Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, August 9, 2015

The 2015 BTN bus tour is officially underway. We will trek to all 14 schools to watch a practice and talk to coaches and players, getting one last time to ?kick the tires? on each team before the season kicks off.

The tour heads West first. And stop No. 1 is Illinois, which will be working out off campus in nearby Rantoul, Illinois, where the Fighting Illini will practice 14 times on the former Chanute Air Force Base.

The squad lovingly refers to it as ?Camp Rantoul.?

Here are three things I?ll be looking for as I watch Tim Beckman?s fourth Illini squad prep for 2015 on Monday morning.

1. Defense. Is it any better? The unit has been a sore spot since Tim Beckman arrived in 2012. Coordinator Tim Banks retained his job but will be joined by Mike Phair, who will serve as co-coordinator and also coach the d-line. He previously was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The rush defense has been especially abysmal, ranking 95th, 116th and 115th in the nation, respectively, each of the last three seasons. Woof. The personnel is better-end Jihad Ward and tackle Rob Bain lead the way. And Phair knows his stuff. Will it all pay off?

2. Run game. This area needs a boost after ranking 111th in the nation last year (117.5 ypg). Josh Ferguson is a good back, but he?s more of a third-down option. A newcomer like JC Henry Enyenihi or stud freshman Ke?Shawn Vaughn must impact. This team needs a workhorse. And OC Bill Cubit has to be committed to the run game.

3. The offensive line. This unit has been consistently inconsistent for several seasons. Time to grow up. Guard Ted Karras must step the tone for a mostly pedestrian crew that needs to get physical in the run game. And it?s vital to protect QB Wes Lunt, who has his own issues to deal with (staying healthy, making quicker decisions, speedier release). This is a QB-oriented offense. Lunt must be a star.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.