Jeff Allen came to Illinois as an overweight, unknown offensive line prospect. After just three years of conditioning and experience, he was named second team All-Big 10. That's quite an accomplishment for the Chicago King product, but he wanted more.
"Yeah, I was happy about it. But I was hoping for a better season as a team, get more wins. It didn't turn out the way I wanted it too."
Allen played every offensive down at tackle for the Illini, a leader on a unit lacking depth.
"I think every day we had the same five starters except for Jack Cornell starting. We had the same six the whole year. Everyone stayed healthy, except for Ryan Palmer breaking his finger. He hung in there; he's tough enough to play."
In the scheme preferred by offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, the weakside and strongside tackles switch sides of the formation at times. This allows Allen to face the opponent's top pass rusher most plays.
"Yeah, usually it worked out that way because teams play their d-ends to the strong and weak sides. We matched them up with the formation."
Allen was penalized twice for holding in the Michigan game. He disagreed. He explains how his technique allowed him to knock defensive ends to the ground without pulling them down with his hands.
"I don't know if we can be fined for saying anything about the refs. I just constantly move my feet so the guy doesn't get the corner on me. Maybe the ref can't see my hand placement.
"Usually I hit their hip. When I hit their hip, usually they lose their balance. I don't think I hold. My mom texted me after the Michigan game. She said even the commentators said it wasn't holding."
Allen helped Mikel Leshoure have a great season rushing the ball. Offensive linemen accustomed to toiling in obscurity must receive their rewards indirectly by helping running backs achieve success. How good is Leshoure?
"He's 1500 yards good. Everything he got this year he deserves. I'm proud of him. He makes me look good. I can miss my block, and he makes my guy miss."
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, a redshirt freshman seeing his first college action, struggled at times with the passing game. Allen puts much of the blame squarely on his own broad shoulders.
"First off we have to improve protection. It starts with the offensive line protecting the quarterback. We need to improve that especially since Nate is a young guy."
The 6'-5", 305 pounder has one more year to achieve his goals. Among other things, he is hoping the Illini can develop more depth along the line.
"I don't think we had as much depth as we wanted this year. That's something we need to work on this spring. Hopefully we can get it done.
"I see a lot of potential. We've got Craig Wilson, he's been here for awhile. He can play. We've got Michael Heitz at tackle. He's progressing a lot, so is Simon (Cvijanovic). Inside we've got Andrew Carter and Tyler Sands. We've got a lot of depth. We've just got to get better. It just takes time with offensive linemen."
Earning a bowl bid is encouraging for the future. He was asked whether it can become a stepping stone for next season.
"I definitely do. We got to a bowl game, that was one of our goals. We got 15 extra practices to get better, so come spring we'll be much better prepared. It should make us a better team for next year."