Will Nathan Scheelhaase or Reilly O'Toole win the starting QB job? Illinois also has a new head coach in Tim Beckman this season. Photo Credit: Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE

Know the Opponent: Illinois Illini

When last Pac-12 fans saw Illinois, they had an interim head coach in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA (who also had an interim) to finish 7-6, 2-6 Big Ten. Since then they’ve hired Tim Beckman who was at Toledo and before that ran the high powered Oklahoma State offense.

The Illini will face Arizona State in Tempe on September 8 after hosting the Sun Devils last year it’ll be televised on ESPN at 7:30. Illinois defeated ASU 17-14 in a tightly contested game in Champaign a week after the Devils defeated Missouri at Sun Devil Stadium 37-30 in OT.

We probably won’t know who the quarterback is until the Illini take the field with how junior Nate Scheelhaase and sophomore Reilly O’Toole splitting time at the end of last year. Scheelhaase threw for 2,110 yards with 13 touchdown passes to eight interceptions plus six TD’s on the ground. O’Toole was 40-67 for 270 yards in the limited action he saw in 2011.

Sophomore Donovonn Young who rushed for 451 yards with six scores will be the guy who gets the chance to start this season. Scheelhaase led the team in rushing with 624 yards on 191 attempts which tells you how much of the offense he was.

Another area the team will be replacing a big loss is receiver where they’ll need find a replacement for a 1,000 yard guy. Junior’s Darius Millines and Spencer Harris will be the duo who get the opportunity to help the passing game. Both had one TD apiece with Harris had 226 yards and Millines 218 yards.

The defense will return some important pieces including leading tackler junior middle linebacker Jonathan Brown who had 108 tackles, 13.5 tackles for losses, six sacks and an INT. Junior nose tackle Akeem Spencer will anchor the D-line after a sophomore season which he had 69 tackles, 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss.

Last season Illinois started 6-0 before losing their last six regular season games then the bowl loss to UCLA 20-14 in San Francisco. Outside the trip to Tempe they’ve got a pretty soft non-conference schedule but face conference road games at Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern. I think that they make it to a bowl but might have a similar record to 2011.

2012 Illinois Illini Schedule –

Western Michigan 9/1
@Arizona State 9/8
Charleston Southern 9/15
Louisiana Tech 9/22
Penn State 9/29
@Wisconsin 10/6
@Michigan 10/13
Indiana 10/27
@Ohio State 11/3
Minnesota 11/10
Purdue 11/17
@Northwestern 11/24

Check out the entire archive of “Know the Opponents,” a series of all Pac-12 non-conference opponent previews, here.

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