Five years. Five years ago I wrote about Terry Hawthorne, Justin Green, Akeem Spence and Eric Watts, and ALionEye.com was launched. So happy birthday to ALE (er, kind of). The blog can finally start kindergarten this year.
For this post, I want to start with some thoughts about college football recruiting in general. Maybe a how-to before we get into the what. For starters, I live by the 6.54 rule. I need to trademark it some day. The 6.54 rule is this:
Most college fans, I think, understand college basketball recruiting better than they understand college football recruiting. There are about 100 really good players every year, the rest is a crapshoot, so landing as many of those top-100 players as you can probably means you’ll have a pretty good team. There are other factors, of course, but that’s the general rule.
Football is completely different. There are 85 scholarship players instead of 13. There are 22 starters and several specialists like kickers and return men, versus five starters and maybe eight or nine guys who play in basketball. My first “rule” I developed was a ratio based on that – starters. Then I moved to a scholarship ratio. 85 / 13 = 6.54
I apply that ratio like this. Generally, in basketball, if you land the #35 player in the country, you’re getting a really good player. For football, take that number times 6.54, which means if you land the 229th best player in the country, that’s pretty much the same as landing the 35th best basketball player. (Recruiting is an inexact science, of course – a top-10 guy can bust and a player ranked #300 can get picked in the first round of the draft. So I generally look at that in terms of percentages. Land the #3 basketball player and there’s a 97% chance he’ll be great. Land the #152 player and there’s maybe a 44% chance.)
So I’ve never understood why sites like Rivals and Scout rank 20-25 five-stars in basketball and only 25-30 five-stars in football. Every team football needs to find 44 guys for the depth chart, so wouldn’t it follow that if Rivals ranks 25 five-stars, 75 four-stars, and everyone else as three-stars in basketball that they would rank 160 five-stars and 490 four-stars for football? They do seem to rank around 300 players as four-stars now, but I’ve never understood why five-star is limited to just 25 or so players. Basketball teams go into a recruiting year needing to land a big and a point guard; football teams go into recruiting really needing a tailback, two guards, a couple wide receivers, three defensive linemen, a linebacker, two safeties, and a kicker. So if each position is important, why not rank appropriate number of players at power forward and outside linebacker?
There’s also some Follow The Money going on here. These sites make money from subscriptions (sounds familiar), and I’d guess the majority of those subscriptions are for access to recruiting information. I’d also guess that the vast majority of those subscriptions come from the Southeastern part of the United States. It’s where high school and college football is king, it’s where the majority of NFL players grew up, so it’s where fans will pay $100 per year to get all of the recruiting information. So if that’s your base consumer, it would be idiotic not to cater to them. Players going to SEC schools will always get a little boost. I’d do the same thing in their position.
Consider the case of Chance Stewart, a quarterback we offered in the 2014 class. He was a 4-star recruit who wanted to stay and play for his local school, so he picked Western Michigan. Which meant his fourth star was pretty much immediately revoked. Film and camp viewings say four-star talent; school choice says otherwise, so take away his fourth star and give it to someone else. Likely someone going to Texas. That’s just how the game works. And again, I don’t blame them one bit.
Because of all of this, and because I am an Illinois fan, I try to factor all of this in when evaluating recruiting classes. If a player picks Illinois, especially if they pick Illinois early, they have likely maxed out their star rating. That’s just how it works. It’s the same with Northwestern and Indiana and Wake Forest and Iowa State and dozens of other schools. There aren’t many post-verbal boosts for a player selecting a school outside of, say, the top 35 programs in the country. And if there is a boost, it’s like Chunky last year. He verballed to Illinois and then had a fantastic camp in front of a lot of scouts, so they bumped him… to the highest rated 3-star defensive lineman (every other DL in front of him was a four-star) and the highest rated 3-star in Ohio (every other Ohio player ranked higher was a four-star). They save the fourth star for the other schools.
So consider the case of Nick Allegretti. He picked Illinois on March 11th of last year, and at the time, Cincinnati was his only other BCS offer. He has, in my estimation, the best film of any Illini lineman in the last five years. I think he’s a monster. I have him redshirting and then starting for four seasons at center.
And I wasn’t the only one who saw his film this way. The top 200 or so high school football players will get an invite to the US Army All American Bowl or the Under Armor All American Game (200 / 6.54 = 30.6, so consider these players like top-30 basketball players). And Allegretti was one of five players from Illinois to get an Army Bowl invite. Even Rivals national guys agree with me: this kid looks the part of a Big Ten offensive lineman. So why is he only a three-star? Why is he supposedly only the 20th best player in the state per Rivals? Pretty much only because he picked Illinois.
I used to get angry at this, but now I just factor it in. Again, I’m not going for some grand conspiracy theory here. I’m not going to tell you that this is the 3rd best class in the Big Ten but it’s ranked 11th because all of our players are criminally underrated. It probably is the 11th best class.
I’m saying all of this to lay some groundwork. Every year, when I do this breakdown, I try my best to wade through all of that. I try to find the guys who are criminally underrated. And I always do a category of “guys I’m just not that excited about, and I’m not sure why”. I watch the film, I review offers, I read articles, I read camp breakdowns from nine months ago, and I try to make a call on each player independent of their star rating. Because stars don’t matter. Tom Cruises do.
One more thing before, you know, actually breaking down the class. Let’s rank them like we did last year.
Here’s how I do that. I go through the player rankings for Rivals, Scout, ESPN, and 24/7, and I see how they rank each one of our players. I then put those on a list, from first to last. For running back Matt Domer, Rivals has him as the 6th best player in this class, Scout has him 3rd, ESPN 7th, 24/7 6th. 6 + 3 + 7 + 6 = 22, which means he’s the fifth highest rated player in this class.
So, from highest-regarded to lowest, here’s the point totals for this class when I do that:
1. Jihad Ward (3rd, 1st, 1st, and 1st) – 6
2. Tyrin Stone-Davis – 14
3. Geronimo Allison – 16
4. Chayce Crouch – 20
5. Matt Domer – 22
6. Nick Allegretti – 23
7. Tito Odenigbo – 29
8. Mikey Dudek – 30
9. Malik Turner – 44
9. Julian Hylton – 44
11. Carroll Phillips – 46
12. Henry McGrew – 49
12. Austin Roberts – 49
14. Joe Fotu – 51
14. Peter Cvijanovic – 51
16. Tre Watson – 52
17. Chris James – 66
A few notes on this list:
- I didn’t include Jeff George Jr. – he’ll be a greyshirt recruit, which means he’s part of next year’s class.
- I didn’t include Paul James, either, because I wrote about him extensively in last year’s Signing Day breakdown. This class isn’t much on paper, but when you add Paul James, Dami Ayoola, and Wes Lunt, it suddenly looks a lot different.
- Tyree Stone-Davis, if he was still on this list, would have been 6th. We replaced him with Chris James yesterday, who checks in at #17.
- Nick Allegretti would have been the clear #2 to Jihad’s #1, but his ESPN ranking drags him down to 6th. Allegretti is the highest ranked recruit on Rivals, is second on Scout, fourth on 24/7… and 16th out of 17 on ESPN. Throw out the Russian judge and he’d be #2.
- Just like the English Premier League standings right now, there’s a clear line right in the center. Haves and have-nots. 1 (Ward) through 8 (Dude K) all had fairly consistent top-of-the-class rankings. From 9 on down the rankings were all over the place. I think there are some things that can be read into that.
- The Asamoah Award is so difficult now. I give that award each year to the two-star recruit who I think is the true sleeper in the class. And when I first gave it to Jon Asamoah in 2006, there were eight other two-star recruits to choose from. Now that the scouting services will give three stars to just about everyone, the Asamoah Award has to go to someone ranked lower in the class. If I had to pick someone just based on being a consensus two-star, Chris James would be my only option.
- Could this class BE any more juco-dependent? The top three players in the class not only answer our two biggest needs in the 2014 class (pass rush and pass catching), they do so as instant impact players. We go as they go next year.
OK, let’s get to the actual breaking down. In the past, I’ve developed this system where I give you the player, their other offers, and their star ratings on all the services, but then I saw others copying that method so I don’t want to do that anymore. Now I want to do something different. So what I think I’ll do this year is this: ramble on about everything I know about each player. Because I write a breakdown every time one of them signs, and I watch all of their film, and I study what others are saying about them, so why not just write about what I think they bring to the team? In the same categories as the last five of these breakdowns, of course. Ready go.
Instant Impact Players
Defensive End, Global Institute of Technology, New York, New York.
Ever stood in a room full of football players? Like, you go to some event at some bar and there’s five Bears players there and you’re standing around thinking “these dudes are just over-sized human beings”? Their hands are huge, their shoulders are twice as wide as yours, and you’re wondering why you feel so small? (“Joey, you ever hang around a gymnasium…”)
That’s Jihad Ward. He might not know a single thing about football, and he might fall over when he tries to take three steps, but some NFL team would bring him to camp tomorrow just because he’s tall and strong and fast. He started as a wide receiver, went to Juco, grew to 300 lbs without losing his speed, and now he’s this giant manchild with a long reach and a stride that you just can’t teach. 24/7 rates him as a four-star and the #6 Juco player in the country. Scout has him as our only four-star in this class. He has NFL potential. One of those guys who could be a defensive end in college and then start at offensive tackle for an NFL team some day. When he walks into a room, everyone already knows he’s a football player.
The one downside (there’s always a downside): he’s raw. He arrived at his juco as a wide receiver, so he probably doesn’t know very much at all about playing defensive end or tackle. Ideally, if we were a Florida State or an Auburn, we’d redshirt him and teach him a position so he could dominate for two years instead of having a work-in-progress year and a dominating year. But we don’t have that luxury. He has to play the first series against Youngstown State on August 30th. Hope he’s a quick study.
Center, Lincoln Way East High School, Frankfort, Illinois
I already talked about him a bunch up above. When I watch his film, I think he’s a four-year Big Ten starter. I totally get why the Army All American Bowl offered him a spot even though he’s 20th to 25th in his own state rankings. Go watch that film. He looks like the perfect Big Ten offensive lineman. Watch the plays against Bolingbrook – he’s dominating college bound defensive linemen.
He probably has a 5% chance of hitting all the goals I have for him, but I’m setting it there anyway. Put simply, he need to be a future All Big Ten lineman.
Wide Receiver, Iowa Western Community College
As an Illini fan, I don’t very often get the thrill of hoping for a certain recruit and then hearing that he picked Illinois. I went into the summer with my sights set on two juco receivers that I wanted to land: Eric Lauderdale (picked Arizona State) and Geronimo Allison. (And instead of getting Lauderdale, we got TSD, who is ranked one spot higher than him on the 24/7 WR list).
He’s tall, he’s strong, he’s fast – I think he’s the ideal recruit for this class. We need receiver help, and I think he can step in immediately. Tyrin Stone-Davis is ranked higher on most lists, which is why he comes out as #2 on the list above while Allison is #3, but put me down for G-Mo. In my mind, there’s a very good chance he could be our leading receiver this fall.
Wide Receiver, Pierce Community College, Woodland Hills, California
So I guess he’s just going to be TSD after all (his brother didn’t make it in to school and didn’t sign today, so it looks like Tyrin will be the only Stone-Davis joining the Illini program).
Alex Golesh mentioned after they signed that the staff thought that Allison and TSD were two of the top 10 or so receivers in the country, so to land two of them made the staff giddy. Again, you can never just build a class with jucos – they graduate in two years, and then what do you do? – but for the needs of this team, G-Mo and TSD are nearly perfect.
TSD didn’t play this fall at his juco so to retain a year of eligibility. And even though he arrived in December, he didn’t clear admissions and has some work to do in the classroom before enrolling in June. So with him arriving as a sophomore, having not played in a year, without the benefit of spring football and learning the offense, I’m even more of a G-MO >>>> TSD guy. At least for 2014. But if he does make it in this summer, look for him to maybe break out in 2015 and then be our go-to guy in 2016.
Running Back, Mt. Carmel High School, Chicago, Illinois
Here’s another player I was thrilled to land. I was in a bit of a recruiting funk back in May/June – I think I even wrote a post about it – and a friend asked me to name a player that would bring me out of that funk. I picked Domer. We had missed out on the one running back I wanted in this class – Justin Jackson, who picked Northwestern of all schools (he’s a stud and will dominate there) – and I picked Domer as the guy we just had to have. His film made him look like the perfect tailback for this offense. So landing him was a great get. I think he’s perfectly suited to be a feature tailback in this offense. Just the right combo of size and speed.
And he comes from a great high school program, which doesn’t hurt. You know how will Kendrick Nunn make a “basketball IQ” play – maybe it’s a pass, maybe it’s a steal – and you realize that he’s been playing high-level basketball at Simeon? That’s how I feel about landing a guy like Domer from Mt. Carmel. I think he’ll be ready to play sooner rather than later.
Scout has him as the #36 tailback nationally; Rivals has him as #49. I’d put him a little higher than that, but I’m me. I think he’s great.
Wide Receiver, Neuqua Valley High School, Naperville, Illinois
You know how I couldn’t write “Steve Hull” without saying “STEVEHULL” the last four years? Right here is the last time I will ever type Dudek. He is, from now until forever, Dude K.
I base so much of my love for Dude K based on one catch. You’ve seen it, right. Screw the links – let’s embed.
If you look at camp reports from Rivals camps and such, you always saw mention of Dude K’s hands. I think it was Josh Helmholdt of Rivals who said he had some of the best hands in the 2014 class. So when you are reported to be able to catch anything thrown near you, and you make a catch like that above, I immediately put you in the “great get” category. He’s here early and enrolled, so there’s a good chance we hear from Dude K as early as this season.
Players I’m Excited About But Can’t Tell You Why
Linebacker, Blue Valley High School, Stilwell, Kansas
Who did I steal the “he sounds like a Dr. Seuss character” from? Twitter follower? Message board user? I love it so much. And I’m so proud of my “Henry McGrew ate his mulligan stew as he fretted o’er bills that were long overdue…”, even though I’m the only one who finds it funny.
I’m really not sure why I feel like McGrew will be the best of the three linebackers in this class. They’re all on the lower end of the ratings. Only a few of them even had other BCS offers. If you look at all of the linebackers recruited to all of the Big Ten schools in 2014, our three will rank last.
But I can’t shake the feeling that McGrew is the best of the bunch and way better than his “choosing between Kansas, Iowa State, and Illinois” suggests. Looks solid on film, faster than you might think for a guy who looks to be a legit 6′-3″, possible Leo candidate if he keeps growing. I think all three linebackers will redshirt this year, but if one of them plays, I’m thinking it will be McGrew.
Defensive End, Centerville High School, Centerville, Ohio
He grew up dreaming about playing for the Illini. No, really. He’d wake up on Saturday mornings nervous for the Illini game that day. So when we offered, he jumped at it. Dream school. Yes, really.
Go watch his senior film. Much more impressive than his junior film. If he stays on this road, in a few years, I think we have a solid Big Ten defensive lineman. High motor, gets after it, put-him-in-the-weight-room-and-let’s-see-what-we-have-in-2016.
Wide Receiver, Sacred Heart Griffin High School, Springfield, Illinois
I’ve totally done a 180 on Turner. When he verballed, I meh’d, and I had a couple people send me emails saying “don’t meh Turner, he was injured for most of his last two seasons – watch what he does this fall”. So I watched what he did this fall, and I was impressed. That station in Springfield that picks a play of the week every week – I think Turner was the play of the week nearly every week. He’d return a punt or catch a long pass or juke a defender and you’d see his potential. He then led his team to a surprising state title, and I got a little more excited.
I think he’ll be a few years off – he needs strength (don’t we all?), but I like his potential and think he will contribute at receiver.
Offensive Tackle, East Coast Prep, Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Here’s another player I flipped on. When he verballed, I gave him a one Tom Cruise rating. The first ever single Tom Cruise. And once again, I had a few people reach out with info on Cvijanovic and interest from Michigan State and such. And then a list of prep school players came out, and Cvijanovic was listed as #11 in the nation.
I guess I was originally thinking we offered because his brother is our starting left tackle. And I’ve come around to the notion that we might have offered his brother’s successor at left tackle.
Defensive End/Leo, Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Wesson, Mississippi
Let’s be honest. When you’re looking at junior college players, some of them are going to bust. We all had high hopes for Abe Cajuste last year based on his offer list, and then he just couldn’t find a place in the defensive line rotation. So when I look at Carroll Phillips and Joe Fotu, it’s likely that one of them just won’t be ready for Big Ten offensive linemen.
So I’m picking Phillips as the guy who is ready for the Big Ten. He originally was headed for Cincinnati, didn’t make the grades, ended up at Juco, and is now headed to Tim Banks’ defense (again) to play the Leo. We’re thin there, so it was very important to add immediate depth at Leo.
Players I’m Not That Excited About But Can’t Tell You Why
Linebacker, Tampa Catholic High School, Tampa, Florida
I saw that he was the defensive MVP of that Florida All Star game, but for some reason, I can’t get excited about him. I watch his film, and nothing really jumps out.
Which is weird, because he reminds me so much of Ian Thomas on film, and I gave Ian Thomas my sleeper award. So I’m not sure what it is about Watson, but I don’t see him as much more than a rotation guy.
Defensive Lineman, Laney College, Oakland, California
Unfortunately, Fotu is the lose in the “one defensive lineman will bust and one will be great” sweepstakes. I love that he’s from Laney College – that’s where the Illini practiced at my (yes, seriously) favorite Illini bowl experience at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. But I just can’t find much excitement for Fotu.
Which is weird, because I liked his film more than Phillips’. But I like Phillips more, because he fills a positional need. But Fotu looked pretty quick off the ball. Why do I have him down here in this category again?
Linebacker, Rice Lake High School, Rice Lake, Wisconsin
This is 94% the fact that he tore his ACL during his senior season, so I’ve put him on the “18 months before he’s anywhere near ready for Big Ten football”. Which puts someone on the “lock to redshirt” list for me. Which lands them down here in the “not that excited” category. Offers, knee, film – just not seeing it.
Athlete, Lincoln Way North High School, Frankfort, Illinois
I almost moved him after Beckman’s press conference today. Remember this fall how a few of us were discussing Jeremy Langford from Michigan State? We talked about how Langford was just a three-star athlete who played tailback in high school but was destined for cornerback in college. But he got to Michigan State, they realized they had a pretty solid tailback on their hands, and then they went and won the Rose Bowl with him? Anyone remember that discussion? I think it happened in the comments section of one of my posts.
Anyway, at the time, I said “why can’t we have one of those just once – why can’t Julian Hylton be that guy for us in a few years – the out-of-nowhere tailback surprise?” And then today, in his press conference, Beckman says that we’re going to try Hylton at running back first. He ran for 210 yards per game this fall in high school (kind of out of nowhere), so we’re going to give him a shot there.
Which makes my heart sing the “Hylton will be our Langford” song. Which makes my brain interrupt and force me to put Hylton down here. He is, after all, just a project ATH recruit. And maybe only 3 out of every 10 turn into solid Big Ten players. Down here he stays.
Quarterback, Newark Catholic High School, Newark, Ohio
Every year I have that guy where I say “why do I have one of the top players in this class ranked down here? He’s ahead of Allegretti and Domer on my list above, and Bill Cubit knows how to target QB’s, and he’s probably our starting quarterback in 2017. So why can’t I watch his film and get excited?
It might be the Bailey/Lunt effect. They are all I can see for the next three seasons, so it’s easy to just put Chayce Crouch on a shelf. But the kid claims he graduated early to enroll early and win the starting job – something Lunt did at Oklahoma State and surprised everyone – so maybe he’s the sleeper of this class.
Maybe, but I just can’t see it. There’s something that’s just… off. Prove me wrong, kid.
Players I Just Don’t Know That Much About
Defensive Back, West Orange-Stark High School, Orange, Texas
He just verballed yesterday as the fairly obvious Plan B replacement for Tyree Stone-Davis. I haven’t even had time to do his Looks Like University Of Illinois post yet. And a few of the scouting websites act like they’ve never heard of him before. So I really don’t have much I can share here. Other than “Iowa State offered, and landing kids from Texas is never a bad thing.”
And that’s it for the Players I Just Don’t Know That Much About category. When I first did this five years ago, I think I had 10 players in this category, a few that I knew next to nothing about. Mainly thanks to the blog, I know obsess over every verbal, so it pretty much takes an off-the-radar guy verballing the day before Signing Day to have someone for this category.
(That sounds like a brag, but it’s really not.)
My Asamoah Award is my yearly sleeper award. I gave it to Jon Asamoah in the 2006 class, and he turned out to be an NFL starter, so, emboldened by that, I hand it out every year expecting NFL stardom from a player who otherwise was ignored by most big time schools. It used to be restricted to 2-star recruits, but the sites rarely hand out two stars anymore, so now I go with the overlooked player who might play early.
And I always list all of my award winners so you can see that I sometimes swing and miss. And sometimes hit it out of the park. I’m Adam Dunn.
Here’s the past winners. And keep in mind, this is the sleeper list, not “best player in this class” list:
2006: Jon Asamoah
2007: Ian Thomas
2008: Ugo Uzodinma (transferred to New Mexico when Mike Locksley left, never played here)
2009: Walt Aikens (kicked off the team, played at Liberty, will be drafted in April)
2010: Jay Prosch
2011: Jeremey Whitlow
2012: V’Angelo Bentley
2013: Marchie Murdock
When I look at this list, there’s a receiver I really want to pick. But I’m gun shy after missing on Whitlow (has been here three years, hasn’t played yet), so I’m not going to go with a receiver. After that it’s clear who the choice should be. Grew up an Illini fan, ignored because he verballed so early, overshawdowed by his older brother who was a higher ranked recruit, has the frame and the bloodlines to be sneaky good at a position of need.
2014 Asamoah Award Winner: Defensive End Tito Odenigbo
The Juco Class. That’s what this will be known for. We only had 17 rides to give out, which normally means “build depth”, but we just couldn’t. Not with the entire roster of wide receivers graduating. Not with the performance of the defensive line last year. We had to go the Juco route, and that’s what we did with Ward, Allison, TSD, Phillips, and Fotu. Three defensive linemen, two wide receivers, all expected to play and contribute immediately.
That reminds me of one thing I forgot to mention above. Plan B. That’s what I believe to be the best thing about the way Tim Beckman and Alex Golesh put together a signing class. It’s the one thing that always drove me nuts with Zook.
Zook would lose a recruit to somewhere else, or he would miss on a top target at, say, safety, but there was never a plan B recruit. He’d take that scholarship and give it to “best available”. Lose a safety, add a tight end. Which always brought us solid classes. Get a bunch of athletes in here and go win some football games.
Beckman and Golesh go about it differently. Last year, they lost safety Joshua Jones who flipped to NC State – they immediately offered and landed James Crawford. They lost cornerback Reon Dawson to Michigan – they immediately offered and landed Jaylen Dunlap. This year they lost Tyree Stone-Davis (looks like he won’t have the grades to get in) and so they brought in Plan B Chris James over the final weekend, offered him, and landed him.
Which means we won’t have a scenario where our secondary is running back Justin Green and wide receiver Terry Hawthorne at corner, and wide receiver Supo Sanni and wide receiver STEVEHULL at safety. We’ll have players recruited for specific positions playing those specific positions.
The rub? Zook’s classes were much higher rated. He had an eye for talent and could sell sell sell. He never built a roster, but he built a stable of athletes. And it’s possible that a stable of athletes >>>> a roster of plan B. We shall see in the next few years.
Overall, there’s not really much more you can say. It’s a juco class, and it’s a small class, and it’s a class of players who picked Illinois and saw their star ratings flatline. So while I’m excited to fill needs and get some instant impact (as well as adding Lunt and Paul James), it’s still way behind where we need to be. As I said in the Jimmy Fitzgerald LLUOI post, I’ve handed out my last pass for a Beckman class. 2012 was a throwaway, and 2014 was small with juco needs. 2013 was a really solid class, and 2015 has to be – MUST be – a top-40 class and the best class Beckman has landed. The next 10 months will tell us so much.
And with Ayoola returning + Lunt + James + Ward + Allison + TSD + the juco DL depth, I’m excited to see what all of these fresh faces bring to the program. Here’s hoping it’s six wins.