Well, we are all of 5 days away from the annual Cardinal and White Spring Game in Madison and unfortunately we are all dealing with snow today. As I stare outside at the snow falling and wishing it was nice and sunny I thought to myself, what better day to start taking a look at our competition in the newly formed Leaders Division, huh? So over the next few days you'll see me take a peak at our competition in the Division and what has been going on in the Spring for each of them. Might as well start in alphabetical order here, so let's kick this off with the Illinois Fighting Illini, shall we?
2010 Record: 7-6(4-4) tied or 4th in Big Ten
Bowl Game: Texas Bowl: 38-14W over Baylor
Head Coach:Ron Zook (6th Season)
2011 Spring Game: April 23rd
Returning Starters: 14(8 offense, 6 Defense)
Looking at 2011:The 2011 Illini squad will look to build on a solid 1st season under the helm of QB Nathan Sheelhaase(1,825yds passing, 17TD's, and 859yds rushing). He got better as 2010 went on and it will be important this Spring to show even more progression as he won't have All-American RB Mikel Leshoure to help him in the backfield anymore. The 2011 RB spot is currently wide open between Jason Ford and Troy Pollard and a good performance in the Spring game, should either be healthy enough to play, will go a long way in separating from each other. I would also be on the lookout for a possibly explosive WR tandem of A.J. Jenkins(his 2010 season was 8th best all-time) and new starter Ryan Lankford. Illini fans will be paying as much attention to the Linebackers as the RB's this spring as they will be without standouts Martez Wilson and Mat Bussey(tops in tackles on the team) as well as 3rd leading tackler Travon Bellamy. As bad as those losses are the biggest loss will be that of DT Corey Liuget who has a shot at being a top 15 pick in the NFL Draft next week. Luckily the Illini D has a few people ready to make their mark as leaders and I'd be keeping an eye out for LB Ian Thomas(leading returning tackler) and a budding star in DE Whitney Marcilus(great piece on him over at http://www.illinihq.com/news/football/2011/04/17/ui_football_the_week_that_was). In the end I wouldn't sleep on the 2011 Illini, but things may not be as easy if they don't get their running back situation handled by the time the Big Ten schedule roles around. If you are curious about more information in regards to the Illini's Spring Camp I suggest the guys over at www.illinihq.com and as always.... ON WISCONSIN!!