I have an upcoming interview with our good friends at Black Heart Gold Pants for our Iowa game, but tonight I bring you Mark Primiano, who was able to answer some questions about the Fighting Illini and the 2013 Battle for the Cannon:
T-Mill: Last year's game was probably one the least anticipated games in Big Ten history, as evidenced by tickets for sale under 50 cents on the secondary market. It can't be that bad this year, right?
Mark: Least anticipated? I watched from the edge of my seat as Illinois finally won a conference game for the first time in forever. I mean, what a rush! But yeah, it's going to be a terrible game again. Neither team is going to be good, but at least it should be a better game.
T-Mill: It is year three for Tim Beckman and that is generally the turnaround year. What are the expectations despite the still lengthy Big Ten struggles?
Mark: The expectation is improvement. Beckman inherited a completely barren cupboard from Ron Zook and has been doing his best to rebuild the program into something moderately respectable. With Bill Cubit running the offense, things should continue improving. The hope is a bowl game or at worst five wins with seven very close losses.
T-Mill: The defense was bad last year and lost a great player in Johnathan Brown. Will the experience of last season pay off?
Mark: It can't get any worse. The secondary was bad, but it was incredibly young. Earnest Thomas and V'Angelo Bentley should both have damn fine seasons at best, improvements at worst. The defensive line was the weakness but Beckman recruited enough JUCO talent and Paul James to make up for the deficiencies. The defense won't be good, but it shouldn't be nearly as abysmal as it was in 2013.
T-Mill: The QB situation looks like a three-way battle. Who has the edge?
Mark: Wes Lunt. It's not really even a race. Reilly O'Toole will not be the starter, so at most it was a two man race but not even then. Lunt has the tools to excel incredibly in Bill Cubit's offense. He started at Oklahoma State as a true freshman and lost his job to concussions. Wes is going to be the rocket-armed god man who leads Illinois back to a bowl game.
T-Mill: Can the Illinois offense get going enough to be a little like Indiana, in that it can produce enough points to make up for the defense?
Mark: The Illini offense was actually pretty damned good last season. They were fifth in conference in yards per game and fourth in yards per play. Obviously that isn't quite Indiana level, but it's a vast improvement over the 2012 squad. With a full season of Bill Cubit's game planning in the bag and Wes Lunt heading the offense, things should improve vastly this season, being the main reason for optimism in Champaign.