Cubit and Scheelhaase, a Match Made in Heaven?
It sure is amazing how quickly things can turn around with the right set of coaches.
Don't believe me? Then I submit to you the 2013 Illinois football team and head coach Tim Beckman's hire of offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
2012 was an unmitigated disaster for Tim Beckman and the Illini football program. From the outside looking in it appeared Beckman, hired away from Toledo to replace Ron Zook, was in over his head.
The Illini's offensive woes were so bad that once star quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase looked like a lost freshman behind center.
The Fighting Illini finished the season 2-10 and winless in the Big Ten. Not exactly confidence-building stuff from the first year regime in Champaign.
Scheelhaase and backup Riley O'Toole led the offense to some of the most anemic numbers of the last 20 years in the Big Ten. They managed to average just 16.7 points a game and put up just 296.7 yards of total offense to rank dead last in the Big Ten.
Things were so bad, some in the fanbase were already calling for Beckman to be fired. Instead, Beckman self-assessed and realized his error in the offensive coaching staff.
Will Illinois be Bowl Eligible
In the offseason Beckman fired co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzalez and hired veteran offensive guru Bill Cubit, who had just been let go as the Western Michigan head coach.
Beckman's hire of Cubit was met with curiosity by those who knew his reputation and skepticism by people who saw Beckman's previous hires and frankly didn't trust him.
Cubit had a reputation for working with and making stars out of quarterbacks and for producing high octane offenses just about everywhere he went.
Nathan Scheelhaase and the offense appeared to take to Cubit's new philosophy quickly and in the spring game they looked like a completely different group. However, most wondered out loud if Cubit's new look and newly re-engergized offense was looking good because Illinois defense was just that bad or because the offense was just that much improved.
Fast forward through two weeks of the season and the answer to the question most asked following the spring is Yes. Yes, Illinois' offense looks vastly different and re-engergized and yes, the defense is just that bad too.
Through two games the Illini are averaging 43.5 points a game and 493 yards of total offense—numbers that rank sixth and fifth in the Big Ten respectively. A vast improvement over what happened last year to say the least.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase leads the conference in passing with 728 yards and is averaging 70 more yards a game than the next closest Big Ten quarterback through two weeks. He is also third in passer efficiency in the conference at 182.1.
His Week 1 performance was good enough to have him named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.
Scheelhaase is looking much more like the freshman version of himself, only better in the passing game, and that isn't good news for opposing defenses. Besides his passing game, Scheelhaase is leading this team on the field and in the locker room—showing the leadership that appeared lacking across the team in 2012.
Sure, it would've been easy to dismiss the 42 points the Illini put up on Southern Illinois, an FCS opponent, but the signs of progress and change were right there in front of us.
However, after dismantling a Cincinnati defense that gave up just seven points to Purdue the week before, it was easily the most shocking result for the Big Ten in week two.
Cubit's performances have been so good that he's been noticed on the national stage.
The results and how it happened against the Bearcats proved what we all saw in Week 1 wasn't a fluke. Something is different and credit must go to Tim Beckman for his hire of Cubit.
It could be the hire that saves Beckman's job, and the hire makes this team a contender for biggest surprise in the Big Ten in 2013. Now, about that defense...