LB Jake Hansen Could Lead Illini to B1G West Sleeper Status

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The Illinois Fighting Illini, coming off a surprising bowl appearance season in 2019, could be a sleeper team in the Big Ten West division this fall. That is of course provided the coronavirus pandemic is cleared up in time to get college football season started in late summer.

As it stands, spring college football practice season has been wiped out by the COVID-19 outbreak, a topic that Illinois star linebacker Jake Hansen joined the Illini’s media teleconference to discuss on Monday morning.

Wisconsin will likely be the favorite to win the division, with Minnesota right there behind them. The Illini will be a sleeper to reach the Big Ten championship game and they’re a team to remember if you’ll be betting on college football with a bet bonus code. Another team to watch in the division is Iowa, but if the Illini are to leapfrog the Hawkeyes, as well as the Gophers and Badgers, then they’ll need to do more than just pick up where they left off last fall.

They’ll need to take it up a notch.

“I think we know that we can play with just about anyone in the country based off of some things we did last year,” Jake Hansen said from his home in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

“We just have to put it all together every Saturday and be a team that’s more consistent.”

Dick Butkus is the identity of Illini football and he’s such a linebacking legend that the award honoring the nation’s best at the position is named for him. Hansen was a semifinalist for the award last year.

Injury shortened the rising senior’s season to just nine games, but he was still leading the nation in forced fumbles (7) and ranked fifth in fumbles recovered (3) entering the bowl season.

The former 2-star recruit told the media that he’s fully recovered from injury now and he’s feeling fine.

“It’s the best I’ve felt in a pretty long time,” Hansen said yesterday.

“I feel really healthy and my body is getting right. Honestly, for me, it was going to be a little bit less spring ball so it wasn’t going to be something that was going to impact me individually as much, but as a team it’s going to impact us.”

“I’m feeling really good, I’m 100 percent healthy and I’m excited for this next year and having a healthy season and good year.”

He was the 16 graded linebacker in the nation by Pro Football Focus with a ranking of 79.6 entering the bowl games. While spring ball is wiped out for everybody, and many teams typically hold a lot of players out, Illinois was a team that was really banged up down the stretch of this past season and therefore would be resing a lot of key players; or make them do less than extensive work.

“We weren’t the healthiest going into the spring,” Hansen said. “so (the break) will help a lot getting healthy.

“My time this spring was going to be somewhat limited,” Hansen told the teleconference. “Right now, I’m going to focus on getting a lot of reps and being smart.”

He also used the teleconference as an opportunity to weigh in on what’s currenlty going on in the world, and the unprecedented times we’re living in.

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“It’s a really concerning issue for our country,” Jake Hansen added.

“Lately, I’ve just been working out, trying to stay in shape for football. Hopefully this stuff is resolved by next semester or the summer so we can get back up to school.”

“To not be able to play football right before we were about to start, it’s a little frustrating. It’s not something that just we are dealing with, the whole country is dealing with so you have to remember that. And there are people that have lost their lives because of this issue.”

“Honestly, I think, from what I’ve heard, we’re at a less of a risk to have a severe case of this virus.”

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“I think we have to feel lucky that we’re in good shape and at a younger age when this is hitting our country and hitting our world.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation.

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link

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