The Illinois Fighting Illini finished 7-6 under Ron Zook in 2011.
A major area for improvement is on the defensive side of the ball. Despite losing Corey Liuget and Martez Wilson to the NFL, the Fighting Illini do return a fair amount of talent on defense.
In the Big Ten, the Fighting Illini will need to be stout against the run. They will also need to be blanket-like in the secondary, especially with the signing of Russell Wilson with the Wisconsin Badgers.
Illinois is probably not set to contend this season, but several players could take another step forward.
Here are the seven best players on the Illinois' defense:
Jonathan Brown will take over on the weakside for the Fighting Illini defense.
He saw time as a true freshman in 2010, and managed to pick up 31 tackles and intercept one ball.
His size and athleticism make him a huge threat in pass coverage, and he has shown a knack for making the big play.
Brown will be expected to soften the blow of Martez Wilson in the linebacking corps. He has the talent and potential to do just that.
Craig Wilson has one more chance to prove himself in Champagne.
Once a highly touted recruit, Wilson is moving to the defensive interior after spending three years on the offensive line.
Wilson will have the enviable task of covering for the departure of Corey Liuget in the trenches.
He has the potential, and also the strength to control things at the point of attack.
The rest is up to Wilson.
Steve Hull was recruited as a receiver but has since moved to safety.
Last season he made 19 tackles in eight games, and his background shows that he has the athleticism needed to roam center field.
He also recorded one sack last season, and possesses the physicality needed to play in the box against the run.
Hull could be a breakout performer in 2011.
Akeem Spence was Corey Liuget's partner on the defensive interior last season.
In 2011, Spence will look to take the reins.
After recording 45 tackles with one sack and four tackles for a loss, Spence possesses the skillset needed to be a great run stopper.
He uses his squat frame to eat double teams and stuff the run, but he is also athletic enough to chase down a nearby ballcarrier.
Spence could wind up being the best player for this Illinois defense.
Trulon Henry will be expected to be a senior leader in the defensive backfield.
Henry was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selectionin 2010 after recording 65 tackles and three interceptions.
He is a physical presence, and he is also an intimidating hitter with a nose for the ball.
Henry is expected to be a veteran presence at free safety. With his physical tools, he should be all that and more.
Tavon Wilson is the other half in what should be a great corner duo for Ron Zook.
Wilson was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten player in 2010. He recorded 48 tackles, had one interception, and also broke up nine passes.
He uses his size to overpower receivers at the line of scrimmage, but he also has the recovery speed needed to stick with fast receivers on the outside.
Wilson may never wow you with supreme athleticism but his physicality and attitude make him a worthy number on corner in the Big Ten.
In 2009, Ian Thomas led the Fighting Illini with 95 tackles.
Last season, Thomas took a backseat to Martez Wilson. He recorded 67 tackles with one pick and 6.5 tackles in the backfield.
Thomas is the unquestioned leader on this Illini defense.
He has range, and understands how to play his position. He can play at the line of scrimmage, or he can cover a receiver in space. He is also a great tackler.
If Ron Zook wants to turn this defense around Thomas must have a big year.
Thomas definitely has the talent to deliver.