Here's a look at the defense, a unit that looks to improve after drastically underachieving in 2012.
First things first, a quick scan of the defensive two-deep brings forth one alarming note -- there's only three seniors on that side of the ball. Lineman Tim Kynard and linebacker Jonathan Brown figure to be prominent players, with safety Ben Mathis earning a scholarship for his final season after performing as a walk-on prior to this spring.
That's a tough wave to ride, no doubt. Further, there's seven juniors mixed in throughout the starting lineup or in back-up roles. That leaves 19 slots occupied by sophomores, redshirt freshmen or true freshmen.
As far as the line goes, Kynard is joined by juniors Jake Howe, Austin Teitsma and Houston Bates. Clearly the line was hit hard by graduation and attrition, with Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence, Justin Staples, Glenn Foster and Darrius Caldwell gone from last year's bunch.
Spence turning pro and Caldwell not taking care of business away from the field stings, leaving behind a group of players that, outside of Kynard, haven't played many meaningful snaps.
Sophomore Kenny Nelson is listed as Kynard's backup, with redshirt freshmen Vontrell Williams and Robbie Bain behind Howe at nose tackle. Sophomore Teko Powell is behind Teitsma, while Dejazz Woods, a junior, is the other 'Leo' end with Bates. Junior college transfer Abe Cajuste is the third guy listed at defensive tackle, but is a player that can play multiple positions along the line.
Linebacker is easily the best position, in terms of star power and top to bottom, on the defensive side for the Illini. Senior Jonathan Brown will look to rebound after battling injuries throughout his junior campaign. He'll be joined by Mason Monheim, who impressed as a freshman in 2012. Behind them, sophomores Mike Svetina, Henry Dickinson and Zeph Grimes form a solid group that should provide more than reliable depth. Redshirt freshman T.J. Neal is a name to keep an eye out for. He may not necessarily be needed this season, but I think he's a guy that could be great down the road.
The STAR position is manned by junior college transfer Eric Finney. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder has some big shoes to fill after Ashante Williams exited after a solid 2012. The backups are young (what else is new), with redshirt freshman B.J. Bello and sophomore Jeremy Whitlow competing behind Finney.
The two current corners are both sophomores, with Eaton Spence and V'Angelo Bentley earning the nod following successful spring campaigns. There's two true freshmen listed behind Bentley, with Darius Mosely and Dillan Cazley fighting for playing time. Look for Mosely to be on the field in some capacity, whether it be in nickel or dime situations or even potentially pushing for a starting spot in the regular look.
At safety, Earnest Thomas returns for his junior year after breaking out as a sophomore. He's joined on the back line by redshirt freshman Taylor Barton, with Ben Mathis and Zane Petty currently labeled as the backups. I expect Petty to move into the starting lineup fairly quickly, as he was injured during the spring and didn't get much of a chance to prove his worth.