There is a reason to be excited about the upcoming Illinois football campaign.
I think this is the first time since the early Ron Zook era where I felt Illinois football has a chance to compete with some of the best teams in the Big Ten. The talent level has risen for the Illini, even though the depth isn’t great. The talent that I speak of is getting some recognition as well.
In Phil Steele’s recent preview of the 2020 season, he has recognized Illinois punter Blake Hayes as a third-team All-American. This means that Steele sees Hayes as a top three punter in college football. This preseason honor doesn’t come as a surprise to many Illinois fans.
Hayes was the 2019 Big Ten Punter of the Year. 32 out of his 77 punts ended up inside the 20-yard line, which enables the Illini defense to have more room to stop the opposing team. Hayes also set a variety of punting records for Illinois.
Needless to say, Hayes also landed on Steele’s preseasons All-Big Ten First Team. That gives the young Aussie the designation as the best punter in the conference. But Hayes wasn’t the only Illinois player to land on the preseason All-Big Ten team list.
Illinois linebacker Jake Hansen checked in on the preseason All-Big Ten second-team list. Hansen finished his injury-shortened junior year with 71 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 1 interception. Look for him to be in the running for an All-American team this year.
The Illini also had center Doug Kramer and tackle Alex Palczewski come in on the All-Big Ten third-team. I am kind of surprised Kramer isn’t a little higher on this list considering his talent and number of starts during his career.
The offensive line for Illinois continued to get recognition with guard Kendrick Green making the preseason All-Big Ten fourth team. He is arguably the best offensive lineman we have on the team. And last but not least, linebacker Milo Eifler and safety Sydney Brown also check in on the fourth team. Both players are key cogs in the Illinois defense.
Illinois has seven players on the All-Big Ten list for the 2020 campaign. I believe, if the season is played, this program will have the best year since we made the Rose Bowl in the late 2000s. I think we will have some special talent on the field.