Best of Illini: No. 15, Dawuane Smoot

Best of Illini: No. 15, Dawuane Smoot

Why he’s important: Play every game this season like he did against Texas State and Smoot will have a haul of postseason hardware to call his own. Then again, it’s likely not going to happen that the Ohio native will record two sacks each game like he did against the Bobcats last September. But that nonconference game showed a glimpse of the potential and talent the Illinois coaches have touted since Smoot first arrived on campus. He’s now added weight and gotten used to that additional weight to likely factor significantly into the defensive line this fall. Widely thought to be the starter heading into last season at the LEO position — the hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot Illinois uses — he could never beat out DeJazz Woods last season. Smoot played in all 13 games — but all in a reserve role. Barring a setback or the emergence of Carroll Phillips this August, Smoot is likely the go-to guy starting at LEO in the opener against Kent State. Smoot finished last season with 33 tackles, including 71/2 for loss, and 21/2 sacks, with easily his best game against Texas State. If he can continue to develop, Smoot gives Illinois a quality pass rusher to pair with Jihad Ward this season, which could only boost the beleaguered Illini defense.

Fast fact: The big fan of Julius Peppers was a track standout at Groveport-Madison High School in Ohio, showcasing his versatility in the shot put, discus and 400 hurdles.

Last year’s ranking: No. 18

Tomorrow: No. 14

No. 16: Rob Bain
No. 17: Austin Schmidt
No. 18: Taylor Zalewski
No. 19: Joe Spencer
No. 20: Clayton Fejedelem
No. 21: Tyler White
No. 22: Justin Hardee
No. 23: Jarrod Clements
No. 24: Nick Allegretti
No. 25: Henry Enyenihi
No. 26: Malik Turner
No. 27: Ainslie Johnson
No. 28: Dionte Taylor
No. 29: Darius Mosely
No. 30: Andrew Davis
No. 31: Ryan Frain
No. 32: LaKeith Walls
No. 33: Eric Finney
No. 34: Pat Flavin
No. 35: Gabe Megginson
No. 36: James Crawford
No. 37: Caleb Day
No. 38: Kenny Nelson
No. 39: Ke’Shawn Vaughn
No. 40: Chris O’Connor
No. 41: Mike Svetina
No. 42: Paul James
No. 43: Jaylen Dunlap
No. 44: Carroll Phillips
No. 45: Tyrin Stone-Davis
No. 46: Zach Hirth
No. 47: Zach Heath
No. 48: Jeff George Jr.
No. 49: David Reisner
No. 50: Jimmy Fitzgerald