ILLINI Season Preview 2 years ago, the Illini football program had no expectations whatsoever. Then something special happened. After upset wins of Penn ST, Wisconsin, and Ohio ST, the Illini earned their first rose bowl berth since 1984 and just their 2nd ever BCS bowl game. That Rose Bowl didn't go too well for them, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Last year was a completely different story. With expectations high, the Illini disappointed, taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back with a 5-7 record. This year there is a new sheriff in town, and the Illini are on the Road to Redemption. On paper, the Illini are as good as any team in the Big-10. Big time game breakers are there on offense, but more consistency is a must. The defense is young, but its speed and athleticism should allow them to make plays. OFFENSE - 6 returning starters - 19th in total offense last year - Led by QB Juice Williams and WR Arrelious Benn - O-Line must step up, ranked 71st in nation last season - 1 RB needs to step up and take the reigns to take pressure off Juice DEFENSE - 4 Returning starters - 56th in total defense last year - Key players are LB Martez Wilson, DT Josh Brent, and CB Dere Hicks - LB situation in flux, little experience - D-Line is strength of unit, plenty of depth there - Someone must step up @ the safety position SPECIAL TEAMS - Both PK and P return - Benn and freshmen Terry Hawthorne should provide great threats on returns RECRUITING CLASS - incoming class rated 31st nationally - top newcomers are WR Terry Hawthorne and DB Justin Green While the schedule is yet to be determined, it is known that the Illini face a tougher group of teams than last year. And the addition of Notre Dame to the Big-10 doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t help either. The beginning of the season is daunting, with Ohio ST, Penn ST, and Mich ST being the first 3 conference foes. As long as the Illini can win @ least 3 of their first 5, the Illini should be sitting pretty for an appearance in a solid bowl game. It is hard to get a read on this team, due to the mix of big time talent on O, inexperience on D, and last yearÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s disappointments. With all that having been said, I see an 8-4 season in the cards for the Illini, but I could easily see them being anywhere from 6-6 to 10-2.