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Illinois football season preview Pt. 2: Running Back



Illinois football
Jan 2, 2023; Tampa, FL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Reggie Love III (23) runs with the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the first quarter during the 2023 ReliaQuest Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois football season preview Pt. 2: Running Back

Let’s not bury the lede here; everyone in and around Champaign wants to know how the Illini will replace running back Chase Brown. The All-Big Ten Second Team performer was second in the conference (Mohammed Ibrahim) in rushing yards in 2022. Brown’s 3,206 career rushing yards is second in program history. Suffice it to say that Chase Brown left his mark on Illinois football. Despite Brown’s success on the field, replacing his production might not be difficult.

Illinois’ ability to replace Brown’s production is no slight on him or the position. Also, the running game is not likely to look like it did last year. One of the stable running backs may emerge as the alpha, but it’s more likely offensive coordinator Barry Lunney, Jr. employs a by-committee approach.

So, who’s the committee?

Whoever Lunney and the offensive staff choose, they have the advantage of running behind one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten country, if not the country. The committee does not start without Redshirt sophomore running back Josh McCray in the conversation. McCray had a breakout freshman season, gaining over 500 yards rushing. The plan was to have McCray and Brown share carries in 2022, but he sustained an injury that limited him to four games.

Brown and McCray were supposed to be a “Thunder and Lightning” backfield in 2022. Though that didn’t happen, Reggie Love III allows Lunney and the offensive staff to have that in 2023. At 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, McCray is the “Thunder,” and Love (5-foot-11 and 190 pounds) is the “Lightning.” Love did lead the Illini in rushing last year and should expect his role to expand in the fall.

The best of the rest.

McCray and Love will likely carry the lion’s share of the load in 2023, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any talented runners in this running back room. Brown’s departure means there are about 300 carries that need to be dispersed. That means there needs to be a third running back in the rotation. Redshirt freshman Jordan Anderson is the leading candidate to join the rotation. Anderson had a great spring; the staff love his size (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and athleticism.

Keep an eye on true freshman Kaden Feagin. He’s most likely to redshirt but has impressed the staff since arriving on campus and could press to be in the rotation. Aiden Laughery is a versatile running back with serious speed who can be a threat in the passing game. The staff loves this running back room, and it isn’t hard to see why.

Armchair Illini is a comprehensive site dedicated to covering University of Illinois Athletics owned and operated by Alex Kyi. Dante Pryor has been writing about College Football for years on Saturday Blitz and is now the Lead Football Author for Armchair Illini.