The Dirty Dozen -- Version 12.0

CHAMPAIGN - IlliniPlaybook's player power rankings for Week 12.

12. Nathan Scheelhaase: (last week – 8) - What started out with promise is winding down in disappointing fashion. Scheelhaase has gotten much of the blame for offensive struggles (like QBs always do), but the explanation is not that simple. He'd be the first to tell you he hasn't progressed this season after leading the team to two bowl games in his first two years under center. He'll toe the company line because no matter what – Scheelhaase is a good PR front. But the problems shouldn't be completely tossed on his back.


11. Ryan Lankford: (12) - Inconsistency, up and mostly down performances, scarred the offense this season. Revolving game plans, the emergence and disappearance of players in the spotlight and difficulties on the offensive line negated any progress toward an identity. Schemes and guys like Lankford were here one minute and gone the next. It's hard to build on anything when you keep tearing it up and starting over (whether the deconstruction was forced or not).


10. Jon Davis: (11) - Injuries limited the production of important players. After the season opener, it was safe to predict a huge season for Davis. Carrying the ball, catching the ball, blocking for others with the ball – Davis should have been a prominent presence in every game, on nearly every drive. A naggaing injury negated that. And his wasn't the only hitch in the giddy up. On the record, the staff refused to use the loss of players for lengthy periods of time as an excuse -- but the lack of depth and playmakers to begin with was a very real problem.


09. Darius Millines: (9) - There were certain positions, like wide receiver, that couldn't afford to lose players of top billing. Not having guys like Millines caused what-could-have-been syndrome, especially since he balled out after returning from injury. The offense never established vertical movement, never put the fear of getting beat deep in any defense's thought process. One-dimensional doesn't work – not in the real world, not in football.


08: Michael Buchanan: (4) - Regardless of the record, it's still worth noting that 20 seniors will play their last home game Saturday. That's something to cheer for, a group to root on.


07: Terry Hawthorne: (5) - The defense looked terrible in the first half of the season. The Arizona State game wasn't a punch in the gut – it was more like a first round knockout. But the seniors on that side of the ball wouldn't let it go to hell without a fight. The team meeting called by Hawthorne and Buchanan prior to the Wisconsin game led to better results. The scoreboard didn't always indicate it, but the defense played well in spurts against the Badgers, Indiana, Ohio State and Minnesota. That's admirable.


06: Earnest Thomas: (not rated) – Not lost on this pseudo-writer/reporter/publisher, there were some pleasant surprises this year, some young players that gained experience and showed they could make plays when given the opportunity.


05: Donovonn Young: (7) - Those guys must keep their heads up in these final two games, and more importantly, in the offseason. Sophomores like Thomas and Young will be counted on to head the turnaround, to change the culture, to lead the team. They'll be juniors next year. A room full of discontent won't get it done. Stay positive and stay hungry.


04: Jonathan Brown: (6) - Will those leaders in the making be joined by Brown, who will have a decision regarding the NFL draft?


03: Akeem Spence: (3) - What about Spence? He's not commonly pointed to as a player that could leave early, but given the circumstances, he'll certainly test the waters. Losing those two players would be a bad start to next season.


02: Mason Monheim: (2) - That's not to say the cupboard is empty. Freshmen like Monheim, Mike Svetina, V'Angelo Bentley and Justin Hardee have shown flashes of being able to handle a prime role in the future. Monheim especially, who deserves Big Ten Freshman of the Year for leading the team in tackles, is a solid starting point to build upon.


01: Ashante Williams: (1) - Regardless, perhaps the saddest aspect of all this is certain players will leave without getting their propers. Many fans only see the record, the wins, the losses -- all those losses -- and that justifiably dictates a bleak atmosphere. After all, you are what your record says you are. That leads to emotions like anger, angst, disbelief and despair flooding the message boards. In the present tense though, guys like Williams are staring into a scope full of scary – the end of college life, the unknown of what's next, the realization that it's over when it's over. Nobody will look back on Williams' pick-six against Western Michigan like they do Thomas Rooks' touchdown against Ohio State or Juice Williams' score against the Buckeyes 20 years later. Big plays don't mean much to the masses when the season becomes irrelevant. But it means something to the individual. It means something to those guys in the locker room. And Saturday, many of those guys will run through the tunnel in Memorial Stadium one final time.

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