Blog list time! It's pretty simple. Which of the Illini players are the absolutely most vital to the success of the season?That's really all the explanation needed.
I'm going to change the order of the list. Most lists count down, 10 to 1, just to build the smallest semblance of suspense, but even my grandma would not be surprised that the quarterback is one of the most important players every year, so why delay that any longer? The quarterback is Number 1 on the list. However, you can keep reading (or scroll down, whatever) to see who Number 2 is.
1. QB Wes Lunt
He hasn't even technically won the job yet, but we can all assume that the upcoming season will rise or fall with Lunt's arm. Transferring from Oklahoma State, the 4-star recruit has been simmering on the bench for a year getting acclimated to the gameplan, now he has all the pieces in place to help us win the game. I have a problem keeping my 2014 expectations reasonable after I hear all the news about Lunt and his amazing powers. He's definitely a normal quarterback, inflated by word-of-mouth and Twitter (mostly Twitter), with a decent-but-not-great arm, right? There's just no way he has pin-point accuracy and the brains to process the whole field all while drinking a glass of water and levitating an X-wing with the Force. Camp Rantoul is Dagobah.
[Now back to your regularly scheduled list.]
10. K Taylor Zalewski
When football enters your conscious thought process, how long does it take before an image of a kicker forms? Whenever it is, it should probably be sooner. Kickers are hinges that open or slam the Door to Success -- they can keep you alive in the most desperate situations or set you back another game or year. Zalewski wasn't exactly a doorstop last season. He completed 70.6% of his field goal attempts. (100% on extra points though.) I have a strong feeling there will be some close games this season, ones where the limelight turns towards Zalewski's leg. Can that leg be trusted in those moments?
9. TE Jon Davis
Davis is one of my favorite players to watch. He has great hands and size that gives most B1G linebackers trouble to cover, and Cubit uses him all over the place. At his best, Davis is a draft pick in May, but he doesn't remain consistently at that top level. Just keep an eye on him. When he finally reaches his potential, just remember who told you.
8. STAR Earnest Thomas III
The STAR position is a hybrid between a safety and a linebacker; he switches between the backfield and the midfield depending on the call. Basically, he's a skinny fast linebacker who is better at covering tight ends. Thomas is also the returning leading tackler from last year. I question if that happened because he flew around the field or if being the last line of defense has anything to do with it. I figure it's both. A porous D-line begets backfield tackles, but Thomas is good enough that he can cover deep and turn to make an open-field touchdown saving tackle. I mean, I don't want that tackle to be so important all the time, but if I trust anyone to do it, it's him.
7. LT Simon Cvijanovic
I want to include the entire offensive line. The big hogmollies make all the difference, though most people don't fully pay attention to their efforts. Without them, much of the offense collapses (remember 2012?). Cvijanovic is going to be leading a line that returns three other players with starting experience. Of all the position groups on the team, O-Line holds the majority of my trust. Cvijy himself is currently talked about as a potential NFL draft pick.
6. WR #1
I'm cheating here. I honestly don't know who the Number 1 guy will be come Youngstown State. But neither do most people. At this point, it looks like first chair will go to either Martize Barr, the lone senior receiver on the team with inconsistent tendencies, or Geronimo Allison, the transfer with all the looks of a Number 1. My point remains the same: the top WR will have to fight against a few perceptions. The Illini receiving corps are generally considered to be at the bottom of the B1G. It only takes one year in college football to change opinions. All I ask is that at least one of our receivers is respectable. Please, dear Galloping Ghost.. Please...
5. CB/KR V'Angelo Bentley
Not only does he cover the best opposing receiver, but he also returns kicks and punts. And he's good at it. He averaged 21.2 yards on kickoffs and 15.8 on punts last year, and had two returning touchdowns, one from a kickoff and one from a punt. When you directly factor into both the yardage allowed and the starting position of the offense, you deserve to be one of the best ten players.
4. The Entire Defensive Line
I'm cheating again, and I don't care. A national rank of 119th in Rushing Yards per Play (5.58) is atrocious and cannot, should not be allowed in a Power 5 conference team. Dejazz Woods, Chunky Clements, Austin Teitsma, Jihad Ward, Teko Powell, Joe Fotu, Paul James III, Dawuane Smoot, Carroll Phillips, Abe Cajuste -- all need to improve this year for the Illini to reach late December/early January relevance. We need a pass rush and a run stop, and more experienced players will bring that. But will they bring enough?
3. RB Josh Ferguson
"Quick 6" is sneaking into the season, army crawling below the national media, but he can't fool me. The dude is about as perfect a match for the Illini offense as a runningback can be. He can run through and around the line. He catches passes in the backfield and either makes space or gets a first down. He produced over 1,300 yards from scrimmage last season, and he's likely to stretch that number to 1,600 yards. I have high hopes for this offense and Ferguson will be a major factor.
2. LB Mason Monheim
I reason with myself quite often about the poor quality of the defense. "It's Zook's fault." I say, "He didn't recruit any good players." Whether that is true or not, the time for that excuse is coming to an end. The players that Beckman brought to the program are now upperclassmen and it's high time that we see the fruits of his labor. Monheim was the first player he recruited. Now a junior, he's at the center of a defense that finished 115th in Yards per Play Allowed (6.66). He's the best all-around player on this defense, replacing last year's best defender (Jonathan Brown), and playing the same position as Butkus -- no one else on defense has this much pressure to perform this year.