Looks Like University Of Illinois – James Knight

This is totally the nickname class. When Howard Watkins Jr. enrolled early last week, the announcement press release referred to him as “HoJo”. Which means I’m totally hoping that when Knight shows up on the roster, he’s not James Knight – just his nickname: Jimmy Jam. [Read more…]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Nathan Hobbs

I’m two behind here, and the final flourish happens these next two weekends, so I’d better get caught up. Let’s start with Nathan Hobbs and then I’ll try to get to James Knight tomorrow before falling into a deep depression after we lose at Michigan to move to 12-8 on the season. [Read more…]

Filling The Roster Holes

The recruiting dead period ended yesterday (for a month, from December 11th to January 11th, coaches can’t contact recruits). With that completed and the coaches back on the road (plus Signing Day only 19 days away), let’s look at the holes left to fill. [Read more…]

For Better Or Worse

I’ve been playing around with the 2017 roster (no truth to the rumor that I have an electronic football game from the 70’s and I change the names of all the players with a Sharpie once I make a new depth chart because that would be crazy who would do that), and I’ve come to one conclusion: we’ll be the youngest team in D-I next year. If that’s true, will we be better or worse? [Read more…]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Owen Carney

Can we maybe restrict players from committing between Christmas and New Years? I have so much going on that week that I can’t really LLUOI. So let’s all agree that if a player as good and necessary as Owen Carney is going to commit, let’s make him wait until January wait no that’s dumb go Lovie huge get.
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Hit Rate

I’ll get to the LLUOI’s for Hobbs and Carney in a bit, but before I get to that, coming off my run of celebrations (birthday, Christmas, Festivus), I have some general recruiting thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head over the past week. When I’m busy and can’t find time to write, the thoughts get backed up in my head. This is me letting them out. [Read more…]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Howard Watkins

If I was a recruit, I would totally commit during the holiday Dead Period (December 12 through January 12). Only “electronic communication” is allowed – nothing face to face – so recruits have time to get away from all the coaches in their face and clear their head. Howard Watkins cleared his head.. and picked Illinois. [Read more…]

Another Thought on Rebuilds


Last Friday, Robert argued that the impending graduation of 24 Illinois seniors is a major blow to Lovie’s rebuild, and normally next year should be making strides, but instead is the true beginning of the rebuild.  So, his 25 game clock started this year.  Many experts would likely agree with Robert. According to Phil Steele, the biggest factor determining next year’s record is this season’s record, and the second biggest factor is the number of returning starts.

If a team’s record were the only metric for measuring improvement, I would agree with that reasoning.  Because of graduation losses, next year’s record will likely look a lot like this year’s record.  However, the major challenges and changes to a coaching staff affects the whole roster, and being a senior or sophomore becomes less relevant.  I believe (and Josh Whitman likely does too) that significant statistical improvement in key aspects of the game also constitutes success in the early stages of a rebuilding effort, and that if no such statistical improvement occurs next season, Lovie’s rebuilding efforts are likely to end in failure.

Lovie’s schemes are built on execution.  At every stop in his career as head coach, Year 1 was always worse than Year 0 (the last year of the previous head coach).  Every one.  Playing mistake-free football takes repetition in the scheme, and repetition takes some time.  Stanley Green may have driven me crazy 90 times this year, but next year he will only drive me crazy 36 times, and even fewer the following year.  If Taylor Barton had taken all those reps this year instead of Stanley Green, then I would believe the senior attrition would be more painful.

Although Robert is correct that it will take time for Illinois’ young talent to reach their full potential, I think we will see them start contributing next year since they have taken the reps.  My friend David loves to point out that future All-B1G level players see the field as freshmen, even lineman.  Recruiting this year needs to have more guys who force their way onto the field.  While the record may not show it, I believe that the absence of measurable statistical improvements in Year 2 is a strong indication that the rebuilding effort will end in failure.

To test my hypothesis, I searched Power 5 head coach openings since 2006, and pulled some criteria much like those Robert used in his post.  First, I only looked at teams where the previous coach was fired.  Goodbye Bobby Petrino to the Atlanta Falcons and the retirements of Bobby Bowden and Joe Tiller.  I then eliminated any school where the replacement was on staff at the time, which eliminated Dabo Sweeney at Clemson.  I then took out the guys who didn’t make 3 years in the gig, so that eliminated half of Todd Graham’s stops, as well as a few interim years.

Next, I wanted to see who was rebuilding, so I looked at the teams that were worse than 50th in S&P+ when the coach was fired.  Just because Mike Sherman went 6-6 doesn’t mean he didn’t have talent, he was 8th in S&P+ that season.  The Sumlin Year 1 miracle wasn’t much of one.  I discounted Robert’s record criteria, because schedules matter.

Those criteria yielded 35 openings to consider.  They fell into 4 main categories:

+The last guy wasn’t cutting it as a coach, but was a pretty good recruiter

+The last guy went and got himself a better job

+The last guy was a decent coach, but this team has no talent

+It’s time to blow this whole thing up

The first two categories are not applicable to Illinois.  Our rebuild was not because of poor coaching and amazing recruiting: the talent base at Illinois is ok at the top, but lacks depth.  And the coach certainly didn’t land a better job (Beckman is unemployed and Cubit is the OC at Dartmouth).

Since Illinois and its job falls into the latter two categories, I decided to exclude any teams that showed a 25% S&P+ improvement in Year 1.  The logic was that high talent teams, and unique schemes.  That is not the Illinois template.  This eliminated Auburn, which I felt is fair since Auburn’s two coaching changes were with a much higher talent ceiling than Illinois.  The elimination removed a few rebuilds like Dantonio at Michigan St., Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, and Briles at Baylor, all of which involved a new scheme introduced at the new school that was not being done in the conference.  The only case that comes close to the scenario at Illinois is Franklin at Vanderbilt, so I added it back in.

The interesting note from my list at this point…is that all the teams except one on this list now are historically lower tier Power 5 programs.  A lineup of North Carolina, Stanford, Duke, Washington St. and Purdue is not exactly the cream of the crop.  Penn St. is the lone exception, and that is Franklin’s first year in the midst of a sanctions bite, so I removed that one from my list.

Year 2 of a regime really give a strong indication from this group the direction the program is going to head in the rebuild.  I filtered the groups into two categories, those that showed a 10% improvement in S&P+ in Year 2, and those that didn’t.  Here is the list of those that didn’t:

+ David Cutcliffe at Duke

+ Paul Wulff at Washington St.

+ Doug Marrone at Syracuse

+ Joker Phillips at Kentucky

+ Charlie Weis at Kansas

+ Kyle Flood at Rutgers

+ Darrell Hazell at Purdue

Robert said he was going to check out for 25 games after Purdue this year, but as you can see from this list, without a significant improvement statistically next year (record may remain the same), Illinois is pretty well sunk.

For contrast, here is the other list:

  • Butch Davis at North Carolina
  • Jim Harbaugh at Stanford
  • Bill Snyder at Kansas St.
  • Kevin Wilson at Indiana
  • Jerry Kill at Minnesota
  • Mike Leach at Washington St.
  • Sonny Dykes at California
  • Mike MacIntyre at Colorado
  • James Franklin at Vanderbilt
  • Mark Stoops at Kentucky
  • Dave Doeren at NC State
  • Paul Chryst at Pitt
  • Derek Mason at Vandy
  • Dave Clawson at Wake Forest.

So, counting out next year is a bad idea in my mind.

There are 5 rebuilds that really fit Illinois according to the stats.  They are:

  • Bill Snyder at Kansas St.
  • Kevin Wilson at Indiana
  • Mike Leach at Washington St.
  • Sonny Dykes at California
  • Dave Doeren at NC State

In each case, the new staff came in with their own guys, and blew up everything the prior group was doing.  Leach and Snyder are probably outliers to this, as they are pretty much unique in college football.  So, looking at the the remaining three.  All had a process and they followed it, putting a lot of youth on the field early and taking some bad losses while rebuilding the program.  The results are best so far at NC State, and it is telling to see they are .500 at best in the 3rd year.  This rebuild will take some time, but if next year is not a statistical improvement on the field, the clock may not have even started for an Illinois rebuild.

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Delshawn Phillips

First off, can we just give him the #6 jersey?  Terrorizing juco defender named Phillips has a huge senior season and gets selected first team All Big Ten and then hands his #6 jersey to a terrorizing juco defender named Phillips.  Somebody make that happen.  [Read more…]


Reason #144 why I would make for a terrible college football coach: I can panic at the drop of a hat. (Note to self – “At The Drop Of A Hat” would be a fantastic post title for a Cliffmas retrospective.)  Lovie never seems to panic about anything, which is why he’s my football coach and I’m sitting here writing about him. Take this recruiting class, for example. [Read more…]