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Big Ten: Illinois Fighting Illini 2013 Season Review
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23 Jan 2014 11:18 AM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Nate Scheelhaase was a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award Honoree. (Image Source: Illinois Sports Information)

Here’s a quick recap of the 2013 Illinois Fighting Illini:

Preseason Expectations: The consensus in the preseason was the Illini would finish last in the Leaders Division and probably be the worst team in the Big Ten. Another 2-10 season (or worse) was not out of the question.

Overachieve/Underachieve: At 4-8 and 1-7 in conference play, Illinois wasn’t very good in 2013 but let’s be honest, they were better than most of us expected. The defense was simply terrible, but the offense was much improved and made them much easier to watch this season after what was a historically bad 2012 campaign.  

Pivotal Game: @ Purdue. Look, they weren’t going to contend for a bowl selection but they simply had to end their conference-losing streak. By beating the Boilermakers, Illinois got off the schnide and avoided the cloud of a second-straight winless season in conference play hanging over their head. It was a game they had to win and they did.  

Leaders Division Reviews: Ohio State | Wisconsin | Penn State | Indiana | Purdue

Offensive MVP: QB Nate Scheelhaase: The senior signal caller put up career-high numbers across the board completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 3,272 yards, 21 TDs and 7.61 YPA. In their biggest win of the season over Cincinnati, Scheelhaase threw for 312 yards and four TDs and in their only Big Ten win he completed 80 percent of his passes against Purdue. Not only was he consistent on the field but the upbeat Scheelhaase also played a big role in keeping them together and fighting in games even when they would fall behind early. Unlike last season, the Illini never quit.

Defensive MVP: OLB Jonathan Brown: Using his quickness, toughness and instincts, Brown registered a whopping 119 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss to lead the team. A reliable tackler, the weakside linebacker would readily take on blockers at the point of attack when he wasn’t outmaneuvering them with his fancy footwork. Whenever the Illinois defense would force a punt or get a big stop, Brown was usually part of the action.

Trending: When you’re coming off the type of season the Illini had in 2012 there’s only one place to go and that’s up. With OC Bill Cubit running the show this season, Illinois was respectable and at times explosive on that side of the ball. Not only did they win a Big Ten game, they went 3-1 in out of conference play, including a 45-17 blowout of bowl-bound Cincinnati. Just as important as their improved record was their effort. Unlike last season, the 2013 Illini never gave up, fighting to the end in pretty much every game this season.

Looking to 2014: They may be trending upward but I’m not sure what to expect from this program in 2014. The defense is still far from being respectable and the offense must replace Nate Scheelhaase. Don’t expect them to revert to 2012 form in 2014, but I’m not sure the pieces are there for them to improve enough to go bowling. I could see another fifth-place finish/non-bowl season for Illinois.    

Big Ten Links:

Big Ten Football Final Power Rankings: Michigan State Represents in the Rose Bowl

One-On-One With Penn State Offensive Guard John Urschel

One-On-One: MSU LB Max Bullough Talks About Winning the Big Ten Championship

One-On-One: Michigan State’s Max Bullough Talks Playoffs & Defines Spartan Dawg

Q&A: Iowa’s James Morris Talks About the Perception of the Big Ten & Upcoming Playoffs

Q&A: James Morris Talks About Corralling the Program & New Year’s Day Bowl

Q&A: College Football Hall of Famer Orlando Pace, Ohio State Buckeyes

Q&A: College Football Hall of Famer Percy Snow, Michigan State Spartans

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards. 

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