Illinois Football Preview: Illini Look To Make Strides In Tim Beckman's First Year

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 29: Nathan Scheelhaase #2 of the Illinois Fighting Illini drops back to pass against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the game on October 29, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Could the Illini sneak their way into the Big Ten title game?

Most Illinois Fighting Illini fans weren't displeased to see the Ron Zook era end in Champaign, but new head coach Tim Beckman still has a lot of questions to answer. He inherits what could be one of the top defenses in the Big Ten, but he'll have to prove his offensive chops throughout the season in 2012.

The Illini were poor on offense last year and for most of Zook's tenure at Illinois, and Beckman comes to the team with an offensive background. The offense has reportedly struggled in molding itself into Beckman envisions, but that is not exactly unexpected. If the offense can shake itself out over the course of the season, Beckman should have the Illini in another bowl game. SB Nation's Bill Connelly, in his preview of Illinois football, floats the idea that miffed Illini fans could maybe somehow have something much greater on their hands:

In the overall hunt for program enthusiasm, Beckman should keep the postseason train rolling. But considering the current makeup of the Big Ten's Leaders Division -- Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title game, Wisconsin replacing Russell Wilson, Penn State facing change and scandal, Purdue not quite ready for prime time, it is pretty easy to paint a picture of a shockingly successful Illinois season. Let's say Beckman finds success in a Scheelhaase-O'Toole platoon, Darius Millines becomes an Eric Page-like "possession receiver plus" type of receiver, Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young erupt, and the defense remains a Top 20 unit. With four easy conference home games, a win over Northwestern, and perhaps a road upset, Illinois could steal a spot in the conference title game, no?

Excited yet, Illinois fans? No? Well, I tried.

Click here for Connelly's full preview of the Illini.

For more on Illinois, stick with SB Nation Chicago or visit Off Tackle Empire, SB Nation's Big Ten blog. For more news, notes and analysis from around college football, check out SB Nation's college football news hub.

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