Friday afternoon was a chaotic time of uncertainty for Illinois football. A lot of big, important questions were asked. But the one that was seemingly asked the least was the one that will have the greatest short-term impact: how should we adjust our expectations for this team in 2015?
Not for the University of Illinois as a whole, not for the next ten years of Illini football, not for the impending coaching search. Speaking strictly in terms of the team that is going to take the field in less than a week. So forget what has happened to Tim Beckman and brush away the cloud of uncertainty that has surrounded athletic director Mike Thomas; let's just focus on the on-field product that new head coach Bill Cubit will be working with.
Some might believe that Illinois is going to have to sacrifice any type of success in the 2015 season for the sake of a (hopefully) brighter future for the program. And it would make sense to not be asking for much from this team. They have a new voice leading the locker room just days before the season starts and they're still riddled with injuries and question marks. I, however, don't think that's the case. My belief has little to do with Bill Cubit's success as a head coach because, quite frankly, his record isn't anything to write home about:
1992-1996: Head coach at Widener University -- 34-19 record, no playoff appearances (Division III school)
2005-2012: Head coach at Western Michigan -- 51-47 record, three bowl appearances (no wins)
The main reason why I think 2015 can still be a successful campaign for the Illini is simple: no pressure. There was a substantial amount of stress felt by both Beckman and the players these past few seasons. Tim was concerned with just being able to keep his job; one misstep and he knew his seat would only grow hotter. The players wanted to win so badly and prove the nay-sayers wrong, not to mention the pressure that the investigation findings allege Beckman placed on their shoulders. Ignore your significant injury or you'll be taken off scholarship? I can't even imagine what kind of strain that would put on a player's mind. The good news is that all of those outside factors have been alleviated, and now the players can just go out there and play their butts off for nobody other than themselves. Cubit said it best when he was at the podium during Friday afternoon's press conference:
We're a family. This Illinois team is a family. We need everybody to rally together. Fans, alumni, students, parents... everybody has to rally together. There's only one way to do this now. One way. Everybody has to get together if we want to achieve what we need to achieve. Let's support these student athletes because they're the ones going out there and battling and representing this school, not the coaches. So let's all rally together and let's get this thing going.
If you're a player, there is no longer the looming threat of Beckman making you feel unsafe or Beckman losing his job. He's already lost it. It's all over now. I'd have to imagine a good portion of this team is going to breathe a big sigh of relief when they go to bed tonight. Just look at the things they tweeted following the news of his dismissal:
Aye We GOOD!!! #FightingIllini— KE'SHAWN VAUGHN (@SpeedKe5) August 28, 2015
This is just going to make what we accomplish this season that much sweeter. Great opportunity before us. #ILL— Rob Bain (@HouseOfBain_) August 28, 2015
Our goals still ain't change the squad still tryna be champions #Letsgetit— Marchie L. Murdock (@KingMarch2) August 28, 2015
And this gem from former Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence:
Illinois just got better !!!#illini.— Akeem spence (@AkeemSpence) August 28, 2015
Let's be clear: this is not to say every player on the roster was directly affected by what Beckman did, but the dynamic of this Fighting Illini squad has taken a dramatic turn over the past 24 hours. The narrative has gone from "Will Beckman survive year four and what about the investigation?" to "Will this team rally around Cubit and possibly have a successful season now that Beckman is gone?" It's certainly no guarantee, but I think the lack of this enormous distraction will only help this group in the short term. Remember, I'm not referring to recruiting or the future of this program, I'm strictly speaking about the season that starts in six days against Kent State.
The fanbase seems to have reached a general consensus on how they think the Illini will perform this year too, as evidenced below.
So the Illini win 9 games this year, right? It is the only logical thing that can happen now.— John Brumbaugh (@IlliniBoard) August 28, 2015
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What if this was like the turning point and we won 8 games and hired some really good coach</p>— Bryce (@OrangeBlueCraze) <a href="https://twitter.com/OrangeBlueCraze/status/637338580013219840">August 28, 2015</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
So we either go 2-10 or 8-4. There can be no other way #Illini— Micah Donsbach (@micahdonsbach) August 28, 2015
I tend to agree with these sentiments. This is either going to be one hell of a story to tell when it's all said and done, or it's going to crash and burn and it will be all too obvious how important it is to find a great head coach this offseason. Either way, strap on those seat belts, Illini fans. It's going to be a crazy ride.
How do you think the team will do in 2015 with Beckman gone and Cubit in charge? Drop by below and give us your thoughts/updated predictions.