Will Illinois exceed expectations?

Illinois is loooking to over-achieve this year, while Indiana and Michigan State need to fix their defenses.

Originally Published: June 23, 2003
By Mel Kiper Jr. |
Editor's Note:'s Mel Kiper Jr. is previewing the 2003 college football season by taking a team-by-team look at the six major conferences. Following is Part I of the Big Ten.

The Illini are a team that does well when the expectations are low. When they are picked to be in the mix they fall back but when they are pegged for the bottom third they usually surpass expectations. Illinois likes the underdog role and that's what it is this year.

Ron Turner is a quality coach and will be working with a veteran quarterback in Jon Beutjer, who looked good in the spring and has taken control of the team after feeling his way into the program as a transfer from Iowa last year. He should be much improved, even after completing nearly 60 percent of his passes and throwing 21 touchdown passes against just 11 interceptions, but will have to deal with the loss of his top four receivers from last season. The returning wideouts combined for all of one catch and seven receiving yards last season. Sophomore Kendrick Jones was a special-teamer last year and needs to become more consistent, while junior Ade Adeyemo and juco transfer Kelvin Hayden may have an impact.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst
Mel Kiper has served as an NFL draft analyst for ESPN since 1984. He is a regular contributor on SportsCenter and ESPN Radio and writes weekly for ESPN Insider.