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2015 Big Ten preseason preview: Illinois

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2015 Big Ten preseason preview: Illinois

BY JEFF SLADE 

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. 

<<<CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE 2015 BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS>>> 

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  

Overview: 

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 

<<<CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE 2015 BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS>>> 

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Maryland's Kevin Huerter surprises at 2018 NBA Combine

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Maryland's Kevin Huerter surprises at 2018 NBA Combine

Going into the 2018 NBA Combine, Kevin Huerter was not receiving much hype, was off many NBA Draft boards, and many assumed he was heading back to college anyways.

Playing in the first scrimmage of the combine process, all those storylines quickly changed.

Playing against players like Jacob Evans, Donte DiVincenzo, Udoka Azubuike, and Jevon Carter, Huerter emerged as one of the top stars. The two-year Maryland spot-up shooter saw 25 minutes of action and only trailed Penn State prospect Tony Carr in points on his squad.

With 14 points (5-11 FG, 3-8 three-pointers), Huerter showed development since he was last seen with the Terps. His passing was the biggest asset for his team and was not afraid to take a shot against these top defenders.  The 6-7 forward also added three rebounds, an assist, and had only one turnover.

Although his shooting in-game was not fantastic, in the individual drills he showed off.  Of the seven shooting marks, he ranked in the top five in five of them.  He also had the best shuttle run (2.96 seconds).

No question, Huerter’s draft stock significantly rose. Although still early, he is looking to be the highest rated Terp prospect this year over Justin Jackson and Bruno Fernando.

Consensus among those at the NBA Combine seems to believe that Huerter will return for his junior season at Maryland.

After today though, it may be hard to say no.

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Panthers' first-round pick D.J. Moore visits Maryland with his new puppy

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Panthers' first-round pick D.J. Moore visits Maryland with his new puppy

D.J. Moore has an adorable new puppy!

Days after the Carolina Panthers selected Moore as the No. 24 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the former Maryland wide receiver returned to his roots and paid a visit to College Park.

But the first-rounder wasn’t alone when he went to Maryland. According to the Terps’ football Twitter account, he brought his new puppy with him. Seriously, look at this puppy!

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The Big Ten Receiver of the Year in 2017, Moore was obviously a crucial component of the Terps’ offense. He finished the season with 80 catches — a Maryland single-season record, which was also a Big Ten high.

He declared for the NFL Draft after his junior season with Maryland.

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