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MnB B1G Preview: Three key players for Illinois football

In continuance of our Big Ten preview, we take a look into the three key players for Illinois football this upcoming season

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 season brought yet another forgettable year to the Fighting Illini football program. Under second year head coach Tim Beckman, the team failed to reach .500 again and mustered up a lackluster 4-8 season and only winning one game.

However, as poor as the season was a year ago, it was actually an improvement over the year prior. The Fighting Illini won only two games in 2012 and failed to win a conference game.

If the Illini football team plans to take a step forward this season, their key players must also take a step forward on the field. Here's a look - with help from our friends at The Champaign Room - at the three key players for Illinois football this season.

Josh Ferguson - Running Back

Josh Ferguson, a returning junior, had a slow start to the 2013 season as a sophomore. Eclipsing over 10 carries once in  the first five weeks, his production seemed to turn the corner during the tailend of the season as he finished the 2013 campaign with 779 yards rushing on 141 carries with seven touchdowns.

Ferguson is also a legitimate threat in the passing game as well, catching 50 passes for 535 yards and four touchdowns last season. His receiving average was also very impressive as he averaged around 10 yards per catch.

If the Illini can figure out their offense, Ferguson could very well become a legitimate backfield threat in 2014.

Below is a highlight tape from Ferguson's 2013 season.

Mason Monheim - Linebacker

Mason Monheim, a returning junior, was a physical presence on the defense during his freshman season. Winning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors twice, he also lead the team and the conference freshman in tackles with 86.

Fast-forward to 2013, Monheim arguably took another step forward He exceeded his tackle numbers from the previous year with 97 tackles and also amassed four sacks as well.

It is safe to say that he will become to heart and soul of the Illini defense in 2014.

Below is a video of Monheim's training regimen.

V'Angelo Bentley - Cornerback

V'Angelo Bentley, a returning junior, hasn't necessarily started his Illini career with a "bang," so to speak. However, that is looking to change in the 2014 season. With a full two years under his belt, now we can see possible development that gives him a reason to be on this list.

So far heading into his junior year, it's going pretty well. He recorded an 89-yard pick-six in the Illini spring game. For someone who only recorded one interception a year go, he's off to a good start.

He's also pretty quick and took back a 100-yard kick return to open the season last year, so a threat to break one loose is always present.

Below is a small feature on Bentley and his kick return.

Joshua Henschke covers University of Michigan football for SB Nation's Maize n Brew. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaHenschke.