Season Review: Illini struggle, but snap B1G skid

Year Two under Tim Beckman brought hope in the form of an improved won-loss record, as Illinois went from two victories to four. The credit goes to a revived offense, as new coordinator Bill Cubit altered the scheme and maxed out the skills of senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Illinois averaged 29.7 points and 426.7 yards in 2013 after averaging 16.7 points and 296.7 yards in 2012.

The team opened with a 3-1 mark, buoying hopes of a bowl. Alas, Illinois lost seven of its last eight games, including a second consecutive loss and fourth in six games to Northwestern. But along the way, the Fighting Illini ended a dubious 20-game Big Ten losing skid with a 20-16 victory at Purdue on Nov. 23.

[ MORE: Final B1G standings | Illinois' 2013 results | 2013 stats ]

Record: 4-8 overall; 1-7 Big Ten.

Bowl: none

High point: Optimism soared after a 45-17 drubbing of Cincinnati in the second game of the season in Champaign. The Fighting Illini looked like a bowl team vs. a Bearcat club coming off a 9-3 mark in 2012 that would go on to finish 9-3 this season. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was the star, zinging four touchdown passes en route to throwing for 312 yards. Illinois, which amassed 522 total yards, moved to 2-0, dreaming of big possibilities coming off a 2-10 season in 2012.

[ MORE: Illinois extends OC Bill Cubit through 2015 season ]

Low point: A 60-35 loss vs. visiting Ohio State on Nov. 16 wasn’t really that close, as the Buckeyes opened a 28-0 lead and cruised. OSU had 591 yards, with 441 coming on the ground. The defeat pushed Illinois’ losing skid to six. Even worse, the program’s Big Ten losing streak reached 20. The loss also officially eliminated the Illini from bowl consideration.

[ MORE: See all of Dienhart's 2013 Big Ten season reviews ]

Offensive MVP: QB Nathan Scheelhaase. The senior persevered through a lot in four seasons in Champaign, working with three different coordinators his last three seasons and two head coaches in his tenure. But, he saved his best for last, breathing life into a moribund offense and offering hope for the future. Scheelhaase paced the Big Ten in total offense (295.2 ypg) and passing (272.2 ypg), completing 66 percent of his attempts for a Big Ten-high 3,272 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Defensive MVP: LB Jonathan Brown. He was one of the few beacons of light on a defense that was, well, awful in ranking 11th in the Big Ten (481.5 ypg) and 10th in scoring (35.4 ppg). Brown was No. 2 in the Big Ten in tackles with 119. The senior also had five sacks and was third in the conference in tackles for loss with 15. Brown just needed more help.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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