Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 7, 2016

Illinois has to welcome putting 2015 in its rear-view mirror.

It was a bizarre season that saw Tim Beckman fired a week before the season started for alleged mistreatment of players. Bill Cubit was appointed interim and then permanent head coach, going a disappointing 5-7 a year after the program made a bowl. Then, A.D. Mike Thomas was fired.

The defense made strides, but the offense struggled. The run game was the worst in the Big Ten (129.3 ypg). Things have to improve, right?

Cubit will have some talent to work with, as players like S Taylor Barton, E Dawuane Smoot, LB T.J. Neal and Ts Chunky Clements and Rob Bain are back on defense. The offense welcomes back QB Wes Lunt, RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn, WRs Mikey Dudek, Malik Turner and Marchie Murdock, among others. The losses of CBs V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence, along with LB Mason Monheim, will hurt. But here's a look at the five biggest departures from the 2015 Illini.

WR Geronimo Allison. He was one of the Big Ten's top wideouts in 2015, ranking fourth in the league with 65 catches for 882 yards with three TDs. The former JC transfer was a deep threat who could move the chains and make big plays.

S Clayton Fejedelem. He enjoyed an unconventional career, beginning at NAIA St. Xavier before transferring to Illinois. Fejedelem closed his career as the Big Ten's top tackler with 140 (11.7 pg). He earned second-team All-Big Ten from the media.

RB Josh Ferguson. A versatile weapon in the run and pass game, Ferguson often sparked the offense with the multi-faceted skills. He leaves campus with 2,586 yards rushing and 168 catches.

G Ted Karras. A third-team All-Big Ten pick by the media, Karras was a force at guard for the Illini. And he provided leadership up front, as well as toughness.

DE Jihad Ward. He arrived in Champaign as a JC transfer before the 2014 season and made an impact. This past season, Ward became a star en route to earning consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. He finished 2015 No. 6 on the squad in tackles.


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