Key players: Martez Wilson and Chandler Harnish

Key players: Martez Wilson and Chandler Harnish

By Jerry Burnes and Jimmy Johnson

Illinois-LB Martez Wilson

To say expectations were high for Martez Wilson when he arrived at Illinois in 2007 would be a major understatement.

The junior middle linebacker received every recruit accolade coming out Simeon High School, including a rank of 21st player in the country by PrepStar, the number one recruit in Illinois by and being labeled as a five-star recruit by

“He’s been saddled with high expectations,” said Dan Disch, Illinois inside linebackers coach. “He obviously hasn’t lived up to them yet but he’s working to get better every day.”

Wilson was dealt a major setback last season that derailed an opportunity to make the grade on his hype.

During the Fighting Illini’s season opener against Missouri, the 6’4″ 250 pound mike-linebacker suffered a herniated disc in his neck which ended his 2009 season.

Even with his setback, Wilson is one of the 51 candidates for the Butkus Award which is given to the top linebacker in the country.

“He’ll have his hands full and so will our whole defense against their running game,” Disch said.

NIU-QB Chandler Harnish

Quarterback Chandler Harnish may need to dial up a repeat performance of last week if the Huskies are to pull the upset in Champaign on Saturday.

The Fighting Illini will no doubt look to take away the run game and Chad Spann before anything else, leaving the redshirt junior to take over the game again, as he did against North Dakota. Harnish was under center for NIU’s last “boneyard” victory when the Huskies defeated Purdue in 2009.

“The running back’s a good player and the quarterback is one of those players that he can get on the corner and run,” said Illinois head coach Ron Zook. “They’re going to run some zone option with him. He is a good football player, and a good runner. He throws the ball extremely well.”

Against the Fighting Sioux, Harnish ran the ball 21 times for 178 yards and a touchdown, while throwing for 146 yards on 14-of-25 passing with one touchdown and one interception. He spread the ball around in the passing game finding six different receivers. No. 1 wide receiver Landon Cox has been held to just one catch in 2010.

Harnish will face a defense that has been stingy through two games this season. The Illini rank 12th in the nation in rushing defense with 72 yards a game and 60th in pass efficiency defense at 118.4. They are also 13th in the nation in scoring defense with 13 points allowed a game.