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Keep your enemies close: Illinois Fighting Illini

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While they are still Illinois, make no mistake about it, they’re continuing to improve down in Champaign

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Who are the best players on the team Wisconsin is playing in any given week? We aim to find out and give you mini scouting reports on them so you can sound smart talking to your friends by saying “well, actually...” and then whatever smart thing we tell you. You’re welcome in advance for being the go-to friend in your group for Illinois football knowledge.

We don’t always have much to say about Illinois on the football field and...that will continue, but! Here is a breakdown of the best players on each side of the ball for the Fighting Illini.

Best Offensive Player: RB Reggie Corbin, senior, No. 2

While I can almost assuredly assume the two independent topics “exciting” and “Illinois offensive football” haven’t crossed your mind at the same time in the recent past, there is one player who’s capable of doing that on offense for the Illini. Corbin, a home run threat every time he touches the ball, is probably the toughest competition for Jonathan Taylor in a race out of the rest of the conference.

Corbin had a productive year in 2018 where he really broke onto the scene, with 128 carries for 1085 yards, a staggering 8.5 yards per carry, and nine touchdowns. While Corbin also had 16 receptions, there has to be a way for the Illini to get the ball into Corbin’s hands more often. A true speed threat, Corbin will be an enticing prospect for NFL scouts after this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Illinois at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Best Defensive Player: LB Jake Hansen, junior No. 35

After an encouraging season in 2016, Hansen was primed for a breakout campaign in 2017, but tore his ACL before he was able to play a game for the Illini. Fast forward to 2018, and all Hansen did was rack up 95 tackles, 8.5 TFLs and a sack along with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Hansen anchors an improving Illini defense that has struggled to effectively stop the run or pass at an acceptable rate. While talent has been in short supply for Lovie Smith, Hansen returns in 2019 to lead a unit that continues to slowly stockpile FBS level talent.

An aside: Illinois’ best defensive player last season, Bobby Roundtree, a future NFL talent on the defensive line, unfortunately had a tragic accident during the spring down in Florida, and football is the least of his concerns at the moment. We wish Bobby a speedy recovery from his injury - he had spinal surgery in May.