Team preview: Illinois

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(All information as of July 1, 2005)


Even taking over a team that went 1-15 in the Big Ten over the last two years, things can only get better for Ron Zook.

The new Illinois head coach clearly has his work cut out for him, inheriting a team that finished ninth in the Big Ten in scoring offense and 10th in scoring defense, total defense and turnover margin last year. When your best player is your punter, you know the bar is set pretty low.

Then again, Zook, who took Florida to three bowl games in three years before the rabid Gator backers drove him out of Gainesville, won't be asked to fill the shoes of a coaching legend like Steve Spurrier. He's taking over the top Division I-A program in a talent-rich state, instead of fighting two other in-state behemoths for the region's best prep players. And he doesn't have to worry about any websites calling for his head -- not yet, at least.

Given the Illini's recent track record, you couldn't blame their fans for being a touch impatient, but it's a safe bet Zook will be given more than the three years he received in Gainesville to put together a solid team from top to bottom.