After an impressive win in the Texas Bowl, Illinois turned its attention to three underclassmen considering whether to enter the NFL draft.
The Illini seemed guaranteed to lose one player and most likely two. But all three? It's tough for any team to envision.
Illinois must deal with the sobering reality after going 3-for-3 on NFL departures.
Star defensive tackle Corey Liuget told ESPN's Joe Schad on Tuesday afternoon that he'll forgo his senior season and enter the draft, joining Illinois teammates Mikel Leshoure and Martez Wilson among the underclassmen turning pro this year.
Leshoure powered Illinois' ground attack and Wilson turned in an outstanding year on both defense and special teams, but Liuget is quite possibly the biggest loss for Illinois. He was the Big Ten's most disruptive defensive tackle and one of the nation's more underrated defensive linemen this season.
Liuget earned consensus second-team All-Big Ten honors -- he should have been a first-teamer -- after recording 63 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries. He led Illinois in TFLs, sacks, and QB hurries, which isn't easy to do from the defensive tackle spot.
Anyone who watched the Texas Bowl saw what Liuget can do to a good offense. He transformed both his body and his play from his sophomore to junior seasons, and he certainly looks ready to move on to the next level.
It doesn't make things any easier for Illinois, which will really miss Liuget in the interior line. Defensive tackles like Liuget just don't come around every year.
Ron Zook's coaching staff upgrades made a big difference in 2010. Without Liuget, Wilson and Leshoure, the staff needs to do an even better job in 2011.