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Minnesota Golden Gophers 2014 opponent profile: Illinois

The Minnesota Golden Gophers play their most winnable conference road game against the Illinois Fighting Illini.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers play their most winnable conference road game against the Illinois Fighting Illini.Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers finish the easiest part of their conference schedule with a trip to Champaign to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini. The three-game stretch in October features the only three teams in the Big Ten Conference to win one league game or less last season.

2013 Record: 4-8 (1-7 conference)

2013 Offensive Statistics: 29.7 points per game, 426.7 total offensive yards per game, 139.0 rushing yards per game, 287.7 passing yards per game, 21 turnovers, 30 sacks allowed

2013 Defensive Statistics: 35.4 points allowed per game, 481.5 total offensive yards allowed per game, 238.6 rushing yards allowed per game, 242.9 passing yards allowed per game, 11 turnovers forced, 15 sacks

Head Coach: Tim Beckman (27-34 record in five seasons as a head coach; 6-18 in two seasons at Illinois)

Key Offensive Players: RB Josh Ferguson, RB Donovonn Young

Key Defensive Players: DB V’Angelo Bentley, LB Mason Monheim, DB Zane Petty, DB Eaton Spence, DB Earnest Thomas III

Outlook: The strength of the Illini in 2013 was their offense. However, the majority of that group has graduated. Running back Josh Ferguson is the only returning player to amass more than 400 yards or catch more than 30 passes. In total, the Illini will not have their starting quarterback and three leading receivers back from last season.

The good news is that Oklahoma State transfer quarterback Wes Lunt will be eligible as a third-year sophomore. He started five games as a true freshman for the Cowboys, but wanted be closer to home.

Head coach Tim Beckman did get the Illini to improve from Year 1 to 2 as head coach (2-10 to 4-8), but former coach Ron Zook had them at 6-6. New philosophies, habits and schemes will do that to a program, but the Illini still appear to be a team more hopeful not to go winless in conference play, than a team searching for a bowl bid.