Spring practice has allowed some players to establish themselves as the new cream of the crop on rosters across the Big Ten. While summer might bring another shake-up with the arrival of more freshmen and transfers, it’s time to take a look at the best players on campus for each school right now.
We did the top-10 lists for Big Ten East Division teams last week. Now it's time for the West. Batting leadoff: Illinois.
1. QB Wes Lunt: A legitimate NFL-caliber quarterback, Lunt threw for 2,761 yards and 14 touchdowns, with six interceptions last season. He needs to improve his completion rate (56.1 in 2015), which would be greatly helped if more receivers held on to the ball. Lunt has dealt with several coaching changes during his career, but will look to go out on a high note as a senior.
2. DE Dawuane Smoot: The Illini shouldn't suffer too much from the loss of Jihad Ward because they have another star pass-rusher still on campus. Smoot had 15 tackles for loss, eight sacks and three forced fumbles a year ago and should thrive for new coach Lovie Smith.
3. DL Chunky Clements: Another big-time player on the defensive line, which is definitely the strength of this team. Clements had 11.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks from his interior position last year.
5. S Taylor Barton: A three-year starter, Barton led the Illini with four interceptions last year while making 56 tackles.
(tie) 6 and 7. OTs Austin Schmidt and Christian DiLauro: They started as bookend tackles last season, with Schmidt on the left side and DiLauro on the right. They could flip some this season. Both are developing into legitimate Big Ten tackles.
8. WR Malik Turner: With Mikey Dudek suffering another devastating ACL injury, Turner will be one of the receivers who to step up. He had 510 receiving yards last season, second-best on the team, and three touchdowns.
9. DE Rob Bain: Another strong piece on that veteran-laden defensive line, Bain recorded six tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in 2015.
10. RB Dre Brown: The Illini were expecting big things from Brown last spring until he tore his ACL. Still just a redshirt freshman, Brown is supremely talented and can make a major impact if he's fully healthy this fall.