in fall 2012 and 2.71 posted in spring 2012. In addition, 16 Fighting Illini football players earned degrees in 2013, 18 earned Academic All-Big Ten status, and four were named Big Ten Distinguished Scholars - DL Houston Bates, OL Corey Lewis, OL Tyler Sands and QB Nathan Scheelhaase.
ILLINI HOLD LIFT FOR LIFE FUNDRAISER
Fighting Illini players raised nearly $5,000 for acoustic neuroma, which ended the career of former Illini offensive lineman Andrew Carter, with their second annual Lift for Life fundraiser through Uplifting Athletes on June 21, 2013. Acoustic neuroma is a rare, slow-growing tumor of the nerve that connects the ear to the brain. Uplifting Athletes is a network of university chapters run by current football student-athletes. Each chapter adopts a rare disease that has personal meaning to their team. Football players hold special events, fundraising campaigns or awareness drives to support research for their adopted cause. Corey Lewis, Illinois' senior offensive tackle, serves as president of the UI chapter of Uplifting Athletes and helped organize the event, which featured the entire Fighting Illini team participating in a strongman compeitioin at Memorial Stadium. More on Andrew Carter's story here: http://bit.ly/CarterFeature.