Nathan Scheelhaase, QB
It’s the first of many lasts for the four-year starter. While Scheelhaase doesn’t have the passing or total offensive numbers of Georgia’s Aaron Murray or Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, he is tied for third behind those two quarterbacks for most career starts by an FBS quarterback. That’s all fine and dandy, but the real question Illinois supporters want answered is if Scheelhaase is the right fit for Bill Cubit’s offense. And if he can stay healthy. An ankle injury in last season’s opener derailed his 2012 season.
Donovonn Young, RB
A 1,000-yard season. At least. Junior seasons have produced breakout performances from the last two running backs to wear No. 5 in Rashard Mendenhall and Mikel Leshoure. In fact, Mendenhall and Leshoure parlayed their superb junior seasons straight into the NFL. The Texan knows more eyes will focus on him this season after he has shown flashes of his potential. He’ll most certainly want a better performance in this year’s opener than he did last year against Western Michigan (11 carries for 2 yards). He likely will surpass that rushing total on his first carry.
Jonathan Brown, LB
Unquestionably the most talented and experienced starter on defense. If only Tim Beckman could clone those traits throughout the rest of his defensive unit. This is Brown’s first game since Illinois played at Ohio State last year; shoulder ailments caused the senior to miss the final three games. Really, he was never healthy for most of the season after hurting his leg against Penn State in last year’s Big Ten opener. If the 2011 version of Brown shows up against the Salukis, Illinois’ defense should roll.
Kory Faulkner, QB
Has two games of at least 300 passing yards on his resume. Has started the last 18 games for the Salukis. Has the capability to run the ball, so don’t be surprised if he takes off on some designed run plays. Has acquired the game-manager label after struggling during the latter half of the 2012 season. Needless to say, the Salukis will need a career game from the fifth-year senior, who has more career interceptions (18) than touchdowns (16).
MyCole Pruitt, TE
Is the one skill position player who concerns Tim Beckman and his staff the most. “Just hearing word around, he’s one of the top in the country, and he shows it on film,” Beckman said of the St. Louis native. “He’s somebody that you’ve got to be aware of at all times because he’s definitely got some Big Ten caliber in him.” Pruitt hauled in 49 passes for 577 yards and four touchdowns last year, all tops on the team, and only needs eight catches to have 100 for his career. Will test the coverage skills of Illinois’ linebackers early and often.
Bryan Presume, LB
The leader of the defense, the senior posted a team-high 78 tackles last fall. The Kennesaw, Ga., native has a well-traveled career, playing one season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College before transferring to SIU prior to the 2011 season. Emerged last year as a force on defense, returning a fumble 100 yards for a touchdown against Northern Iowa and making a career-high 11 tackles against North Dakota State, the two-time defending FCS national champion.