Phase II

Jul 05, 2017

I don't respond to as many as I should, but I do enjoy lots of the comments under posts. Sometimes I start to respond and it gets too long and just becomes its own post. That's what this is. A comment from OrangeJulius on the Daniel Barker post sparked a few thoughts in my head, and as I was typing them out I realized it was too long for a response to a comment. So let's talk about it here.

First, the comment from OrangeJulius:

The first class was encouraging, but this one smells a lot like Beckman/Turner so far. I hope Lovie can turn it around. It's almost like he exhausted all of his "early PT" capital on the first class, and maybe there isn't much left in bank.

I think that's mostly true. We're entering a quiet period here, which means recruiting falls off the radar for a while, and post-June camp season is always a good time to take stock, so let's take a look at this class and its Beckman/Turner-ness.

First off, July 1 is always kind of a recruiting transition period. June is camp season, which means there are tons of offers and tons of verbals. A player who was completely off the radar shows up at a Georgia camp and gets a Georgia offer and the ranking services are scrambling to see who this kid might be and how he got offers from Georgia/Auburn/Ole Miss in two week's time. A guy like Tony Adams (cornerback in last year's class who goes from lowly-ranked kid with no major offers to an offer at the Illinois camp and an offer at the Mizzou camp) will often see his ranking go up in July as the services re-evaluate their rankings. So there will be a fair bit of movement in the rankings the composite rankings the next few months - some players moving up, some moving down.

Taking that into account, how does this class compare to last year's "encouraging" class? I'd say they're a little more similar than most might think, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll end up in the same spot. I'll attempt to explain.

Last year's final class had six players clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest. The 247 composite rankings assign a numerical value to each player, and if you can get past "is a guy rated .8744 REALLY that much better than a guy rated .8481?" (answer - absolutely), then you can begin to separate a class into tiers. Last year's class had a clear upper tier (like, the kinds of players who have led Wisconsin to so many bowl games over the last 20 years tier). Those players and their ratings:

Ricky Smalling: .8868
Kendrick Green: .8801
Delshawn Phillips: .8737
Larry Boyd: .8721
Owen Carney: .8695
Carmoni Green: .8680

I would argue that Olalere Oladipo is close to that tier (.8512, offers from Penn State and Michigan State), but since we're comparing classes here, Oladipo is rated right about where Kievan Myers is rated (.8524), and Myers had similar solid offers (Mississippi State, Missouri, West Virginia), so let's draw a chalk line there in comparing the classes.

(Note: the composite rankings aren't anywhere complete yet. For example, four players in our class have been given a .8333 placeholder rating mostly because they're three-stars on Scout. Jordyn Slaughter got a 5.6 rating on Rivals, so once that's factored in, his composite score will go up. Carlos Sandy got a 5.4 rating on Rivals, so once that's factored in, his composite score will go down. And once ESPN and 247 evaluate the players themselves - they've yet to assign a rating - then the players will go up or down. So comparing at this point isn't exact - all we really have to go on thus far is that Scout has given all nine players three stars, plus the offers the players have received.)

Going back to OJ's comment, I'd say two things:

  1. Yes, this class so far is extremely Beckman/Turner-like.
  2. That's not all that different than July 5, 2017, which was a slow-starting class that finished strong.

Five of the six players listed above chose Illinois during what I'm choosing at this very moment to call "Phase II" of recruiting: post-camp, possible senior blow-up, wait-until-the-winter-to-make-a-choice kids. (Phase I would be early-decision, spring-coach-visit, camp-season recruits.) So to reach OJ's "encouraging" and not "Beckman/Turner", it will take a close like last year. And then some.

If we go back to that "Myers=Oladipo" line from earlier, I'd say that below the line, Slaughter/Hardge/Sandy/Pearl et. al. would be fairly similar to Epstein/Smith/Thomas/Lowe at this point last year. The big difference, of course - Ricky Smalling. So to even up the classes from July to July, Lovie needs a Smalling (I don't see a single Smalling considering us, so don't hold your breath).

To even up the classes February to February, again, drawing our line at "Myers=Oladipo", Lovie needs to close like he closed last year. Boyd and C. Green verballed in August; Phillips, K.Green, and Carney verballed in December. That's both encouraging (I don't know of one person who thought we would land any of those five players on July 5th last year - it wasn't until Green and Carney's encouraging - and long - visit in the end of July that we began to get our hopes up), and daunting (we don't have a Smalling as a standard-bearer, and guys we were hoping would be Smallings like Adeoye Ayodele and Quincy Patterson have chosen other schools).

But remember, Lovie said on Signing Day that he wanted each class to be better than the last, and this comparison I'm doing just gets him back to square. So it's quite the uphill climb. Do-able - again, he landed all of those players in the "second half" last season - but certainly way up that hill.

I'm actually a bit surprised that we're at nine commits right now - when I wrote the Low And Slow post, I thought we'd be at five come July. But the process has seemingly played out much like we talked about there. Long-evaluations over early verbals, coaches want to see a kid in person, sit down with him, get an idea of the person and the player, etc. The hope is that really begins to pay off in the fall and winter. Like last year.

If it doesn't? Well, let's cross that bridge in February once we see the full signed-and-sealed class. I'm hopeful Lovie can close this class like he closed the last class, but I'm always hopeful. If we're 2-8 in November with, as OJ mentioned, a lot of the "early PT capital" used up, it's going to be a really tough row to hoe.


LongLiveTheChief98 on July 05 @ 10:00 PM CDT

In Lovie We Trust.

Then again, what other choice do we have at this point? Been waiting for the sleeping giant to wake for the better part of 20 years now.

Robert on July 06 @ 11:51 AM CDT

That's pretty much where I'm at. We have to trust that he knows what he's doing with some of these lower-ranked "reeeach" kids because, as you said, what other option do we have?

When Lovie was hired I thought we'd recruit like Maryland is currently recruiting under Durkin. That just hasn't happened at all. Disappointing, but he's still likely the best option we can find to get Illinois football back into the win column, so ILWT it is.

AHSIllini32 on July 06 @ 08:35 PM CDT

I'm not sure Maryland and Illinois are equal in terms of programs that each coach was inheriting though were they?

Douglascountyillinifan on July 06 @ 04:59 AM CDT

If Luke Ford or Verdis brown (or both!!) were to take the plunge, we'd be right there! Keep the faith, Robert. Your relentless positivity has sustained we of lesser faith in the past!

Robert on July 06 @ 11:54 AM CDT

Yes, had Luke Ford picked Illinois, we'd be pretty much exactly where we sat last year. But he didn't (and likely won't), so the hill is steeper. We're only going to add 9-11 more players in this class, and just to equal last year, six of them will need to be better than Kievan Myers.

PapaDels4me on July 06 @ 07:11 AM CDT

I'm pretty skeptical, because I spent 9 years being skeptical on Lovie when he was stalking the Bears sidelines. I think he's a terrific man, but a confusing coach. I wonder if he resonates with these kids at all. I strongly believe that it is too early to tell. Just like a President, you can't judge the man's impact until a lot more water is under the bridge. But I am skeptical, sadly.

AHSIllini32 on July 06 @ 08:08 AM CDT

Lovie is illinois' best recruiter of how much he resonates with these kids. He's fantastic in that regard.

PeoriaBucky on July 06 @ 08:04 AM CDT

  1. Yes, this class so far is extremely Beckman/Turner-like.

You need to find a way to work in the phrase "Beckman/Turner Overdrive" into the Illini lingo, perhaps as a condition to avoid.

I'll show myself out now...

Robert on July 06 @ 11:46 AM CDT

You have NO IDEA how angry I am at myself that I didn't think of this when typing "Beckman/Turner". I'll think about this ten more times today.

(Well done.)

ATOillini on July 06 @ 06:08 PM CDT

Just a thought. If Lovie doesn't pan out, how about hiring back those two as co-head coaches? Then our new theme song could be "Takin' Care of Business". (every day......every way)

illiniranger on July 06 @ 08:46 AM CDT

At best I think he's an average recruiter. We are going to recruit the home state very poorly this year, which is saying something for how badly we recruit in Illinois.

At this point either Lovie can coach them up or he can't and that will be the whole ball game.

Robert on July 06 @ 12:05 PM CDT

Typically, I don't think the home state hops on until the wins come. That's how it was for Pinkel at Missouri. The top St. Louis and Kansas City kids still avoided Missouri for the few recruiting classes. He built the program with second-tier kids from Texas (and the scraps from Missouri).

After he went 8-4 in 2004 I remember the Missouri kids starting to consider the in-state school. Getting Will Franklin from Vashon was a big deal. A public school kid from St. Louis wouldn't ever go to Columbia back then. It still took some time (Pinkel didn't have an over-.500 record in the Big 12 until his seventh year at Missouri), but after that 2007 season where they won 12 games, everything took off recruiting-wise.

(Not saying we have to wait seven years - just that in-state might not care until we win and win big.)

illiniranger on July 07 @ 07:46 AM CDT

Agreed, but if he can't coach them up we never get the 8-4 season that leads to the break through.

We need a game changing QB desperately...

AHSIllini32 on July 06 @ 08:34 PM CDT

He's already shown to be better than average. Come on, now.

Illinimac68 on July 06 @ 09:07 PM CDT

The guy has been head coach for 1 1/3 years. He took over a program that was not only in the dumper but had offensive players totally unsuited to the schemes of his coordinators. People are already acting like 2017 is somehow make-or-break. As Robert has pointed out in other posts, we're really young. It will take a combination of slowly bettering recruiting classes and waiting for freshmen and sophomores to become juniors and seniors to turn this program around. It won't be "the whole ball game" for several more years.

rml on July 07 @ 08:20 AM CDT

The staff evaluates players differently (and we hope better) than recruiting services and other schools do. So I wouldn't evaluate the quality of the class using the standards of offer lists and stars. Does the staff think this class is better than last year's? If no, then we do have a potential concern. If yes, then I would wait it out and see how the recruits develop. If they don't, then either the staff's standards aren't better or Lovie's not coaching them up.

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