If you've been to the newstands the past week (and you really should go), you might have noticed a barrage of preseason college football magazines.
Every June, like clockwork, they give fans reasons for hope or despair. Or, somewhere in between.
The prices seemed to have climbed a bit, in the $7.99 range for most.
What are they saying about Tim Beckman's team? There's a range of predictions, but the consensus seems to be a middle-of-the-pack finish and a middle-of-the-pack record.
Phil Steele's College Football Preview likes Illinois the best, picking the team to finish third in the Leaders Division behind Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Steele, who does the entire magazine himself, writes about Illinois:
"Tim Beckman steps into a solid situation with 14 returning starters from a team in which (Ron) Zook compiled good talent. It should be a third straight bowl for the Illini and they could more than double last year's conference win total."
Steele's magazine goes the deepest in picking all-conference teams, going four deep. He has linebacker Jonathan Brown on the first team, center Graham Pocic, defensive end Michael Buchanan and defensive tackle Akeem Spence on the second team, cornerback Terry Hawthorne on the third team and offensive guard Hugh Thornton on the fourth team.
Steele also projects every bowl. He's got Illinois going back to Houston for the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Against Texas Tech. At least the Illini would know where to eat and shop.
USA Today's College Football is new to the magazine mix. Using the newspaper's writers and a string of contributors from its news chain, it's a quicker read than most.
USA Today picks Illinois fourth in the Leaders Division with a 3-5 conference record and a 6-6 overall mark.
The magazine lists a best- and worst-case scenario for each team. About Illinois, it writes:
"Best case. Illinois continues playing solid defense and finishes with a winning conference record for the first time since 2007. Tim Beckman guides his team to nine wins and a respectable bowl.
"Worst case. Unsuccessful trips to Arizona State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern leave the Illini winless on the road and out of bowl eligibility."
The magazine's all-conference team includes one Illini: linebacker Brown.
Lindy's Sports College Football Preview, which is one of the longer standing magazines, picks Illinois fifth in the Leaders Division.
About Beckman's team, the magazine writes:
"Good news: The defensive front seven boasts several outstanding players.
"Bad news: New coach Tim Beckman watched four former Illini players get drafted in April.
"Our call: Despite how things appear, Illinois is closer to the middle than the bottom."
In a list of the Big Ten's best, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is called the "Most Accurate Passer."
The magazine picks three all-conference teams. Brown is with the first group, Pocic and Buchanan are with the second and Spence and Hawthorne with the third.
Athlon Sports Big Ten Preview lists Illinois fourth in the Leaders Division (truth in advertising department: I wrote the Illinois preview for the magazine but had no say in the conference predictions).
Like USA Today, Athlon expects a 3-5 Big Ten finish for the Illini and a 6-6 overall record.
About Illinois, the magazine writes:
"Penn State and Illinois both went through coaching changes, but both teams could make noise in their division because of their defenses. Illinois must replace All-America end Whitney Mercilus but should once again be strong in the front seven."
Athlon picks three all-conference teams. No Illini are listed among the first group. Buchanan, Spence and Brown are on the second team and Pocic and Hawthorne earn spots on the third team.
If you want to have some fun with the magazines, it's imperative you hang onto them until the end of the season. Inevitably, some teams will have been picked way too high and others way too low.
So much happens between the time the magazines are written (usually from March to May) and the start of the season.
National recruiting analyst Tom Lemming filmed part of his recruiting special on the Illinois campus Friday.
Players scheduled to visit with Lemming included Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey, Peoria Richwoods running back Kendrick Foster, Peoria Manual offensive lineman Logan Tuley-Tillman, Wheaton St. Francis offensive lineman Kyle Bosch, Lincoln-Way West offensive lineman Colin McGovern and Peoria Central defensive end Josh Augusta.
Bailey and Foster have made a commitment to Illinois. Tuley-Tillman and Bosch are Michigan bound. McGovern has picked Notre Dame. Augusta hasn't made a commitment and is considering offers from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and others.
Lemming's 2013 All-American show airs on CBS Sports later in June. He is also filming at Soldier Field, Cellular One Field and Navy Pier.
During part of his visit, Lemming also interviewed Illinois coach Tim Beckman for a show that will air in September.
Illinois will have at least three 11 a.m. games in 2012. Two more were added Thursday, when the Big Ten announced the Sept. 1 game against Western Michigan and the Sept. 15 game against Charleston Southern will kick off in the morning.
Illinois also has an 11 a.m. game against Indiana on Oct. 27. Two other games have been set for 2:30 p.m.: Oct. 6 at Wisconsin and Oct. 13 at Michigan.
The Sept. 22 home game against Louisiana Tech starts at 7 p.m.
There is only one more chance for a night game: Sept. 8 at Arizona State. Given the hot weather in Tempe that time of year, the game will likely be under the lights.
The rest of the Illinois games will be played in either the late morning or afternoon. No other night games will be scheduled.
The preseason magazines aren't the only ones looking ahead to the 2012 season. Beyondthebets.com has projected point spreads for every FBS game this season.
The website favors Illinois in four of its Big Ten games, picking Beckman's team against Indiana (14.5-point favorite), Minnesota (8.5), Purdue (2) and Penn State (1). Illinois is 19.5-point underdog at Ohio State, 18.5 against Michigan, 18 against Wisconsin and 3 against Northwestern.
In nonconference games, Illinois is a 10-point favorite against Western Michigan, a 38-point pick against Charleston Southern and a 4.5-point choice against Louisiana Tech. The Illinois-Arizona State game on Sept. 8 is called a tossup.
Beyondthebets.com picks Wisconsin to win the Leaders Division with a 7-1 record, followed by 6-2 Ohio State. It has Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska tying for the Legends Division title at 6-2.
My AP ballot for 2012 isn't due until early August, so there is still time to make changes. Earlier in the week, we ran my updated Top 10, with Michigan moving ahead of Southern Cal to the No. 1 spot.
Readers did not agree, sending email messages and commenting on our Facebook page. Of course, one couldn't resist a Ron Zook reference with "Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, now is not the time."
Why not Michigan? It's got a coach with a clue, a talented quarterback and an improving defense. It is running the ball like old Michigan. The schedule is a bit of a challenge, especially the opener against Alabama at JerryJonesWorld. But get past the Crimson Tide and the Wolverines have a clear path to an undefeated season.
Arkansas was dropped from the Top 10. The Razorbacks might have a great season, but they won't be the same without Bobby Petrino in charge. Whatever his problems off the field (and there appears to be plenty of them), the guy can coach. You'll see him on somebody's sideline in 2013.
Starting this season, the SEC will go with a 6-1-1 scheduling format. Confused? It's actually pretty easy. With a 14-school league split into two seven-team divisions, everybody in the East and West will play their own six.
And everybody has a permanent rival in the other division: Florida-LSU, Georgia-Auburn, Kentucky-Mississippi State, Missouri-Arkansas, South Carolina-Texas A&M, Tennessee-Alabama and Vanderbilt-Ole Miss.
The second "one" will be a rotating game for each school with a team from the other division.
Most of the permanent rivalries are solid and a couple are musts, including Florida-LSU and Missouri-Arkansas. While the South Carolina-Texas A&M game looks good on paper, it's not the best geographic fit. Oh well, not everything is going to make sense when your conference spreads halfway across the country.
For the first Big East title game, which will be held after the 2013 season. The league is scheduled to go to divisional play a year from now and will play the title game on campus sites. Presumably, the school with the best record will get to host.
What we don't know is which schools will actually be in the divisions. Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Rutgers and South Florida will soon be joined by Temple. Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State and SMU climb aboard in 2013. With or without Pitt and Syracuse, which are not fighting extradition to the ACC.
As is usually the case with the Big East, stay tuned.
Sure, the school is landing a bunch of top recruits. But the rest of the off-the-field news at Ohio State has trended toward the negative.
The latest item for the school, which won't be eligible for the postseason in 2012 because of NCAA violations, is the arrest and suspension of a pair of starters. Tight end Jake Stoneburner and offensive tackle Jack Mewhort were arrested early Saturday morning near the Muirfield Village Golf Club.
You'd have to think Urban Meyer has issued a blanket, "Guys, stay out of trouble for the next 10 years," statement. After Tattoogate and the loss of coach Jim Tressel, the school doesn't need any more troubles.
Bob Asmussen covers college football for The News-Gazette. Reach him at 217-351-5233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.