Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Three questions for Illinois

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'll be spending the day with Illinois at its training camp in Rantoul, Ill. Here are three questions facing Illinois as it aims for a Rose Bowl repeat this fall:

1. How will the Illini replace Rashard Mendenhall's production on offense?

They won't, at least not with one player. Expect junior Daniel Dufrene to get the first shot at running back, but the Illini will utilize every capable option in the ground game, including quarterback Juice Williams and dynamic wide receiver Arrelious Benn. Dufrene, who averaged 6.3 yards a carry last season as Mendenhall's backup, has picked up his play in preseason camp after a subpar spring. Along with redshirt freshman Troy Pollard, Dufrene will try to make opposing defenses respect the run, opening things up for Williams, Benn and a passing attack that will be spotlighted this fall.

2. Can linebacker Martez Wilson and the rest of Illinois' heralded 2007 recruiting class back up the hype?

Benn already has, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors last season despite playing with a bum shoulder. It's now Wilson's turn to step up, particularly at a position that has lost All-American J Leman and underrated weak-side backer Antonio Steele. Wilson has all the tools to be a star but can't get by on athleticism alone. Other 2007 recruits pegged for greater roles this fall include safety Nate Bussey and wide receiver Brian Gamble. Illinois lost both of its starting safeties and needs more playmakers at wideout besides Benn.

3. Will Williams take the next step in his evolution?

Williams showcased his big-game poise by leading Illinois to a win at Ohio Stadium last November, but he'll have much more on his shoulders this fall. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley wants to accentuate the passing game, and though Williams significantly improved his completion numbers from 2006, he'll need to be even more on point this fall. Williams admits he'll never be the loudest guy in the locker room, but he's shown a greater grasp of the offense and a greater desire to lead.