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Bill Cubit era put on hold as Illini opener postponed until Saturday

CHAMPAIGN — The Bill Cubit era at Illinois began with a lightning delay.

Many people thought Cubit’s predecessor, Tim Beckman, was a lightning rod. But the thunderstorm was taking it to the extreme.

As a result, plans for a healing moment at Memorial Stadium were put on hold. Half an hour before the scheduled 8:12 p.m. kickoff Friday between the Illini and Kent State, the stands were empty.

They remained empty at 10 p.m., when many fans presumably were heading home after protracted and soggy tailgate parties.

At 10:15 p.m., the game was officially postponed until 1 p.m. Saturday. The game will not be televised, Illini officials said.

The empty stadium, at least, was not a comment on the state of Illinois football, but a show of respect for Mother Nature.

If Beckman embarrassed alumni with his many gaffes before he was fired Aug. 28 amid allegations of player abuse, Cubit promises to be a breath of fresh air on many fronts.

He has a wry sense of humor, a good perspective on a coach’s ambassador role.

Most important of all, perhaps, he’s an excellent football coach and teacher.

After arriving as an offensive coordinator in Beckman’s second season, Cubit was central to the turnaround that saw Illinois go from a 2-10 start under Beckman to last year’s modest 6-7 bowl season.

At first glance, it would appear that elevating the offensive coordinator to interim coach, the position Cubit holds, would mean a messy coaching situation.

But that would not give enough credit to Cubit. And too much to Beckman.

Beckman landed the Illinois job after going 21-16 in three years at Toledo.

Cubit got fired after going 51-47 in eight years at Western Michigan, including a win over Illinois in 2008.

At 50, Beckman was a younger choice than Cubit, 61, who wasn’t even on Illinois’ radar.

But a better one? We’ll get some insight into that this fall.

Even without all of their off-the-field turmoil, the Illini were widely expected to have a Big Ten tiger by the tail — and that hasn’t changed.

On the other hand, Illinois seemingly scheduled three nonconference wins plus a trip to who-knows North Carolina. And no matter who their coach is, the Illini wouldn’t have to shock the world to beat Purdue or Northwestern.

In the modern college-football world, mix one upset into one modest schedule and you have a recipe for a tidy bowl.

This was the second consecutive season in which Illinois has had a home game smacked around by a lightning delay.

Illinois’ 42-35 victory over Texas State on Sept. 20, 2014, was held up for nearly two hours by lightning. But at least that was a 2:30 p.m. kickoff, so the game ended on the same day it began.

There was a reasonable chance that would not be the case against Kent State, who is appropriately nicknamed the Golden Flashes.

That was a major disappointment to Cubit and the Illini, who were eager to play after their summer of discontent.

“I can’t wait to finally play a football game,’’ offensive lineman Ted Karras told reporters earlier this week. “It’s been a little crazy, but it is what it is. Finally, it’s game week. It’s time to go now. Everyone is on board with the changes.’’

Whoever first said “the show must go on’’ apparently didn’t know about the power of lightning.

Follow me on Twitter @HerbGould.