From the moment Purdue's field goal sailed through in overtime, I switched to "rebuild mode". Gone was "we can win in year one with these seniors", immediately changed over to "here we go again, building from the ground up". We've seen a lot of these rebuilds, but what do they look like nationally? I looked at every rebuilding Power Five program to find out.
First, some criteria. I only looked at teams that were truly "rebuilding". Teams that needed to overhaul roster and scheme because what the guy before was doing just wasn't working. That means I'm not looking at scenarios like:
Tommy Bowden had eight consecutive winning seasons at Clemson but they wanted more than 8-4 every year so they fired Bowden midseason and replaced him with Dabo Swinney.
James Franklin left Vanderbilt for the Penn State job after having recruited really well at Vandy so Derek Mason took over a program with a solid roster that had just gone 8-4 and 8-4 the two seasons before he took over. That's not so much a rebuild as it is an attempt to maintain.
Frank Beamer retired at Virginia Tech having gone to 23 consecutive bowls. That's not a program that needs to be rebuilt. They kept Bud Foster's defense, brought in Justin Fuente as head coach, and are attempting to maintain that consistency.
Jim Harbaugh took over a team that had gone 5-7 the year before (after three consecutive bowls), but the roster contained 54 four-star or five-star athletes. That's not a roster that needs to be overhauled - that's just schemes that need to be fixed.
I'm also not looking at completely failed rebuilds. Darrell Hazell won three total Big Ten games (two against us) and was fired. That really doesn't teach us anything. I'll look at the marginal ones that might go up and might go down, but not the already-failed rebuilds.
So I'm mostly looking for programs that fired a guy because he was losing/wasn't recruiting and the coach who rebuilt it (or is attempting to rebuild it). The new guy takes over, the roster is a bit of a mess, he's going to play a lot of freshmen and start from the ground up. Bob Stoops turning around Oklahoma isn't going to tell us much; Mike MacIntyre turning Colorado around might.
I looked at every coach in each of the Power Five conferences to see how they performed in their first five years. When I list Dave Doeren's first four years, they started in 2013. When I list Kirk Ferentz' first five years, they started in 1999.
Here's the full list. The first 3-4-5 years of coaches who took over losing programs (regular-season records only):
Dave Clawson (Wake Forest)
6-6 (3-5) this season
Dave Doeren (NC State)
6-6 (3-5) this season
Steve Addazio (Boston College)
6-6 (2-6) this season
David Cutcliffe (Duke)
Kevin Wilson (Indiana)
6-6 (4-5) this season
Mark Dantonio (Michigan State)
Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)
Jerry Kill (Minnesota)
Art Briles (Baylor)
Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State)
Bill Snyder (Kansas State)
Todd Graham (Arizona State)
5-7 (2-7) this season
Mike Leach (Washington State)
Sonny Dykes (California)
5-7 (3-6) this season
Mike MacIntyre (Colorado)
10-2 (8-1) this season
Rich Rodriguez (Arizona)
3-9 (1-8) this season
Mark Stoops (Kentucky)
7-5 (4-4) this season
Bret Bielema (Arkansas)
7-5 (3-5) this season
Dan Mullen (Mississippi State)
Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss)
5-7 (2-6) this season
OK, a few thoughts after going through all of that:
First, please remember that I'm not looking at historically great programs. Those schools do support the idea that the first year of a rebuild is almost always a struggle - Alabama went 6-6 and lost to Louisiana-Monroe at home in Nick Saban's first year - but I didn't feel they were relevant when looking at the length of time it takes to rebuild a struggling program.
The average won/loss for schools in their first year of their new coach: 3.8 wins, 8.2 losses. If you want to compare that to our attempted rebuilds, Lovie was 3-9, Beckman was 2-10, Zook was 2-9, Turner was 0-11.
The good news: of the 20 rebuilds listed above, 15 had a better record the second year, 4 had the same record, and only one (Colorado under MacIntyre) got worse. The bad news: of the 20 rebuilds listed above, the one that looks most similar to Illinois is Colorado under MacIntyre (second season is youngest team, several failed rebuilds prior to him taking over, etc.).
Lots of bowl berths in year three, but generally, the big leap is in year four. Mark Dantonio went from 6-6 to 11-1 (year three to year four). Kirk Ferentz went from 6-5 to 11-1. Art Briles from 7-5 to 9-3. Mike Gundy from 6-6 to 9-3. Mike MacIntyre from 4-9 to 10-2. That's generally the blueprint - hopefully bowling by the third year, hopefully a breakout season the fourth year.
Now, how do those things relate to Lovie? Well, first, we have to acknowledge that he's at year three-fourths right now. Had he been hired this time last year (like Jeff Brohm at Purdue), he would be trying to add 10-12 recruits in the next month and then planning meetings in January and February to install the offense and defense before spring ball. Instead, he was hired in March and they had to postpone spring ball until they could get a staff on board to lead the kids through drills. So just looking at that, it probably adds some time to Lovie's timeline.
As does the current roster. It's not very common for a coach to lose 24 seniors off his first team. Nor is it common to have a depth chart that starts only three seniors the following season. Year two is typically the "making strides" season, but for Lovie it's kind of a "starting over" season. He did get a jump on things by starting several freshmen in front of those seniors as the season wore on, but it's possible he brings in a full class this February and then starts those kids over some of those freshmen from last year.
This is why I mentioned that this rebuild looks the most like Colorado. A program that has been down for a long time and a second year that's almost like starting over. While other rebuilding programs might begin to advance next season, we might do some more retreating.
Which is why I started that "25 games" clock after the Purdue loss this year. I sat back, looked at the whole thing, saw that this was a full-on rebuild, not this "one year where the seniors lead us to a bowl" season I had been fantasizing about, so I looked at the schedule and said that I would next care about wins and losses in 25 games (the Purdue game in 2018). Midway through his third season, we should begin to see the program Lovie envisions.
And then in year four, hopefully a big leap. Kick-started by the game on October 12, 2019 when Michigan comes to town, under the lights, in a sold-out Memorial Stadium, with GameDay in town for 5-0 Illinois vs. 5-0 Michigan.........
(Sorry. I'll never not dream that THIS is the rebuild that finally takes us somewhere.)