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2015 Big Ten preseason preview: Illinois


2015 Big Ten preseason preview: Illinois


As football season inches closer, we take a look at the early preseason previews of every team for the 2015 Big Ten Season, ranking numbers 14 through one until we finally hit September 3rd. 


2014 Record: 6-7 (3-5) 

Key games: at Iowa, at Minnesota, Northwestern

Players to watch:  QB Wes Lunt, RB Josh Ferguson, LB Mason Monheim  


Illinois football has improved by two wins each of the last three years, going 6-7 in 2014 including wins over Minnesota and Penn State.

They reached a bowl game for the first time since 2011, dropping 35-18 to Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Despite the loss, simply playing in the postseason was a welcome change for Illini fans after 6 combined wins the previous two seasons. 

Can they continue this positive trend in 2015? 

If they do, it’d be the first winning season for Tim Beckman in Champagne. Anything less may in fact lead to the end of Beckman’s tenure, after his predecessor Ron Zook was fired after consecutive 7-6 seasons. 

There’s also been a bit of unwanted controversy this offseason for Beckman.  

In May, former Illini offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic took to twitter to rip Beckman about his treatment of players, accusing his former coach of making him play through injuries. 

“A bad knee and a bad shoulder and I'm supposed to just keep going?” he said in the tweets. “Just play right tackle they said.” 

No matter, Beckman is still the coach in Champagne, although Cvijanovic’s accusations possibly turn Beckman’s hot seat into a burning one if the on-field product fails to improve. 

That may be aided by a fairly easy non-conference schedule. 

The Illini face Kent State, Western Illinois, and Middle Tennessee at home in addition to a road contest against North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They should be at worst 3-1 exiting that stretch, as anything less would be an indication for a rough year ahead. 

They then move on to a fairly tough Big Ten schedule, facing Penn State and defending National Champions Ohio State from the East Division. 

Key games against Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Northwestern will go a long way towards the team’s success or failure. 

On the offensive side of the ball, Illinois will likely rely on junior quarterback Wes Lunt, as he’s shown to be a capable signal caller when healthy. His health, though, and not his talent, might be the primary question for fans. 

In the backfield, Lunt will have help behind him, with senior running back Josh Ferguson coming off a 741 yard, eight touchdown season in 2015. If there were one thing the explosive Ferguson can improve upon it’d be his shaky ball security, last year giving it away seven times. 

The receiving corps and offensive line, however, will be the primary questions, as 2014’s leading receiver Mike Dudek is still recovering from a torn ACL and the line replaces three of their best players. 

On defense, things might hinge on whether Illinois is able to improve their rushing defense, ranking 82nd in 2014 for Opponent Rushing Success Rate. It doesn’t matter how good a secondary is if the other team can move the ball on the ground at will. 

They do have some pieces, most notably defensive end Dawuane Smoot and linebacker Mason Monheim. They also return every cornerback from a pretty decent secondary, which will probably be the backbone of the 2015 defense. 

In all, watch for the success Wes Lunt and ability to stop the run to play major roles whether Tim Beckman finds himself in Champagne come 2016.

Prediction: 6-7 (3-5); fifth in Big Ten West 


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Maryland reacts to latest FBI investigation reports

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Maryland reacts to latest FBI investigation reports

The world of college basketball has been on high alert since last fall when reports first surfaced of a longterm FBI investigation into the worst-kept secret in sports: college athletes being paid to play.

News surrounding the scandal died down after the inital wave of arrests, but Yahoo! Sports released a warning of sorts recently and followed it up on Friday by naming players (both past and present) for the first time. There were dozens of programs and players implicated, including Maryland's Diamond Stone.

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon released the following statement Friday afternoon.

"Late last night we were alerted of a report associating one of our former student-athletes with an agent. We are extremely disappointed, and we will fully cooperate with any investigation. I do not have a relationship with Andy Miller or anyone from his agency, and at no time have I ever had a conversation with Andy Miller or his agency regarding any Maryland basketball player. We remain steadfast in upholding a program of integrity that reflects the values of our University community."

Stone played for the Terps during the 2015-16 season, after which he left for the NBA. That Terps team was highly-ranked entering the season but ended up losing in the Sweet 16 to top-seeded Kansas.


Andy Miller is the agent whose financial records were used to implicate so many players in the Yahoo! Sports report. It's no surprise that Turgeon would deny having a relationship with Miller regarding any of his players, but the question remains: What does this mean for Maryland basketball?

You can be sure that Turgeon will be meeting with both past and current assistant coaches Friday to confirm they have not had any involvement with Andy Miller. He'll also certainly be meeting with higher-ups at Maryland, as they try to cover their bases. 

That said, it seems unlikely Maryland would take an action as drastic as firing Turgeon over these allegations. There has been no evidence released so far that implies Turgeon had any knowledge of Stone's actions. Barring further information coming to light, it seems as though this is a case of Stone developing a relationship with Miller's agency separately from Maryland.

Some of the more vocal members of Maryland's fan base would like to think Turgeon is on the hot seat. The truth is, given his long-term contract and the current state of Maryland's finances, it's not currently feasible to fire him and expect to afford a more accomplished coach. Though if further reports indicate Turgeon was complicit, then all bets are off.

It remains possible the NCAA will impose punishments on the schools involved with this scandal, in the form of reduced scholarships, postseason bans, or worse. But that's likely off the table until further evidence comes out regarding how much schools and coaches actually knew. It is a near-certainty that some schools were in cahoots with Miller and other agents; the problem is identifying which schools were intentionally breaking the rules, and which were simply unaware. Ultimately, however, some degree of responsibility falls on the head coach.

For now, the biggest worry on the minds of Maryland fans should be vacated wins. If Diamond Stone was ineligible, then it's possible the victories Maryland recorded during the 2015-16 season will be erased from the record books. Unfortunately, this could include their run to the Sweet 16, which was the program's first in more than a decade.

Given the expectations surrounding the team during Stone's year in College Park, his tenure could already be considered a disappointment. Losing those wins would further dampen the memories fans have from that season.

On the bright side, at least the Terps didn't have a Final Four run to lose.

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Palmer's big 2nd half lifts Huskers past Maryland

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Palmer's big 2nd half lifts Huskers past Maryland

LINCOLN, Neb. -- James Palmer Jr. scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half, Isaiah Roby had all 11 of his after half, and Nebraska held off Maryland 70-66 on Tuesday night.

Palmer and Roby combined for 35 of the Cornhuskers' 40 second-half points, and they secured their first 20-win season since 2008. They won a sixth straight conference game for the first time in 20 years.

Palmer scored 15 straight points for the Huskers (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) over a 10-minute span that ended when Roby hit one of two free throws with 2:57 left for a 64-59 lead. Roby had a double-double, with 10 rebounds, and he also blocked three shots.

The Terps (17-11, 6-9) had a chance to take the lead with a minute to play, but Glynn Watson Jr. blocked Anthony Cowan Jr.'s 3-point try, Evan Taylor came up with the loose ball and got it to Watson.

Watson missed a 3-pointer coming out of a timeout, and Roby got the rebound and was immediately fouled. He made both free throws for a 66-63 lead. Kevin Huerter's layin cut it to one point before Watson made two free throws.

Huerter went to the line with 2.8 seconds left, and after making the first free throw he intentionally missed the second. Palmer got the rebound, was fouled and put the game away with two free throws.

Bruno Fernando led the Terps with 21 points and nine rebounds. Huerter added 12 points and Darryl Morsell had 11.


Maryland: The Terps' fading NCAA Tournament hopes might have been dashed with their seventh straight road loss.

Nebraska: The Huskers are resting firmly on the NCAA bubble and absolutely needed this win. They got it, thanks to Palmer and Roby's efforts in the second half.


Maryland hosts Rutgers on Saturday. It's the teams' only meeting this season.

Nebraska visits Illinois. The Huskers beat the Illini 64-63 in Lincoln on Jan. 15.

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