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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Likes and Dislikes

Five and Five: Illinois

What are five things I like about Illinois in 2010? What about five things I don’t? This list has all the answers.


1. If healthy, a solid linebacker corps. Much will depend on the availability of middle linebacker Martez Wilson, who missed all but one game last fall with a neck injury.

2. The running back quartet. Mikel Leshoure, an honorable mention all-Big Ten pick last fall, will carry the load, but fellow junior Jason Ford will also be in the mix.

3. New coordinators on both sides of the ball. Vic Koenning, late of Clemson, will lead the defense and coach the secondary; Paul Petrino, formerly of Arkansas, will run the offense.

4. The left side of the offensive line. While the rest of the line is in flux, the Illini look to be in solid shape with Jeff Allen at left tackle and Hugh Thornton at left guard.

5. Some depth at cornerback. Miami Thomas returns from injury after missing all of last season, though he currently finds himself in a reserve role.


1. Inexperience at quarterback, enough that it’s tough to ignore. The most experienced option is sophomore Jacob Charest, though Nathan Scheelhaase, a redshirt freshman, is the likely starter.

2. Little to speak of at receiver beyond A.J. Jenkins. He’s a good one, but the choices beyond Jenkins are limited. Perhaps former quarterback Eddie McGee can provide a spark.

3. Question marks at safety. Illinois could rely on a true freshman, Earnest Thomas, to earn major minutes in his first season.

4. A rough schedule. Included among the typical Big Ten fare — at Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Northwestern — are three tough non-conferences games: Missouri, Northern Illinois and Fresno State.

5. Does Ron Zook know what he’s doing? Thirty-nine losses in 60 games at Illinois says otherwise.

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