The good news for Bill Cubit is, almost anything he can accomplish in 2013 will likely be viewed as progress.
The bad news for Illinois' new offensive coordinator is that he faces a monumental task. The Illini finished second-to-last in the FBS in both total offense and scoring last year, which led head coach Tim Beckman to dump playcaller Chris Beatty and hire Cubit, who was let go as Western Michigan head coach after the season.
Cubit is excited for the opportunity to coach in the Big Ten but understands he is not walking into the easiest situation.
"There's a lot of work to be done," Cubit told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "We've all just got to buy in and get on the same page. There's a long way to go to catch up, but we've got to bypass some of those teams ahead of us in the Big Ten. We've got to do more than what they're doing. That's the challenge."
Cubit went out recruiting on Monday and has spent the past few days reviewing game tape of last year's offense on the 2-10 Illini. It's clear to him that every position on his side of the ball has to improve.
At least Cubit has a history of producing high-scoring offenses. In the past couple of years at Western Michigan, he employed a no-huddle, spread offense that averaged over 35 points per game in 2011 and more than 29 points a contest last season. He envisions using the same type of attack in Champagne.
"I think the high-tempo is the way to go, especially when maybe you don't have as much talent as some other people," Cubit said. "Some guys just see it as the Oregon-type stuff, but I don't know if that's us.
"High-tempo can also mean having a guy under center and running the zone play inside and getting that really fast. We're a multi-formation, multi-personnel offense. So we might say to some guys, 'These are your 20 plays during the game and get great at that.' It takes guys buying in, because some guys might play 50-to-60 plays, while other guys only play 20. But those 20 you're playing, you'd better be great at them."
Cubit's Broncos played and lost to Illinois in each of the past two seasons, so he has some idea of what's on the roster. He jokingly told running back Donovonn Young that "you ran right by me two years ago. The only problem was that one of our guys caught you."
But as an offensive-minded coach, Cubit focused more on the Illini defense while preparing for those games. He knows head coach Tim Beckman from the pair's days in the MAC. Since Beckman's background is on defense, Cubit expects to have full rein of the offense. But he said he mostly talks to defensive coaches, anyway.
"I want to stay one step ahead of what they're doing," he said. "Even when I was at Western Michigan, I would talk to guys like Rex Ryan to see what's coming up next. I want to know what the other side is trying to do to defend us. So I think this will be a great opportunity for both of us."
Cubit expects an open quarterback competition this spring between Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole. The one who wins the job will be the one who proves he is the best decision-maker, most accurate passer and best leader, he said. Cubit has spoken with both quarterbacks and other offensive players, asking them what they feel they do best.
Illinois didn't excel at much of anything last year. Beckman repeatedly said that the offense lacked depth, especially at the skill positions. He has tried to fix that through recruiting, and Cubit says he won't know exactly what he has to work with until spring practice.
"It's kind of hard to evaluate [the depth]," he said. "I'm just going on the assumption that we've got an opportunity to get it done."