This is the first in a series of posts on TCR examining senior departures from the football team and which current players can assume similar roles in 2016.
When it was announced back in July of 2013 that Allison, a JUCO transfer, had chosen to come to Illinois over Kansas State, Iowa State, and Louisiana Tech, Illini fans didn't know much about him. They were nevertheless elated, and it was clear that the recent transfer of QB Wes Lunt was making an impact on other recruits from around the midwest. What the orange and blue nation didn't know was just how good of a player they were getting in Allison.
In his albeit brief two year career in Champaign, Geronimo hauled in 1,480 receiving yards, 106 receptions, and eight touchdowns grabs. A bonus fun fact for you: Allison's QBR is -200, as he only threw one pass in his collegiate career; an interception against Iowa. Nevertheless he was Lunt's go-to target on offense, especially this past season after the loss of Mike Dudek. Whenever the pocket collapsed and Lunt was forced to roll out, Allison was seemingly there to bail him out. One of his best highlights came against Washington two years ago, when he made an amazing one-handed diving catch in the back corner of the end zone. Another big moment for the wideout was against Nebraska this past October when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass with thirteen seconds left in the game.
Prior to his senior year, Allison was named to the Biletnikoff Award list for the country's best wide receiver. It was an amazing accomplishment for a JUCO transfer player who had played his first two years of college ball at Iowa Western Community College. It's pretty clear Geronimo was doing some amazing things in Champaign. But now he's gone, and the Illini are going to need to find replacements that can fill in the WR1 role for 2016. Let's go through a list of potential successors.
- Mike Dudek (76 rec, 1,111 total yards, 6 TD)
This is the obvious choice here. If it weren't for a torn ACL that sidelined Dudek for the entirety of the 2015 season he might have been Bill Cubit's WR1 this past year. Dudek's stats from his freshman campaign were certainly gaudy; he topped 1,100 total offensive yards without even seeing major playing time for the first half of the season. By the end of his rookie campaign he was also returning kickoffs and punts, and his abilities were just beginning to be discovered.
Dudek's return after a medical redshirt will be badly needed for an Illinois offense that sputtered in 2015. He can provide the spark plug that the Cubits (Bill and Ryan) are looking for. He is the obvious choice to replace Allison's position and (hopefully) replace Allison's production.
- Malik Turner (39 rec, 510 rec yards, 3 TD)
A slightly more underrated option, Turner really came on late during conference play this year. He's likely best remembered for hauling in a long pass from Lunt to help seal the comeback victory against Nebraska in October, but he quietly made a solid impact during the course of the Big Ten schedule. Turner will be an upperclassmen in 2016, and will hopefully be even further developed as a wideout and a leader. If he can adjust his catching skills (he was one of the many contributors to dropped passes in 2015), Turner may blossom into a top receiver option for the Illini.
- Desmond Cain (53 rec, 492 rec yards, 1 TD)
The dark horse predecesor of Geronimo Allison is underclassmen Desmond Cain. It's a bold statement to make for a guy who was originally listed as a cornerback before Cubit switched him to the offensive side of the ball in spring camp. Another fun fact for you: Cain played quarterback at his high school in Delary Beach, Florida. The point is he's a very versatile player who came on strong towards the back end of the conference season, and now that he has had a full calendar year to become accustomed to the offensive system in place, you may see an even bigger jump in production from Cain.
Who do you think will step up at wide receiver for the Illini? Drop by and let us know in the comments below!