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Illini open spring football with more wins in mind
By: Staff  Writer - AP
Published: 3/4/2014  at  2:21:22 AM
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Illinois coach Tim Beckman insists there is no shortage of pressure to take the team to a bowl game next season.

''We've got to be better, we've got to win more football games. There's no question about that,'' said Beckman, whose Illini went 4-8 last season.

''Is there pressure on me to get to a bowl game? Well, there is from myself,'' he added. ''Has anybody told me (a bowl appearance is required)? No.''

Spring practice starts Wednesday and the spring game is April 12.

Beckman said he hopes to have his starting quarterback picked by the end of spring football. For the first time since 2009, it won't be Nathan Scheelhaase, the four-year starter who graduated last year.

Wes Lunt, a highly regarded transfer who came to Illinois after spending time as a starter at Oklahoma State, appears to have the edge over senior Reilly O'Toole - an occasional starter who has played in 23 games in three seasons - and sophomore Aaron Bailey.

''All three of them have had outstanding winter workouts,'' Beckman said Monday. ''All of them have been very competitive. All of them have shown leadership on and off the field.''

While quarterback isn't a major concern right now for Illinois, whom they'll be throwing to is, offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said.

''And that's because of the unknown,'' Cubit said. ''We've got to mature there really fast.''

Illinois lost its leading receiver, Steve Hull, from an offense that was surprisingly effective through the air, averaging 287.7 yards a game, second in the Big Ten. Hull was a senior and the two top players Illini coaches mentioned Monday - junior Justin Hardee and senior Martize Barr - combined for 37 catches and 341 yards last fall.

Illinois also finds itself a little thin at running back. Dami Ayoola had a promising freshman season in 2012 with 26 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns before being kicked off the team last September for unspecified rules violations.

Beckman, without elaborating, said Ayoola's second chance is over.

''It's a family and we've got our guidelines that we have here,'' Beckman said. ''I wish him the best.''

The top rusher from last season, Josh Ferguson, is back. He had 779 yards on 141 carries and seven touchdowns as a junior. And the back who expected to be No. 1 on the depth chart last fall is back, too. Donovonn Young had a disappointing junior season - 376 yards on 93 carries - after starting 10 games in 2012.

''We're all looking for a better year from DY, him included,'' Cubit said.

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Follow David Mercer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/davidmercerap

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