Last season, Illinois increased its offensive production by 130 yards per game from the previous year.
Now the Illini need to see as giant a leap from the defense this season to find success
While the offense sizzled under coordinator Bill Cubit, the defense sputtered last season. It ranked 110th nationally (out of 123 FBS teams) giving up 481.5 yards per game and 104th allowing 35.1 points a game.
Coach Tim Beckman believes his defense can replicate the offense's development.
"I think we will make tremendous strides because of the maturity and the continuity of our football team is better," he said Tuesday at Big Ten media days in Chicago. "You're not playing with as many young players. You don't have kids coming out of high school who had to start."
Beckman hopes experience pays off as 18 players from last season's defensive two-deep depth chart return. Linebacker Mason Monheim and tackle Austin Teitsma are expected to lead the improvement.
"We have a chip on our shoulder because we want to show we are capable," Teitsma said. "We are a Big Ten defense. It definitely was tough. You don't want to be the side of the ball letting the other side of the ball down. A lot rides on us improving."
With more experienced players, Beckman and defensive coordinator Tim Banks have been able to expand the playbook, something that held the team back last season, Beckman said.
"They understand the whole scheme of the defense instead of just learning plays," he said. "That's huge."
Six junior college transfers are expected to give the Illini a boost, most notably receiver Geronimo Allison and defensive lineman Jihad Ward. "Just watching them, they definitely have the assets to help us this year."
• College football tickets