Darrell Hazell is new at Purdue. Kevin Wilson has made Indiana fun to watch (on offense, anyway). Jerry Kill has Minnesota competitive. Iowa is improved and can’t afford to fire Kirk Ferentz anyway.
So which Big Ten coach is next to go? Tim Beckman of Illinois?
Beckman was a pretty successful coach at Toledo before accepting the head coaching position for Illinois. I say “pretty” successful because he was just 21-16 in three years there (17-7 in the MAC). Then he moved to Champaign to take over the Illini.
His first year at was an unmitigated disaster. The “Fighting” Illini went 2-10 and failed to win a single conference game (0-8).
“I didn’t do a good enough job the first year. Bottom line,” Beckman said. “It’s not the kids’ fault. It was my fault.”
It appeared to be a bad hire. After all, Ron Zook had won six games with the team in 2011, winning the first six games before Ohio State started the Illini’s 0-6 skid to end the regular season. After Zook was fired, the team beat UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
But first-year coaches often take a step backward before turning things around. And it did seem that Illinois was improving.
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Last year, Beckman’s squad won four games and finally grabbed his elusive first B1G win — a 20-16 barn burner over Purdue at West Lafayette. One of the losses came in overtime on the road at Penn State.
Beckman still hasn’t gotten his first home conference win in the Big Ten.
However, there were other positive signs than just a few extra wins. Beckman’s team posted the no. 22 passing offense in the country (second in the B1G) with 288 yards per game, and the 46th ranked total offense (fifth in the B1G), with 427 yards per contest.
Illinois scored 24 points or more in eight of its 12 games. The Illini averaged just under 30 points per game. That side of the ball was not too shabby, aside from a struggle at times to run the football.
It was the defense that let the team, and Beckman, down. Illinois finished the 2013 season with the No. 110 total defense (11th in the B1G), the 116th rushing defense (12th in the B1G), and the 104th ranked scoring defense (10th in the B1G).
I figured all Beckman had to do to save his job this season was to shore up the defense and improve the running game a bit.
Then I looked at the schedule.
It’s hard to say how many victories would save Beckman from the axe in 2014, but even a conservative estimate of six — which would show another two-game improvement and likely add some conference wins — is difficult to see.
I have a hard time projecting more than five Illinois wins in 2014 based on the schedule. In the non-conference slate, Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State could all be wins. All three are at home in the Memorial Stadium wind tunnel.
But two of those are no gimmies. Youngstown State went 8-4 last year and has given FBS teams problems before. Western Kentucky also went 8-4 under Bobby Petrino last year. He’s gone back to Louisville, leaving Jeff Brohm as head coach, but WKU may not be a pushover. Texas State was 6-6 and even a bad B1G team should be able to handle the Bobcats.
The other non-conference game is at Washington. The Huskies beat the Illini last season by 10 on a “neutral field” in Chicago. I don’t see a win in Seattle for Illinois.
The B1G schedule is unkind to Beckman in 2014. The Illini start at Nebraska. That’s not optimal. A home game follows against Purdue, which is one of two potential conference wins I see. A trip to Wisconsin is next and that doesn’t seem promising.
A home date against Minnesota may have been an easier task a few years ago, but Kill has the Gophers playing better each year. This might have to become a win to get Beckman’s team to six for the year. I’m not sure six will save him, but five almost certainly won’t.
The Illibuck game in Columbus comes next. Unlikely.
Two home games follow, but the opponents are Iowa and Penn State. Illinois will likely be heavy underdogs in both. The regular season ends at Northwestern in a rivalry game that might be a must-win for Beckman.
My first instinct after thinking about Illinois’ 2013 year was that Beckman might be getting things turned around. This may even be true, but without surviving 2014 we’ll never know. And the truth is that the schedule just doesn’t set up well for that to happen.
That said, Beckman may not be the next B1G coach to get fired. But it would probably take some kind of NCAA violations, a very bad start by Indiana or an unexpected collapse by one of the “better” teams for someone else to beat him to the punch.
Good luck, Coach Beckman. You’ve got a difficult job ahead of you.