Juice Williams came to the University of Illinois with one goal, winning a National Championship. This goal was fortified by Ron Zook, who was committed to putting together the pieces that would allow Williams to succeed.
However, Williams wasn’t always the “fan favorite” in Champaign-Urbana. Anytime Juice would struggle with his passing, fans would want to see their other young quarterback, Eddie McGee out on the field.
Juice proved all of his critics wrong last season by going up in every offensive category. The major upgrade was with his completion percentage, which went up an entire 18 points.
Pressure is something Williams doesn't fear. Heading into the Nov. 10 game last year against Ohio State, Juice looked nothing but confident. The Illini were coming off two straight quality wins and were ready to take on a foe of a caliber they hadn’t seen since Missouri in week one.
Williams went 12-for-22, throwing four touchdowns and zero interceptions. That was against the nation's No. 1 defense in the country. This was a whole different kind of sophomore quarterback.
The season came to an end with a mouth-dropping 9-3 record. Not many people in central Illinois expected that from a team that couldn’t even win three games in previous years.
How about a Rose Bowl versus USC? Fans have to realize that in this game, Juice grew up. He had one of his better games, even though the stats don’t speak for themselves. He was 21-35 throwing the ball, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
These dismal stats overshadow how well Williams truly played. There were at least four dropped passes that could have changed the entire game. Juice took the entire thing in stride and knew this wasn’t his time to shine.
This is the "Year of Juice"; he will take the step from average to great. Yes, they did lose star running back Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL, which might slow down the option.
The Illini will replace Mendenhall with young running backs, Danielle Dufrene and Troy Pollard. However, there isn’t a single team in the entire country that has a wide receiver core as talented as that of the Illini.
Arrelious Benn is at full strength this season and so is Chris James. He will be the break out player of the year for this Fighting Illini team. Oh, and let’s not forget about Jeff Cumberland.
He’s only 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and runs a 4.5. If that doesn’t create match up problems at WR, I don’t know what does. There won’t be dropped passes this year my friends.
How about that defense? The defensive line is the best, not only in the Big Ten, but the best in the entire nation. Will Davis and David Lindquist should stop anything coming their way.
Then there is the line backing corps. How will the Illini fare without J. Leman? They will be just fine, replacing Leman with a much faster Brit Miller, who, last season, proved he can be just as good as Leman.
Then there is the “Tezmanian Devil,” Martez Wilson. This kid is the next Patrick Willis. There isn’t a running back or quarterback in the country that can get by him.
The biggest question, how will the secondary fare without the likes of Harrison? They will be just fine with the help of All-American, Vontae Davis patrolling the backfield. The man who will replace Harrison is Donsay Hardamen, who was known for knocking his own players out in practice.
The Illini are in for a tough year, and it all starts with the season opener. They play Missouri in St. Louis in the Arch Rivalry game. Then later in Big 10 play, they go to Happy Valley for the "White Out" game.
They also play in the Big House versus Michigan and go to Wisconsin. Finally, Ohio State takes a visit to the newly renovated Memorial Stadium for one of the biggest games of the year.
This season will definitely show if this team is prepared to take another huge step for the program.
Overall, the defense will be just as good if not better than last year, while the entire offense rests on the shoulders of Junior QB Juice Williams. Look for another nine-win season and a possible return to the Rose Bowl for the Illini.