Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 20, 2015

Illinois enjoyed a breakthrough in 2014 under Tim Beckman, getting to a bowl for the first time since 2011. Beckman hopes to build on that in Year Four in Champaign.

[ MORE: Illinois team homepage | 2014 Illinois stats | 2014 Illinois schedule ]

All of the players who earned postseason honors from the Big Ten return: S Taylor Barton; LB Mason Monheim; OL Ted Karras; CB V?Angelo Bentley; DE Jihad Ward; WR Mikey Dudek. And RB Josh Ferguson also is back, in addition to QB Wes Lunt. So, many good building blocks will be back in 2015.

But the Fighting Illini lost some good players, including QB Reilly O?Toole, who took over late in the season for an ineffective Lunt and led the team to wins vs. Penn State and Northwestern and started the bowl. But O?Toole didn?t make the list. And neither did P Justin DuVernois, who was third in the Big Ten in punting (44.0 avg.).

Here are the Top Five Illinois players who are gone:

OT Simon Cvijanovic. He manned the key left tackle spot but was hurt the last three-and-half games of 2014. Still, Cvijanovic often was a steady force on a line that at times struggled to get a consistent push.

S Zane Petty. He ranked second on the team in tackles with 109 and also paced the squad in passes defended (8) and passes broken up (8).

DT Austin Teitsma. No Illini d-lineman made as many tackles, as the undersized Teitsma had 53 with 9.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.

S/LB Earnest Thomas III. He was fifth on the team in stops with 60 and could make some big plays from his ?Star? spot, as he had 9.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks.

RB Donovonn Young. He never may have lived up to his potential, but Young still was a key contributor. In 2014, he ran 94 times for 379 yards and six touchdowns and caught 22 passes for 92 yards.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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