Illinois Spring Football: Big Ten MACtion And Missing Whitney Mercilus

Also under way on Wednesday: Illinois Fighting Illini spring football. The Blue and Orange Game is dialed in for April 14 and they have a new head coach, as you might've heard. Tim Beckman left the Toledo Rockets to take over for Ron Zook after a dismal season that included an appearance in the worst bowl game ever played. It's all sunshine and roses compared to that.

However, that does make for an obvious Big Question. SI.com's Stewart Mandel goes on and answers it:

Is Beckman the right man for the Illini?

Answering that will admittedly take longer than one spring. Still, the Illini's new coach, who spent the past three seasons at Toledo, is a bit of an enigma. He didn't come in and set the Big Ten on fire like Meyer or Hoke. He has a defensive background, but his Toledo teams were known for their prolific offenses. In Champaign, Beckman inherits talented junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but faces an immediate challenge upgrading Illinois' rushing attack. Perhaps rising sophomore tailback Donovonn Young will benefit from Beckman's spread attack...

Beckman's still a MAC man at heart, as evidenced by his wide-open offense and his insistence on speed in all things, even in showing up to stuff. Incumbent Scheelhaase and Reilly O’Toole will have an open competition for the starting gig, Beckman says.

Elsewhere, the great personnel concern is replacing defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who led the country in sacks. Returning linebacker Jonathan Brown and lineman Michael Buchanan combined for 13.5 sacks last year, and it's kind of amazing Illinois was so mediocre even with that pass rush, which helped their defense rank No. 7 in the country. Speaking of defense, linebacker Justin Staples will miss game time due to a DUI arrest last month.

If the rest of the D can approach last year's effort (despite losing four of their top 10 tacklers) while Beckman gets the offense moving, Illinois could be a fun team to watch this year.

For more on Illini football, visit Illinois blog Hail To The Orange, plus Big Ten blog Off Tackle Empire and SB Nation Chicago.

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