11. Donovonn Young (7) - This weekend's matchup with Miami (not that Miami, the other Miami. The Ohio Miami, not the 305 Miami. I know, what a letdown) should look like a smoking hot blackjack table for Young. The Red Hawks are giving up over 250 yards rushing per game. Plain and simple -- Miami has pocket change and stale chips for a defense. Young needs a few easy payouts to get his confidence and rhythm flowing -- he's averaging 3.7 yards per carry and less than 43 yards a game.
10. Houston Bates (9) - I asked Bates this week to grade himself for his play in the first three games. He said C-plus, a mark that he and I both agreed was a little harsh. Still learning the Leo spot, Bates has 0.5 quarterback takedowns to this point. With that in mind and the tough grade he gave himself, room for improvement is both glaring and exciting.
09. V'Angelo Bentley (11) - OK, here's the word. Last season Illinois ranked 107th in kick returns and 118th in punt returns. That's just gross. This season though, kick return ranks 11th and punt return 51st. Hmmm… Last season Bentley, just a freshman at the time, wasn't on the kick or punt return team. This season he is. Hmmm…
08. Eaton Spence (8) - And the guy can tackle too!? 14 stops against Washington. Yes, that's right, it is the second-most tackles in a game this season by a Big Ten player. Some guy named named Jon Brown has the most. But yeah, Spence continues to be the strong, silent type. He doesn't talk much, just produces.
07. Earnest Thomas (4) - "The shortest answer is doing the thing." Yeah, I'm going to keep quoting Ernest Hemingway. Deal with it. Thomas keeps doing his thing, now fourth on the team with 21 tackles. He also has a team-best four pass break-ups.
06. Simon Cvijanovic (6) - Still the only offensive lineman at the party, Cvijanovic plays all the snaps and plays them well. Random, but did you guys know that every starter on the offensive line weighs 300 or more pounds? Yeah, we've only got room for one at a time here in the Dirty Dozen.
05. Ryan Lankford (not rated) - Remember that time I didn't think Lankford was going to be all that good in 2013? Remember when I said he was too small? Remember when I told you corners would be too physical for him? Remember when i told you to forget all of that? Yeah, that's right now. Cubit's offense is enough to nullify Lankford's size limitations. There might only be a chance for one or two strikes in each game, but Lank's speed is so great and Cubit's timing so f'n perfect that there's a good chance the senior wideout will get free for something special. I wish I didn't remember. But Lank keeps reminding me.
04. Josh Ferguson (5) - In the previous Dirty Dozen I put out the call for a nickname for Ferguson because, you know, Swiss Army Knife is way too cliche. Robnoxious, take it from here: "How about "Smartphone"? Given all of the things that these things can do nowadays I thought it was the ultimate all-utility option? It works as a phone, camera, video recorder, check email, internet, you name it these phones do it." And so does Ferguson. Smartphone leads the team with over 103 total yards per game. He actually has more yards receiving (185) than rushing (125). Like the new iPhone, that's "Easy to Love."
03. Mason Monheim (3) - Mr. Perfect keeps getting perfecter. Mr. Perfecter. He's now second in the Big Ten (behind that same guy I've never heard of, Jon Brown?) with 30 tackles in three games. I believe that's 10 per, if my math is correct. Last season he was the first-ever Illini freshman to lead the team in tackles. Even with Brown hogging stops, Monheim has increased his average by nearly three more stops per game. Mr. Perfecter.
02. Jonathan Brown (2) - 152. That's the number of tackles Brown is on pace for this season. And that's not figuring in a potential bowl game. The last time an Illini defender reached the 150 mark, some guy named J Leman was named an All American for it. Hell, since 1971 only five Illinois defenders - Leman, Dana Howard (twice), Darrick Brownlow (twice), John Gillen and John Sullivan - have surpassed 150. In case you're wondering the most Dick Butkus ever had? 145. Yeah, Brown's in good company.
01. Nathan Scheelhaase (1) - He's still showing, and I'm still telling. After a shaky first half against Washington JB and all his tackling fury appeared to be in line to take over the top spot. But Scheelhaase, the old savvy, battle toughened vet that he is, wasn't ready to give up the throne. He led the team to 21 points in the second half, using his legs to get the offense going again. I'll hand it to Scheelhaase, the guy dies harder than Bruce Willis. Although the Chicago trip ended in a loss filled with some shaky moments, Scheelhaase still leads the Big Ten in total yards and passing yards. More importantly, he's still stop the Dirty Dozen.
For three weeks now, Scheelhaase has commanded the throne. Heavy is the head who wears the crown!