Spring superlatives: Illinois

The spring superlatives series, which examines the strongest and weakest position groups for each Big Ten team, marches on with Illinois.

Strongest position: Offensive line

  • Top returnees: T Jeff Allen, C Graham Pocic, G Hugh Thornton, G Jack Cornell

  • Key losses: G Randall Hunt, T Ryan Palmer

  • The skinny: I loved the way this group performed in the second half of the 2010 season, repeatedly punishing opposing defenses with its unbalanced formations. Allen and Pocic both are All-Big Ten candidates and Thornton has 15 career starts under his belt. Losing both Hunt and Palmer hurts, but Illinois should have enough depth to fill the gaps as Cornell boasts starting experience and Corey Lewis, a projected starter before going down with injury, should be back for the season. The line also is entering its second season in coordinator Paul Petrino's system, which should pay dividends.

Weakest position: Wide receiver

  • Top returnees: A.J. Jenkins (56 catches, 746 yards, 7 TDs)

  • Key losses: Jarred Fayson (38 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD); RB Mikel Leshoure (17 catches, 196 yards, 3 TDs)

  • The skinny: Jenkins' return really helps, but Illinois has to develop a lot more depth at receiver in 2011. Leshoure, the team's top running back, finished third on the squad in receptions, and besides Jenkins, no returning wideout recorded more than seven receptions last fall. The run game figures to be good, but Leshoure's departure takes away some big-play explosiveness. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase showed in the Texas Bowl that he can be an efficient passer, but he needs more than one reliable target.