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ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
Ryan Hunt
August 13, 2010
After slipping steadily since their 2007 Rose Bowl berth, the Illini have revamped on both sides of the ball. Will the changes be enough to save Ron Zook's job?
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August 13, 2010

Illinois Fighting Illini

After slipping steadily since their 2007 Rose Bowl berth, the Illini have revamped on both sides of the ball. Will the changes be enough to save Ron Zook's job?

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OFFENSE

QB

NATHAN SCHEELHAASE

CHANDLER WHITMER

RB

MIKEL LESHOURE*

JASON FORD

WR

JARRED FAYSON*

STEVE HULL

WR

A.J. JENKINS

JACK RAMSEY

WR

EDDIE MCGEE

FRED SYKES

LT

JEFF ALLEN*

CRAIG WILSON

LG

HUGH THORNTON*

TYLER SANDS

C

GRAHAM POCIC

TYLER SANDS

RG

RANDALL HUNT*

JACK CORNELL

RT

COREY LEWIS

RYAN PALMER

TE

ZACH BECKER

LONDON DAVIS

DEFENSE

DE

CLAY NURSE*

WHITNEY MERCILUS

DT

COREY LIUGET*

AKEEM SPENCE

DT

GLEN FOSTER

WISDOM ONYEGBULE

DE

MICHAEL BUCHANAN

NATE PALMER

LB

IAN THOMAS*

RUSSELL ELLINGTON

LB

MARTEZ WILSON*

EVAN FRIERSON

LB

NATE BUSSEY*

ASHANTE WILLIAMS

CB

TAVON WILSON*

ANTONIO GULLY

FS

SUPO SANNI

TRULON HENRY

SS

TRAVON BELLAMY

WALT AIKENS

CB

TERRY HAWTHORNE*

PAT NIXON-YOUMAN

SPECIAL TEAMS

K

DEREK DIMKE

MATT ELLER

P

ANTHONY SANTELLA

PR

JARRED FAYSON*

JACK RAMSEY

KR

TERRY HAWTHORNE*

A.J. JENKINS

*Returning starter

IF THERE'S ANY QUESTION ABOUT WHY ILLINOIS COACH RON Zook is in a precarious spot—let's face it, anything less than a bowl berth this season could lead to his ouster—his won-loss numbers with the Fighting Illini give the answer: 2-9, 2-10, 9-4, 5-7, 3-9.

"We had guys who thought we had made it," says Zook of the Illini's trip to the Rose Bowl just three seasons ago—an accomplishment upon which the program has failed to build. "We explained to them that we still had a long way to go. The success that this program has had, it hasn't been year in, year out. That's what we have to change."

Changes have come in Champaign...just not the ones some would have predicted. The embattled Zook kept his job but overhauled his staff by hiring six new assistants, including coordinators on both sides of the ball (Paul Petrino on offense, Vic Koenning on defense).

On the field the Illini have a new look as well. Quarterback Juice Williams, the face of the team for the past four seasons, is gone; so is marquee receiver Arrelious Benn. The defense lost four starters but will be boosted by the return of Martez Wilson, the star linebacker who missed nearly all of last season after injuring his neck in the season opener.

The Illini's success—and Zook's survival—could all ride on a player who has yet to take a snap in college. Redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase won the starting quarterback job in spring practice, impressing both Zook and Petrino with his talent and, perhaps more important, his leadership. "That's one reason we made him the starting quarterback," Zook says. "Nathan is a leader. He makes things happen. For a redshirt freshman, he's ahead of his time."

Scheelhaase, from Kansas City, Mo., will be tested immediately. Illinois opens the season for the fourth year in a row in St. Louis against rival Missouri. The Illini have lost all three previous openers against the Tigers, and last season's 37-9 blowout loss set the tone for a disappointing season. "It's critical we get off to a good start, but we can't think, We have to win x number of games," Scheelhaase says. "Coach Zook told us he would make the necessary changes for us to be successful. Now it falls to us. Nobody wants a long Christmas break this year. We want to be at a bowl."

THE VITALS

COACH Ron Zook (6th year)

21-39 (12-28 in Big Ten)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR

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