What It Means And What It Doesn't


Robert
Oct 27, 2019
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27 Comments

You know the extra brake pedal they install on Driver's Ed vehicles? I've installed one of those in my brain. It's pre-programmed to get me to calm down whenever I get all YOU GUYS WE'RE TWO WINS FROM A BOWL. It's like a breathalyzer for orange and blue Kool Aid.

So all day today I've needed to check myself. I have to go back to "here's what the rebuild should look like" and track myself. So let's start with...

What It Doesn't Mean

4-4 with two winnable home games remaining doesn't mean we're "back". If we somehow win the next two and move to 6-4, the same caution must be applied. Big picture big picture, this thing isn't rebuilt until it doesn't go back down after it goes up. I'll try to explain.

Ron Turner built it to a 9. Then it went right back down to a 3. Ron Zook built it to an 8. When he left, it was a 4. Beckman fell to a 2, built it to around a 6, and then, after Not Ideal and the Cubit Extension (BAND NAME), Lovie inherited something very close to a 1. This program has been built in the past. It's never been sustained.

So if this is something like 6-6 this year an 8-4 next year, that's amazing, but please know that 2021 is probably something like 5-7. It's what Purdue is going through right now. Everyone graduates, you'll be one of the least experienced teams in the conference, rebuild what you just rebuilt. If it's 6-6 this year and then 8-4 next year, 5-7 is acceptable in 2021.

But then everything (and I mean everything) hinges on 2022. 2002 was acceptable after 2001; 2003 was not. 2008 was acceptable after 2007; 2009 was not. Falling off a bit in 2021 would be acceptable if 2020 is something special with all this experience. But then 2022 cannot be yet another fall right back down. If we're looking big picture, there's no "it's rebuilt!" until we rebound from the inevitable step-back year. Turner, Zook, and Beckman all crested once. Once Lovie has crested twice, we can declare it rebuilt. Just survive the year after the step-back year. Redeem 2003 and 2009.

Of course, if we lose to Rutgers this weekend, we probably don't even need to have that discussion. It would call this current "are we starting to surge?" into question. But if we do win - and especially if we win two more this year and then win eight next year - all eyes on 2022. 2021 will have six returning starters and maybe 4-5 wins (at least viewing it from here). But then... you get the point. 2022.

So that's "what it doesn't mean". I'm excited, just like you, but it will be a year after the Ireland game before we could say "it's been rebuilt and looks sustainable". This is just... part of a climb.

What It Means

The lack of a letdown after the Wisconsin win does mean something, though. It means a whole lot. There is so much opportunity in front of this team right now. Here's the next 10 games:

Rutgers (2-6)
at Michigan State (4-4)
at #19 Iowa (6-2)
Northwestern (1-6)

Illinois State
UConn
Bowling Green
at Rutgers
at Nebraska
Purdue

Iowa is the only ranked team on the schedule in the next 10. And they play #18 Wisconsin and #13 Minnesota prior to our matchup, so there's a decent chance they won't be ranked by the time that game rolls around. So our next ranked opponent might be... Minnesota on October 24th next year? If they're even ranked at that point?

Opportunity. What this means is opportunity. The 2020 team will be top-5 nationally on nearly every experience chart. I've been making the case for years that if you have the youngest college football team of the decade in 2017, you're naturally going to have one of the most experienced college football teams of the decade in 2020. Now, we've lost a fair number of those players (Louis Dorsey, Bennett Williams, etc), but still, we were #31 on Phil Steele's experience chart this season and will likely be #1 or #2 next season. Offensive line starts we should be top-5, overall snaps played we should be #1 - it's going to be an experienced team, is what I'm saying.

The list of players who are added to the mix should also be noted. Luke Ford. Marquez Beason. Mike Epstein. The most-likely-redshirting-this-year Shammond Cooper and Isaiah Williams. Derrick Smith. Trevon Sidney. Toss in some true freshmen like Jadon Thompson and Reggie Love.

There's simply an opportunity here. Win two of these final four and you get to a bowl. Get to a bowl and you'll get a boost in this recruiting class (and likely a big boost for the 2021 class). Take that "might not see a ranked opponent until November" schedule next year and win a lot of games. Use that momentum to survived a fall-back year in 2021 and climb right back up in 2022. It's all there for the taking.

That's what these past two Saturdays have meant. Knock off top-of-the-West Wisconsin, then knock off leaped-in-front-of-us-these-last-two-years Purdue. From nearly 2-5 and the season falling apart to 4-4 with possibilities galore.

Now, win two and open the door to everything.

Comments

PapaDels4me on October 27 @ 05:38 PM CDT

Good thoughts, Robert.
Kind of a simple concept, yet a very big deal.
Let's hope the team and the staff are up to it, because wouldn't it be nice to be relevant for more than one season?

Answer: Yes, it would.

Brave Illini on October 27 @ 08:18 PM CDT

Remember the transfer portal as a means to reload with experienced players. Plus, if winning games attracts higher rated recruits, they can contribute earlier. Those things help lessen the fear of a cliff.

Groundhogday on October 27 @ 09:35 PM CDT

The way I look at it, a 6-6 finish this year means Lovie isn't a failure. It means we don't have to fire the coach, hire another coach, and start another rebuild. It would be huge for Illinois football to not have Lovie fail in Year 4. It would be huge for Illinois to pull in solid 2020 recruiting class.

Is heLovie going to succeed at Illinois? Jury is still out on that, but I'll gratefully take the reprieve. A few weeks ago, it sure looked like this team was going to finish with 3-4 wins.

IlliNYC on October 28 @ 11:02 AM CDT

Totally agree. We really, really needed Lovie to NOT be a total disaster.

It's all in sight now. Get to 6, make a bowl, finish off this class, make another bowl, get a solid class, rinse, repeat..respectability. 2021 is a lifetime away, but our schedule isn't so tough that seeking out 6 wins should be viewed as impossible especially if the staff can add some impact upper classman transfers.

Having to fire Lovie after this year would be very difficult to come back from.

Joe Edge on October 28 @ 12:25 PM CDT

I'm with GHD on this one also. I don't know if Lovie will succeed at Illinois or not... But, Frankly I'll be elated if we don't have to go through another firing/hiring/rebuilding sequence again ... That's basically all we've done for the past 50 years, and it's getting old... just like me.

jdl on October 27 @ 09:37 PM CDT

Can we really use "back" and "rebuilt" when we've never been there or had that? But point taken.

mmyers74 on October 27 @ 11:26 PM CDT

I'm not going to go through a massive explanation here... but your comment says that either you're young (which is great) or a bit less than informed (which is fine too).

But illinois, recent history aside, has been a tremendous program, for sustained periods.

It's ok that you don't known that, but a bit of light reading might put you in a better mood about the program.

jdl on October 28 @ 08:35 AM CDT

Nope, not young. I look forward your "massive explanation" about all the sustained success we've had.

Robert on October 28 @ 11:28 AM CDT

This is a good point, jdl. The only time we've really ever had it "built" is maybe 1982 through 1992. But even Mike White went 4-7 and then 3-7-1 at the end of his run and Mackovic had to kind of rebuild from there.

Joe Edge on October 28 @ 12:37 PM CDT

Exactly... I've been watching since Ray Eliot was coach. Can't see that we've done anything 'sustained' since then. M.White certainly brought a breath of fresh air, but as you say even he had his run come to a fairly quick end.

Groundhogday on October 28 @ 01:37 PM CDT

Having a couple of competitive but down seasons is okay. Even the great Barry Alvarez when 4–5–2 in Year 6 at Wisconsin. Dantonio had 7-6 and 3-9 seasons sprinkled into a great run.

Our program was clearly "built" from 1982-1992, a time that happened to coincide with my undergrad years. In fact, Alvarez used Illinois as a model for what can happen with a downtrodden program when he took over Wisconsin in 1989.

illinisludge on October 27 @ 11:26 PM CDT

Lack of letdown might be the best sign I’ve seen this year and it is a very big thing. But I can’t think about 2021 or 2022. I’m not convinced Lovie deserves to be around then. Heck 2020 is not a given on my mind.

Keep up the good work, Robert.

Arizona Bob on October 28 @ 12:25 AM CDT

Robert, the problem is that there's a management issue with the way Lovie builds an organization that doesn't bode well for the future. I'm talking about his apparently intentional approach of hiring minimally qualified staff when we need to attract the best and brightest.

Without top recruiters, the program is going nowhere no matter what we do in 2019 and 2020 on the field.

OL recruiting has been non-competitive. We're going up against stars like former Illini coach Ed Warriner (Michigan) who is so better at recruiting than Coach McClain that it's ridiculous. The same applies to OL coaches like Joe Rudolph at Wisconsin and Brian Callahan at Minnesota. Brad Davis for OL at Missou also has far better bonafides.

The only position we've had recent top recruits is out of Texas from Hayes-Stoker, St Louis with Patterson, and former Coach Phair at DL. current DL coach Clark with no previous DL coaching experience ANYWHERE let alone P5/top 25 programs just hasn't been able to bring enough in to be competitive. Except for Betiku, his recruiting just won't cut it.

LB prep recruiting has been miserable except for Cooper who Patterson brought in. Those high three and four star players aren't giving Miles Smith the time of day....

Bellamy hasn't done much recruiting in Chicago or bringing in RBs. Nothing close to Corbin, Epstein or Brown. It seems he can teach well but not so much recruit, but we NEED recruiting.

OF course the biggest problem in recruiting is DB, where Hudson and Byrd have pretty brought in no one and are being completely shut out from the level of talent we need next year according to the recruiting services. That's no surprise. They had virtually NO recruiting experience at the P5 level before coming to Illinois.

Why Lovie isn't hiring the "best and brightest" for staff is beyond my ken. If I'm being paid $5 million per year to build a program and had the money as Lovie does in the budget, why does he just load his staff with unqualified cronies and family members?

Illinimac68 on October 28 @ 07:43 AM CDT

The lack of knowledge of anything besides b-school jargon in this post is breathtaking. Your analysis is utterly refuted by the recruits Lovie has signed when the program was in the dumper who are now playing well and will play even better next year. Lots of Lovie critics have suggested the last two games are still not convincing evidence of a turnaround but we're to believe your hot take about a 12 man recruiting class with four spots left to fill in late October as a chart for failure in the next several years.

JimmyTheLayup on October 28 @ 09:35 AM CDT

This guy thinks that Austin Clark isn't a good recruiter. Oh my.

Robert on October 28 @ 11:54 AM CDT

I'll go point by point.

OL recruiting has been non-competitive. We're going up against stars like former Illini coach Ed Warriner (Michigan) who is so better at recruiting than Coach McClain that it's ridiculous. The same applies to OL coaches like Joe Rudolph at Wisconsin and Brian Callahan at Minnesota. Brad Davis for OL at Missou also has far better bonafides.

Agree that OL recruiting is a massive concern. They did so well in the first class with Green, Palcho, and Lowe (plus Boyd, but he flamed out for other reasons). And I think they did well in the second class, too, as we will find out in a few years (Slaughter, V. Brown, Myers). But the 2019 and 2020 classes at OL probably aren't going to cut it. I think Kevin Tyler was the only one of those I gave more than 2 Tom Cruises.

The only position we've had recent top recruits is out of Texas from Hayes-Stoker, St Louis with Patterson, and former Coach Phair at DL. current DL coach Clark with no previous DL coaching experience ANYWHERE let alone P5/top 25 programs just hasn't been able to bring enough in to be competitive. Except for Betiku, his recruiting just won't cut it.

Agree on the Clark concerns for both coaching and recruiting. But I'm not sure I agree that they haven't been able to "bring in enough to be competitive" on the defensive line. Last year's class had Randolph (came down to Illinois, Florida State, Virginia, Michigan State, and Iowa), Okpala (Illinois, Ole Miss, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State, or Kentucky), and Coleman (came down to Illinois, Utah, or Baylor in the end but Nebraska, TCU, and Baylor were all offered as well after his "first four games" senior film hit). That's a Big Ten DL recruiting class. Add Betiku to the list and I think you could say that 2019 was maybe our best DL class this decade?

LB prep recruiting has been miserable except for Cooper who Patterson brought in. Those high three and four star players aren't giving Miles Smith the time of day....

Agree. Just no traction there. And it all falls on Lovie giving the job to his son. Doyle is probably the most important recruit on the board right now?

Bellamy hasn't done much recruiting in Chicago or bringing in RBs. Nothing close to Corbin, Epstein or Brown. It seems he can teach well but not so much recruit, but we NEED recruiting.

Bellamy gets credit for Jadon Thompson and CJ Dixon. That's a huge Chicago pull and a huge Georgia pull. As to "nothing close to Corbin, Epstein, or Brown" at tailback, isn't Reggie Love rated higher than all of them?

OF course the biggest problem in recruiting is DB, where Hudson and Byrd have pretty brought in no one and are being completely shut out from the level of talent we need next year according to the recruiting services. That's no surprise. They had virtually NO recruiting experience at the P5 level before coming to Illinois.

Really reaching at this point. Hudson not only pulled the USC transfers, he was the one who nabbed Derrick Smith from Miami. Byrd I will give you - both his position (safety) and his recruiting area (basically none?) are sorely behind. Safety depth might be the biggest concern going into 2020. But Hudson should not be grouped in there.

So yes, there are concerns, but this post seems to go overboard. I wouldn't cry if McClain, M. Smith, or Byrd left after the season and more experienced assistants were brought in. But I'm good with guys like Bellamy and Hudson.

Groundhogday on October 28 @ 07:13 PM CDT

The way I look at it, not every coach has to be a great recruiter, but every coach as to be great at something or good at many things: teaching, recruiting, and/or strategy.

Byrd is a disappointment because he brings zero to recruiting, but also doesn't seem to be particularly good at player development and isn't even co-DC material on the strategy side. Conversely, Liggs brings little to recruiting, but special teams are the strength of the team!

The OL is finally starting to gel, but given that McClain inherited a terrific group it is hard to give a lot of credit here. Recruiting has been near zero. I didn't like the McClain hire at the time, but he still has some time to prove himself. For the OL coach, I'm less worried about recruiting if he can prove himself as a terrific player development guy.

Miles Smith? Lovie HAD to bring in a stud recruiter for this position. Lovie hiring his unqualified and inexperienced son for this position was inexcusable. Pure unadulterated nepotism.

Upgrade these three position coaches, and this is a good staff.

ppbob on October 29 @ 09:42 AM CDT

Remember with Hudson his transfer links to USC are pretty much done now. While Derrick Smith MAY be a good get (I haven't heard any reports about him knocking anyone's socks off in practices, is he enrolled yet?) Hudson hasn't really shown he can recruit quality prep CBs, which one would think would be his top attribute given his South Florida roots. If the recruiting data bases are correct, he's not in on ANY top CBs either in Florida, SoCal or anywhere else for that matter.....that's a problem....

Illinimac68 on October 28 @ 01:27 PM CDT

https://twitter.com/SWiltfong247/status/1188825984931373057

deadguy on October 28 @ 01:55 PM CDT

Your post is filled with nonsense but it's amazing to me that you took a shot at Bellamy. Bellamy was the lead recruiter for Thompson and Dixon.

Expecting him to do much more given the state of this program and when he got here is rather ridiculous.

ppbob on October 29 @ 10:06 AM CDT

I agree that Thompson is a good get, but I understand that the Dixon commit is shakey. That's why they're still chasing Spann, who seems to be a better fit for Coach Rod's offense.

If we do assign recruiting responsibilities by area, then you have to ding Bellamy if his area is Northern Illinois. As I stated before, we lost out on about 5 or 6 Illinois OL that were rated above our commits. We also lost out on some really good DEs in Rilie Mills (ND), Sean McLaughlin (NW) and Lukas VanNess(IA). Also we lost out on Willis Singleton (DT) and Kevon Billingsly from ESL to Missou, but that's probably on Patterson. Each was rated higher than our Florida DT commit.

I've been following the Illini recruiting for a long time, and we've never dominated Illinois prep recruiting, but getting 3 or 4 of the top 10 and 7-10 of the top 25 was not unusual. It seems we're not getting even that anymore, and we're not getting better talent from out of state.

What's frustrating is that I think Lovie could really be successful here if he just put more value in recruiting skills in staff and upgraded it. Why he doesn't is beyond me. He has the budget.

ppbob on October 28 @ 01:17 PM CDT

Robert, please remember that Green, Palcho. Lowe and Boyd were recruited by Butkus, NOT McClain, as were Slaughter, Brown and Myers. You can only give McClain credit for Plohr, Kirts, and this year's recruits Griffin, Sparks and Tyler. The biggest concern was him getting shut out on some pretty good in state OL in 4* Skoronski (NW), 3* Elsbury (IA), 3* Spraggins (Tenn), 3* Harper (Oregon), 3* Barrett (Wisconsin), 3* Wesley (Vandy), 3* Williams (Cinn.) and 3* Renfro (Cinn.). This wasn't like losing players to ND, tOSU, and Mich. These were just decent programs.

deadguy on October 28 @ 01:57 PM CDT

Are you new here? What makes you think that Robert doesn't understand this? He's acknowledged this in the LLUOIs for all of the recent OL recruits.

It's rather silly to write these kids off before they've even played a down here.

Robert on October 28 @ 03:48 PM CDT

I think what's getting lost here is position coaches and recruiting classes. The defensive line coach didn't add Calvin Avery - wide receiver coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker did. Shammond Cooper didn't sign on because of the linebacker coach - he picked Illinois because of Cory Patterson. The position coach is obviously involved in building out the big-board, and sometimes they're directly involved in landing their recruits (Butkus discovering, offering, and landing Palcho), but other times it's an "area" recruit (meaning, the offensive coordinator is recruiting Birmingham and discovers, offers, and lands defensive lineman Jamal Woods).

So it's not just that Butkus "landed" the solid 2017 and 2018 classes and now McClain has failed to land the same in 2019 and 2020. That's certainly part of it (building the big board, prioritizing the targets, getting involved in their recruitment, showing them how they'll fit on the line once they're on campus for a visit), but many of those players were assigned to other recruiters.

As far as McClain is concerned, I think I've been fairly straightforward on how I feel about that, as well as the lack of punch in this OL class, as Deadguy mentioned.

deadguy on October 28 @ 03:16 PM CDT

The Class of 2021 is going to be so important for the future of this program. It's going to be a full class and this staff has been getting a number of Class of 2021 kids on campus. They haven't landed any for obvious reasons but if Lovie can get to 6-6 then we should hopefully start landing some of them.

The recruiting timeline has changed so much with the December signing period. Lots of schools have multiple Class of 2021 commits already. I'm excited about the possibility of this staff recruiting with this new facility and a bowl game on their resumes.

Lots of work to do but I thought this program was a total write off in the short term after the Nebraska game.

Robert on October 28 @ 03:54 PM CDT

So true. The 2021 class will almost certainly be more than 25. Depending on attrition, there will be somewhere between 28-32 scholarships available. So we'll probably see several early enrollees backdated to 2020 and maybe even some blueshirts forward-dated to 2022 (all done so we can go above the NCAA max of 25 per class).

ppbob on October 29 @ 09:48 AM CDT

Transfers and JC players have traditionally been used not only to address immediate needs, but to fill in position and numbers gaps classes. It doesn't matter if the players in a class are not there because of a small recruiting class or attrition, you need a good balance for a team to be competitive.

Of course you need more than "warm bodies" as transfers. One of Beckman's problems was that he brought in a lot of JC players who just weren't P5 caliber and wasted their schollie spots that could have been used for preps with better potential...

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