2020 Vision

Sep 14, 2017

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So the 2020 and 2021 schedules came out this week. And you can't help but think about those seasons, right? I mean, how many of the starters do we already know for the 2020 season? WHAT'S THAT? You want to see a depth chart? Don't mind if I do.

OK, a depth chart would be silly. Depth charts take 48 players (24 starters, 24 backups) and we don't have that many freshmen. We'll add three full recruiting classes between now and then. But we can nearly fill out a starting lineup for the 2020 season, and that's insane.

Let me put it this way: I'm the only blogger in the country who can do this today. I'm the only one who can confidently fill out a starting lineup for the 2020 season. Yes, LSU has played 20 true freshmen (we've played 17), but LSU's players are almost all on special teams (it's a recruiting tool for Ed Orgeron - he's convincing 2018 recruits that he will play them right away).

For Illinois, honestly, two games into the 2017 season, I think I can name 70% of the 2020 starting lineup. I'll put a question mark next to the players who might or might not fill that role. For the starters, I'll put them in bold.

QB: Cam Thomas? Coran Taylor? MJ Rivers? Cordel Littlejohn?
RB: Mike Epstein
TE: Louis Dorsey
WR1: Ricky Smalling
WR2: Carmoni Green? Carlos Sandy?
WR3: Kendall Smith?
QT: Larry Boyd
QG: Alex Palczewski
C: Doug Kramer
SG: Vederian Lowe? Jordyn Slaughter?
ST: Kievan Myers? Braeden Daniels?

WDE: Isaiah Gay
NT: Calvin Avery (not here yet but IN INK)
3DT: Kendrick Green? Yeah, it will be Kendrick Green.
SDE: Bobby Roundtree
WLB: Jake Hansen
MLB: Marc Mondesir? Khalan Tolson?
SLB: James Knight? Ayo Shobgonyo?
CB: Nate Hobbs
CB: Tony Adams
FS: Bennett Williams
SS: Dawson DeGroot? Ron Hardge?

P: Blake Hayes
K: James McCourt

How UTTERLY INSANE is it that I'm looking at the 2020 season in September of 2017 and saying "need to find a QB, a few more receivers, the right side of the OL, two linebackers, and a strong safety". Honestly, that's it. I believe there are only 7 unknown positions at this point.


Here's what that means:

  • The key to college football is competition. The best-case scenario is that Bennett Williams barely holds on to the starting free safety position because there are two other safeties pushing him in practice every day. So if this is NOT what the starting lineup looks like in 2020, even better. If Mike Epstein isn't the starting tailback in 2020, then wow, we found someone even more impressive. I'm more or less discussing the floor here.
  • I've been projecting depth charts 2-3 years in advance my entire blogging "career", and I've never had this many "knowns" two years out, let alone three. I put "knowns" in quotes because of what I mentioned above. This winter I said that Stanley Green was a "known" at free safety the next three seasons, and now he's battling Bennett Williams for starting minutes. So maybe I need a different word than known. Perhaps "we're fine at that position and probably will only get better". Again, floor.
  • ~breathes into paper bag~ It's also possible that Bobby Roundtree and Isaiah Gay aren't in the starting lineup in 2020 because they left early for the NFL draft in May of that year. If that's the case, well, then this is even better news. It means we'd be getting to the talent level necessary to win lots of Big Ten games.
  • The two biggest glaring items on the list above: quarterback of the offense and quarterback of the defense (middle linebacker). Tre Watson will hold down the MLB spot the next two years, and then, after his impressive showing on Saturday after Watson was ejected, I think Dele Harding is the guy in 2019, but 2020 is wide open at linebacker. That's my biggest defensive recruiting concern. And on offense, it's clearly quarterback. We have some interesting projects, but I'd feel a whole lot better if we landed a GUY.

I should note that the other time I could have done something similar to this was after the Cincinnati game in 2013. We started 2-0, beat a Cincy team we shouldn't have beaten, and headed into the Soldier Field game against Washington feeling pretty good. At the time, I could have (maybe I did?) written a post about the 2016 team. "By that time Wes Lunt will be a senior, and so will these freshmen like Dawuane Smoot and Darius Mosely and TJ Neal, and that team could go FAR". We all saw how far that went. So yes, I need to breathe into the paper bag a few more times and calm myself down.

But still, when you play 17 true freshmen, and they play this well, and they're already in the starting lineup and not just coming off the bench for a few plays here and there, then yes, it's time to get excited about the future.

So when you peek at that 2020 schedule, you see a lot of wins, right? Let's go through it one by one.

Florida Atlantic - Win by 45, right?
UConn - Win by 50.
Bowling Green - Given our luck they'll be the MAC favorite but we'll still win.
at Rutgers - Good first road game. Probably the best first road game we could imagine.
at Nebraska - This will be the one. Are we for real or just riding an easy schedule?
Purdue - Might be frisky under Brohm by then, but I still don't think they'll have a D.
Minnesota - Man will it be fun watching PJ run the sideline while down 27.
at Wisconsin - You know, at this point, we might even be the featured national broadcast.
Iowa - Next year, man I hope we beat Iowa at home. 2020, man it will be fun to beat Iowa at home.
at Indiana - Where does that program go under Allen? Feels like they're destined to fall again.
Ohio State - Cold day, late Nov, tOSU comes to town already looking towards Michigan the next week…
at Northwestern - Here, Fitzee Fitzee Fitzee.

OK, yes, fine, there's so much that will happen between now and 2020. Hell, we could fall flat on our face and we have a new coach by then. But if the WKU win taught us anything (specifically HOW we beat WKU), it's that these freshmen are really good. And by the time they're seniors, they should be really, REALLY good. And with that schedule above….

~breathes into paper bag~


JimmyTheLayup on September 14, 2017 @ 04:00 PM

This is the Robert that we all know and love.

Hoping for a signing day surprise this year and the QB of the defense for 2020 will be cemented...

ahamm445 on September 14, 2017 @ 06:28 PM

GREAT ARTICLE, great young talent, great coaching staff with a clear vision for team, great recipe for success. Did I mention great article ?!

1970 John on September 14, 2017 @ 06:36 PM

Which bowl...or do the possible opponents include Alabama and Clemson.

illini67 on September 14, 2017 @ 08:11 PM

Don't forget that unlike your other earlier comment about Wes Lunt, etc al, we now have a bonafide athletic director, a bonafide coach and coaching staff. Hopefully the new capital spending will be underway and recruiting will be that much more successful. Thanks for the excitement Robert.

Jacob on September 15, 2017 @ 12:49 AM

I think you should fill out the 2 deep on the D-Line because you can. That is awesome place for this defense to move forward from. Illinois is going to be very good very soon. These guys can coach and identify talent

1970 John on September 15, 2017 @ 05:06 AM

"These guys can coach and identify talent." It sure does seem like it so far, doesn't it. I get dismayed when we look at our recruiting numbers--i.e., stars--versus that of top level teams.

But then, who assigns stars? And if they were so good at identifying talent, they'd be making those million dollar golden salaries rather than being paid in salt. And ditto on the coaching.

We're going to learn a lot tonight, just like we learned a lot when North Carolina came to town (of course UNC wasn't learning a lot when enrolled in those vapor courses, but that's another story), though we hope what we learn is different.

HiggsBoson on September 15, 2017 @ 09:26 AM

The biggest unknown is how many even better recruits Lovie will have gotten between now and then to push those guys.

Illini75 on December 7, 2020 @ 03:30 PM

I put this post on my Outlook calendar as an appointment for Nov 27, 2020. I like how past me tells future me to do things. Wish 2020 would have looked different.

Illini75 on December 7, 2020 @ 03:30 PM

I put this post on my Outlook calendar as an appointment for Nov 27, 2020. I like how past me tells future me to do things. Wish 2020 would have looked different.

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