T9C Countdown: #23 Illinois.

Gearing up for the 2009 college football season takes a lot of work. Ranking players, critiquing coaches and drinking massive quantities of beer is tough. That’s why The Nine Commandments is creating its first T9C Top 25 Countdown. To see all of the previous ranked teams, be sure to check the links at the bottom of this post. Be sure to check back daily for the latest.

juice williams

Versatility will be the key for Illinois’ offense this year as they look to recover from a disastrous 5-7 season just a year after stunning the nation with their first BCS era Rose Bowl appearance. With all players gaining rushing yards in 2008 returning this season and a receiving corps that rivals that of the prolific Big-12 offenses, the question marks will lie on the defensive side of the ball and head coach Ron Zook.

Arrelious Benn is simply explosive, highlighting a great receiving corps alongside Florida transfer Jarred Fayson and Jeff Cumberland. These guys are big targets that quarterback Juice Williams shouldn’t be able to miss if he tries. The Big 10 is a slow, overrated conference that the Illinois offense will be able to put up gaudy numbers against.

Arrelious Benn has guns the military wants.

Arrelious Benn has guns the military wants.

While Williams numbers have been nothing short of spectacular (he is just over 2,000 yards short of becoming Illinois all-time passing leader), his control has always been off since he arrived in Champaign. Williams should have a number of 300-400 yard games this season, but he can’t be such a turnover machine. If he keeps throwing interceptions like he did in 2008 (16), the results will be lowered dramatically from the expectations. On a positive note, Williams is one of the better mobile quarterbacks in the country, rushing for over 700 yards last season. He’s a player that nearly any coach would envy, but few want to face. This will be Williams best season yet because of the talent that surrounds him.

Zook is known for his great recruiting while his coaching ability has been questioned at times. This could be a potential problem with loads of raw talent but little proven ability on both sides of the ball.

The big question about this team that will prevent them from dominating the Big 10 is the defense that has lost six starters, including Vontae Davis who was drafted by Miami Dolphins. The team has tons of talent that will give Zook lots of options in creating a defense that will able to stand up to the tough running options the Big 10 is known for.

Ron Zook

Linebacker Martez Wilson will lead this defense although his 73 tackles last season wouldn’t totally back that up. The coaches moved Wilson from weak side to middle and his work this season will put him on the All Big 10 team. Ian Thomas will line up strong side while Wayne Ellington will round out the starting backers on the weak side. If any of these guys aren’t able to get the job done, there is plenty more talent and athleticism that will be able to. Tavon Wilson, Dere Hicks, Donsay Hardeman and Garrett Edwards should be able get the job done in the secondary.

The defensive line is shaky and questionable with Josh Brent recovering from a knee injury last season and a suspension stemming from a DUI arrest that lasted all of spring ball. Sirod Williams is also recovering from a torn ACL last season, but if he is able to recover fully by the opener with Missouri on September 5th, Williams 295 pounds will be a force able to shut down any rusher that comes his way in Big 10 play. While Doug Pilcher isn’t the best pass rusher on the right end, Antonio James is. With more playing time in 2009, James should be able to show his worth.

With Ohio State and Penn State is rebuilding mode, this is Illinois best chance to get back to the Rose Bowl. If they start out the season 4-0 (which I find unlikely), there will be plenty of national championship talk. I see this team going 9-3, beating Ohio State or Penn State while falling to lower level teams in trap games.

martez wilson

9/5 Missouri (St. Louis)
9/12 Illinois State
9/26 at Ohio State
10/3 Penn State
10/10 Michigan State
10/17 at Indiana
10/24 at Purdue
10/31 Michigan
11/7 at Minnesota
11/14 Northwestern
11/27 at Cincinnati
12/ 5 Fresno State

Key Games:
9/5 Missouri (in St. Louis)
9/26 @ Ohio State
10/3 Penn State

Offense: 7
Defense: 5

Key Players:
QB Juice Williams
WR Arrelious Benn
DT Sirod Williams
MLB Martez Wilson
CB Tavon Wilson
PR Jarred Fayson

The rest of the countdown:
#25 Pitt Panthers
#24 North Carolina Tar Heels


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