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2015 Illinois Running Back Preview: Josh Ferguson primed for huge senior year

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Everything you need to know about the Illinois running backs in 2015.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Football season is almost here! In just 38 days Illinois will be facing off against Kent State at Memorial Stadium. Over the next few weeks, The Champaign Room will be previewing the 2015 season with position previews, player profiles, biggest storylines, and more. Make sure to check back each day for something new.

First up is our position preview series, where we'll examine the strength and weaknesses of each group on the field. Today we're taking a closer look at Josh Ferguson and the Fighting Illini running backs.

Position Overview:

Returning Starters: Josh Ferguson (SR)

Key Losses: Donovonn Young (graduation), Devin Church (transfer)

Other Returners: Kendrick Foster (SO)

Newcomers: Ke'Shawn Vaughn (FR), Dre Brown (FR), Reggie Corbin (FR), Henry Enyenihi (JR)

Josh Ferguson will once again be the anchor at running back, but that's about all we know for sure at this point. The departures of Donovonn Young and Devin Church mean that at least two of the newcomers will be asked to come in a contribute immediately. The good news? There's a lot of talent for Tim Beckman and the coaching staff to pick from.

Key Player

Josh Ferguson

BREAKING: Josh Ferguson is good.

The senior running back was named to the Doak Walker Award Watch List in mid-July and he's poised for a huge season as the featured option in the running game.

As a junior, he rushed for 735 yards and hauled in an additional 427 receiving yards with a combined 10 touchdowns. In his career, he's totaled 3,486 all-purpose yards, which ranks sixth in program history. He's also one of only three active FBS players with more than 1,500 career rushing and 1,000 career receiving yards.

Yet, somehow, he's still one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten. Regardless, his dynamic playmaking ability makes him a threat to score every time he touches the ball--and that happens a lot. You'll see Ferguson getting carries out of the backfield, streaking down the middle of the field as a receiver, and he's also utilized on special teams as a punt/kick returner.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Illinois

Oct 25, 2014; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Josh Ferguson (6) runs with the ball while Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive back Derrick Wells (3) attempts to tackle him in the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Illinois beat Minnesota, 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Biggest Question

Which player will secure the backup role?

We really have no idea at this point and the battle for the backup role will be one of the biggest storylines in Rantoul next month. Devin Church was in position to be the No. 2 option, but he transferred. So who will the coaching staff choose? There are several options.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn, a four-star recruit, is probably the most talented of the newcomers. Fellow freshman Reggie Corbin projects to be a change-of-pace back as he's a smaller, faster option (similar to Ferguson in a way). JUCO transfer Henry Enyenihi had a nice performance in the Spring Game, but he still has a ways to go before he can be consistently relied upon. Finally, there's the 'veteran' Kendrick Foster who has previous experience in the system. Dre Brown, who's another incoming freshman, also could've been competing for immediate playing time, but he went down with a torn ACL in May.

Enyenihi probably has the edge right now, but it could easily be Vaughn or Foster by the time everything is said and done. The main takeaway from this whole situation is that Beckman has done a great job of setting this particular position up for the future.

Projected Depth Chart

1st String Josh Ferguson
2nd String Henry Enyenihi OR Ke'Shawn Vaughn
3rd String Kendrick Foster OR Reggie Corbin

Again, this is a very tentative depth chart; a lot can and will change between now and the first game against Kent State. We'll have a clearer understanding of the position battle after Camp Rantoul.

*****

Follow The Champaign Room on Twitter at @Champaign_Room and Like us on Facebook. You can follow Jim Vainisi on Twitter at @JimVainisi. You can follow Bryce Smith on Twitter at @OrangeBlueCraze.