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Illinois Fighting Illini Key Players and Newcomers for 2013

Nathan Scheelhaase Illinois Fighting Illini

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

While the 2012 season that saw the Illinois Fighting Illini football team go 2-10 was a major disappointment for the program, there is much to be optimistic about in Champaign for the 2013 season.

While having a losing season is never a good thing for a Big Ten football program, one of the upsides to the situation is it gives new players a chance to step up and prove themselves worthy of playing time.

Starting with the offense, obviously the focal point will be senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who will be entering his third season as the man under center. Look for him to be the leader of the offense and put up big numbers.

Outside of him, look for junior running back Donovonn Young to break out as one of the top running backs in the Big Ten and add to a line of good running backs to come out of Illinois. He is a great receiver out of the backfield and also led the team in rushing. Another player set to breakout is sophomore Justin Hardee, who put up solid numbers as a freshman.

On defense, the leader will be Mason Monheim. Look for sophomore linebacker Mike Svetina to step up and play an increased role on the defense as well as special teams. He had40 total tackles and two and a half tackles for loss as a freshman.

The Illini brought in the 42nd overall recruiting class according to Scout.com. Four-star quarterback Aaron Bailey was the headliner of the class, and he is a major dual-threat quarterback who looks to be the starting quarterback of the future.

Other players who could step in and see playing time early are junior college receiver Martize Barr, who comes into a receiving group that didn’t put up much production so there is need for a playmaker. Another junior college player who could step in is defensive tackle Abens Cajuste, who will look to replace the production of Akeem Spence.

Erik Sargent is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Erik_Sargent, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.