Signing Day Rant


Robert
Dec 18, 2019
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19 Comments

I just can't help myself. So, so incredibly rant-y lately. My main emotion the last month as I flip through texts, Twitter, and message boards has been "no no no no NO". This always means one thing: I need to spit out a long rant which will absolutely be read the wrong way yet a course correction isn't possible without entering those waters. So here we go.

First off, Lego Movie Illini Twitter continues to undermine the fanbase. Every recruit is great, every decommit had {insert rumor}, CAN YOU IMAGINE THESE TWO PLAYING NEXT TO EACH OTHER? Like and then long into your burner and like again.

As a result, everyone else runs to the starboard side. To even utter something positive is to be seen as aligned with the fanfic crowd so negative-away. Question everything, stay doubtful, "if we win I'm happy and if we lose I was right".

That's my read, anyway. The soft middle no longer exists. I blame politics. Your stance informs your reaction, not the other way around.

So when I see something as nuanced as recruiting being stanced - if you're team fanfic, every recruit is amazing; if you're on the starboard side, 14th in the Big Ten must not be spun in any positive direction - I get rant-y. There's a comfortable middle here, and no one is talking about it. Let's talk about it.

It starts with the rebuild. If you're a regular here, you know I've written about it 25 times. Lovie swiftly overhauled the roster, more or less ignoring the Beckman players and picking and choosing his way through the Cubit class. Two years ago, in a post I titled What Is Happening, I wrote about how quickly Lovie was overhauling the roster (read: playing the freshmen immediately and sending the sophomores and juniors to the third string) compared to Beckman and Zook. I showed that with this statistic, listing out Zook, Beckman, and Lovie's two-deep for their third season in Champaign:

2007 (Zook's third season): 37 inherited players, 13 recruits
2014 (Beckman's third season): 34 inherited players (he used more jucos than Zook), 16 recruits
2018 (Lovie's third season): 16 inherited players, 34 recruits

I also made the point that if Lovie had been allowed a first recruiting class (he was hired in March after Signing Day), that number (16) would be even smaller because his "first" class counted as "inherited" players. The point: Lovie turned to his own recruits at an alarming pace.

And this meant that his upperclassman numbers have been smaller than small for three seasons. Having the fastest senior day ceremony in the country is now our thing, apparently. The numbers:

  • 2017 Senior Day: 8 scholarship seniors (Dunlap, Crawford, Turner, Foster, Roberts, Echard, Fagan, DiLauro)
  • 2018 Senior Day: 7 scholarship seniors (Bush, Phillips, Mays, Dudek, Roberts, McLaughlin, Allegretti)
  • 2019 Senior Day: 11 scholarship seniors (Corbin, Green, Harding, J. Williams, Reams, Davis, D. Brown, Milan, Petitbon, Jackson, Oliver)

All three years have seen some redshirt juniors graduating and heading out the door with the seniors (like Palmer, Shogbonyo, and Gavin this year), but the point is this: sophomores and juniors left after 2016 and 2017 to make room for large recruiting classes. With Lovie's first class (2017) now rounding the corner towards their senior seasons next fall, there just aren't that many players leaving like when all the Beckman and Cubit players left. And as a result, there's only 16 open scholarships available for this class. Just like last year (a class of 16).

Those numbers will go up or down based on other players who might leave (there are always players who leave in the spring in search of playing time), but I'm assuming the majority of those scholarships would then be flipped over to other transfers. The point: the target for this class was 12-15 high school players, not 25. Next year, everything balances back out and it's a class of 25 (and then at least 20 for the years after that).

With that in mind, this class was never going to rank anywhere. So if your friend sent you a text saying "a bowl game and then the recruiting class is ranked in the 60's?", explain this to him. Actually - don't. He's not really looking for a discussion. He loves his starboard side and isn't really going to leave the rail.

What's the best way to look at this class if the systems aren't really set up to accurately rank a 12-person class? I think the best way to view it is the class we were accumulating before Peters hit Barker, and the class we added since. I'm going to leave Jadon Thompson off this list for now (given that he didn't sign today and will "hopefully" sign in February) and look at the players we added in the offseason, the two jucos we added during the season, and then, most importantly, the four players we added this last week.

OFFSEASON
Reggie Love
: Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Penn State
Quinton McCoy: Louisville, Iowa State, USF, Southern Miss
Phifer Griffin: West Virginia, Air Force, Marshall, East Carolina
Kevin Tyler: Missouri, Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana
James Frenchie: Tennessee, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky
Blaise Sparks: Pittsburgh, USF, Temple, Southern Miss

JUCOS
Lavar Gardner: Nebraska, Southern Miss, Texas State, UMass
Anthony Shipton: Arizona, Hawaii, UTEP

DECEMBER
Tre'von Riggins: Florida, Miami, Tennessee, Arizona State
Cooper Davis: Tennessee, Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota
Gregory Spann: Florida State, Tennessee, Auburn, Utah
Jerzhan Newton: Florida, Florida State, Miami, Iowa

Jucos are kind of their own thing (it's harder to go by offers because many programs don't even look there), so that's why I made them their own category, but I think you can see from the "December" list that there was a significant uptick. The plan - perhaps it should be framed as "the necessity" - is now to take that uptick and translate it to the 2021 class.

If we were to tier this class, I'd go with this:

Certainly look like players who could win the Big Ten West: Love, Frenchie, Riggins, Davis, Spann, Newton (and Thompson)
Players somewhere between the two lists: McCoy, Tyler
Projects: Griffin, Sparks, Gardner, Shipton

Translate that forward to a 24-man class next year and I think the goals should be something like this:

Certainly look like players who could win the Big Ten West: 12 recruits
Players somewhere between the two lists: 6
Projects: 6

Land something like that and with the numbers, you'll have a top-35 class to crow about. Minnesota's current class has 26 players, with (approximating here) 13 in the top category, 6 in the middle, 7 in the bottom, and it ranks 31st, so yeah, that would be the goal here. Their player average is 85.84 and our player average is 85.56 so yeah - a class of 25 at our current player average is going to be right at 35th nationally. That should be the goal, bowl game to sell and whatnot.

In fact, I can make that even easier. Our bowl opponent Cal State (that's a joke please no corrections in the comments) has a class of 25 with an average ranking of 85.81, slightly above our 85.56, and that class ranks 34th currently. So there's the takeaway for your texting friend. If we had a full class (with players ranked where our players are ranked), it's maybe the #34 class or so. We don't have that many scholarships, for all the reasons above, and so our class is "60th". Let the starboard takes flow.

Big picture, I see today this way:

  1. A year after having the smallest recruiting class in all of Power Five football, we now have the... smallest recruiting class in all of Power Five football again (tied with Virginia at the moment) (EDIT: USC only has 11, so they're the smallest class this year after early signing day). Why? The method of rebuilding and 26 total seniors the last three seasons. 26!
  2. The class saw an uptick in December, presumably because they could sell a bowl game and some hope for the future.
  3. Now that uptick absolutely must carry forward to the 2021 class. This class will be double in size and must have double the "now that's a player who can help us win the Big Ten West" players.

There are other storylines here:

+ Zero players from Illinois signed today - do we need them, or is it better to just focus on St. Louis and Florida?

+ The big surge in defensive line recruits (Newton, Riggins, Davis) was very helpful - now the focus is on the offensive line. Next year's OL class has to have a Newton-Riggins-Davis equivalent.

+ We absolutely needed the transfer injection last year and wouldn't be bowling without Peters and Bhebhe, Betiku and Eifler. Do we do the same with the scholarships we have left or do we look for some Devon Witherspoons instead, building the depth on the lower end of the depth chart instead of the top?

All of that can be discussed all offseason. For now, we recruited a class of 12 and it's perfectly fine. With a bowl in our pocket and all these seniors for 2020, we must now take a step forward on the field and a step forward in recruiting. The next 12 months are everything.

Rant over.

Comments

Our Success Equals The Knowledge on December 18 @ 03:27 PM CST

Great points. A few things I'd question/consider:

  1. It's interesting that 2/4 of our "projects" are JUCO commits, who you would usually prefer to see the field sooner rather than later.

  2. One of my bigger concerns is that while we are stockpiling and accumulating talent, we aren't necessarily stacking classes positionally. Looking ahead to 2022, the '18 redshirts and the 19 and 20 classes we have 2 linebackers for 3 positions, 1 safety (J. Thompson) for 2 positions, no true nose on the DLine, and many question marks on the offensive line (yes this is the hardest position to evaluate prep players, but our potential tackles seem to be Pearl, Kirts, Griffin, and Sparks, who got 1.5, 1.5, 1.5, and 2.5 cruises.)

While I like our 12 guys, I feel like we have missed certain position groups completely, (having Doyle and Johnson would've filled those holes so nicely) and will need to rely on starting underclassmen at those positions in 2022 or rely juco/grad transfers which means you can't develop your own guys at those positions.

Robert on December 18 @ 03:42 PM CST

When I did my 2021 depth chart this fall I laid out nine positions I'd like to see addressed with the rest of the 2020 recruiting class (be it freshmen or transfers). Here's how I had it:

Offensive Line

Wide Receiver

Defensive End

Defensive End

Defensive Tackle

Linebacker

Cornerback

Safety

Safety

We added six players since that post - a linebacker, four defensive linemen, and a quarterback (who simply replaced the other QB in the class). If we add Thompson and then, say, four transfers, I'd like to see the transfers be OL, corner, safety, safety. We do have two senior starters at corner so the ideal scenario (to me) would be a freshman corner and then upperclassman transfers at OL and safety.

orangejulius on December 18 @ 06:17 PM CST

So every single recruit on our list of 12 has at least one other P-5 offer. Some of them have offers from much higher level programs. That's really encouraging. I do wonder about offer inflation (which offers were commitable, which were retracted, etc.), but just for the hell of it I looked at the year 2013 and at the lower end of our class, we were battling powerhouses such as Florida Atlantic, San Diego State, Elon, etc. and some had zero other offers besides ours.

In the end I'm not asking for miracles. I just want to know that we're improving, and that hiring Lovie mattered, and I think it's clear that Lovie is significantly upgrading talent to where we can compete (as we did this season) with mid level programs such as MSU and Iowa.

Robert on December 18 @ 09:42 PM CST

That's a good way to look at it. Are we upgrading talent?

I looked at the 13 Beckman/Cubit players who are graduating and the 11 high school players coming in. I originally looked up their composite rating, but there's been clear grade inflation over the years. So I decided to look at player rank. Where were the outgoing players ranked and where were the incoming players ranked in their classes?

Players graduating: Dre Brown #457, Dele Harding #721, Jamal Milan #898, Kurt Gavin #1098, Trenard Davis #1112, Kenyon Jackson #1219, Justice Williams #1305, Caleb Reams #1353, Reggie Corbin #1534, Stanley Green #1723, Tymir Oliver #1872, Griffin Palmer #2159, Ayo Shogbonyo #2841

Average ranking: #1406

High school players in the 2020 class (can't use the jucos because they're ranked differently): Thompson #351, Frenchie #408, Love #430, Riggins #810, Davis #903, Spann #905, Newton #1024, Griffin #1342, Tyler #1374, McCoy #1652, Sparks #1951

Average ranking: #888

So yes, definitely improving. Improving enough? We'll learn very soon.

Groundhogday on December 18 @ 10:06 PM CST

I'd agree Lovie has upgraded the roster relative to Beckman. But then you look at recruiting classes for Minnesota, Nebraska and Purdue and wonder if we'll be able to out-develop or out-coach those programs.

mmyers74 on December 19 @ 07:49 AM CST

This is why I used to read Alioneye and why I read IlliniBoard. Logic.

My take on Lovie has always been:

Postives: (echoing this article) Generally speaking, across the board, our talent/skill/recruiting will rise. The 1's become 2's, 2's 3's. 3's 4's, 4's a few 5's etc... The average weight of our OL/Inner DL, goes up. We no longer get pushed around.

Why? Because Lovie will open more doors. Lovie will get us a seat at better tables. Better tables, same %, better result. Make a key hire here or there (coach P), get a bump.

Middling: Game Planning: He needs an actual innovative Def Coordinator. He is pretty easy to scheme against, Bc he is an "ok, here's a base defense, now go make plays" kind of guy.

In Lovie's system, more so than other systems, it's up to the players get you the wins.

(He needs a great OC as well. I don't think I need to expound.)

Negatives with Lovie: 2 things 1. X's/O's are not his thing. End of story. 2. His game feel and his clock management are on par with the worst in the nation, lovingly, no exaggeration. The Illini actually, comically, need a person (I volunteer) to own/have complete control over timeouts, instant replay, etc... Games can be won/lost in the final 4 minutes of a first half, and a game. Lovie is dominantly overmatched here. Dominantly

Resulting prediction:

Lovie will bring the program back. It's on its way. We will have good years like this (good based on where we came from), better years like next (schedule aided), and then I predict a series of middling (5-8 win seasons), Bc the talent is there, but the strategy is not.

If he truly surrounds himself with some elite strategic talent, this program could be a 7-10+ programs with the talent Lovie can bring in, Bc it will continue to improve.

Jacob on December 19 @ 09:55 AM CST

So you are reading the deuce but not commenting. You aren't gone completely

uofi08 on December 19 @ 10:28 AM CST

Another good post. Stuff like this is your bread and butter.

One thing I will add though, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned about recruiting. Lovie has had 4 classes (I know ‘20 is officially over yet). 2017: 46 nationally, 10 B1G, .8331 average. 2018: 54 nationally, 12 B1G, .8381 average. 2019: 53 nationally, 13 B1G, .8622 average. 2020: 64 nationally, 13 B1G, .8556 average. Those stats are concerning any way you look at it. Obviously class size matters, but the 1st 2 classes were huge and the average drops off with that many players. Sure the average is decent in 19 and 20 but there’s no reason to assume that average would stay that high with a class twice the size. Bottom line is Lovie is recruiting at the bottom of the conference consistently and transfers are his one saving grace in terms of roster building. Better hope the portal continues to pay off because at this rate, Lovie will be lucky to stay at 6-7 wins per season.

mmyers74 on December 19 @ 11:10 AM CST

Your logic is a bit flawed if you're using seasons 1 and 2 as your "larger class will bring down the average" gauge. Not worth re-explaining, but there's no indication the %'s would drop much, with a larger class. It's all hypothetical, so it's silly to discuss.

That said, your statement at the bottom is worth highlighting. It's a new era in college football. The era of the portal, and we've done very, very well there. P5 talents, not getting a fair shake, and Lovie offers a very different experience for a young man. The "hope the portal pays off" makes it sound like the portal is just about luck. I think Lovie has a strong portal value proposition that will continue to pay dividends.

I think we are fated to be a 5 to 9 win team unless Lovie gets strategic (OC/DC) help. But his recruiting (in and out of the portal) won't be his downfall.

uofi08 on December 20 @ 10:17 AM CST

Sorry I didn’t respond earlier lol. I think my logic actual makes sense as those 4 classes are the only data we can actually go on, and even with better programs, the average typically goes down as class size goes up just based on filling out that many scholarships. With smaller classes, you have to really prioritize. With big classes, obviously you still prioritize, but you also need to fill spots.

The transfer portal is really something to pay attention to as transfers become more widespread. I think Lovie definitely has the right idea, with going after former top recruits that appear to not have had the opportunity at the blue bloods. But there is still a not insignificant amount of luck involved. We’re talking about players that couldn’t earn playing time for multiple years. Sure some have the pedigree and just need the chance, but there’s some that have just simply not performed up to their ranking and are non-starters for a reason. Bhe Bhe was like our 3rd or 4th choice of grad transfer WR and turned out better than anyone could’ve expected.

Robert on December 19 @ 11:56 AM CST

Two comments, uofi08:

First, I agree that it's nowhere near what anyone (myself included) expected initially. When it was announced that we'd have a top-10 assistant coach salary pool (that didn't turn out to be true - we had the 29th-largest assistant coaching salary pool), I went on a podcast and declared top-25 classes to be a lock. I figured we'd go steal recruiters from SEC schools and destroy the Big Ten in the recruiting game. Not only did that not happen, we've been nowhere close to the top-35. So I don't think it's "unreasonable" to be concerned.

My issue is ignoring the rebuilding method when discussing recruiting. Once I saw what they were doing (advance true freshmen ahead of the Beckman/Cubit players immediately), I started talking about how we wouldn't have a full recruiting class until 2021 (single digit senior classes for three years). Based on that, I reset my expectations for the 2019 and 2020 classes given their size. I'm operating from those reset expectations, yet everywhere I look, people are still stuck on "64TH? FOR HIS FOURTH CLASS?"

uofi08 on December 19 @ 12:51 PM CST

Thanks for the reply. I’m aware of the rebuilding method. Everything you say is true. I’m just saying it’s not good enough. Average stars are fine, but with small classes, you have to land your best prospects. Maryland and Minnesota have 27 commits and kept their average right on par with our 12-13 guys. I’d guess if you only average their top 12 players, that average ranking would look a lot different. If the plan was a complete tear down and rebuild, you have to rebuild with better pieces than the initial build had. In terms of recruiting, Lovie is only marginally better, and that’s not good enough. If he continues to get quality transfers, maybe this point is moot, but I’d caution that approach as you’re not always going to get as lucky as we did this year with the transfers’ production.

Groundhogday on December 19 @ 01:59 PM CST

This is a valid point: all other factors being equal, a larger class will generally have a lower ranking average because you have to stretch a bit in filling the last slots.

One way to compare apples to apples would be to look at the top 12 in our class vs the top 12 in the Minnesota class. Obviously, they would be way ahead.

Like Robert, I thought Lovie's recruiting would be stronger. He came in with such terrific name recognition, but seems to be willing to carry guys who don't contribute much to recruiting at coaching positions where you normally have recruiters (Smith at LB, Byrd in the secondary come to mind.)

Overall, recruiting has improved a notch over Beckman, but we are no where near Zook level recruiting. Let's see if they can coach 'em up!

Robert on December 19 @ 03:42 PM CST

That's mostly where I'm at. I had this discussion with some friends after 63-0 and my position was that things were very bleak but there was still a path to salvage it. The path:

2020 would be small class so start slow and then close hard once you get to six wins. With a bowl game to sell, hit the 2021 class hard and bring in a really good class of 25. Then use a combination of transfers plus the better players in the 2019 and 2020 classes to survive the cliff in 2021.

They got to six wins and closed well (seven legit Big Ten players of the 13 in this class). Now it's time for a top-35 class in 2021 (plus 3-4 high-end transfers this spring and next spring).

mmyers74 on December 19 @ 03:30 PM CST

I'm left wondering which is more insulting... having someone disagree with you, or having someone literally comment 'past' you, as if you weren't there. Ha. (the pain is real.) :)

Robert on December 19 @ 05:01 PM CST

I see it like this: He was responding to me, you were responding to him. So I replied to him directly and it would be up to him to respond to you. Or something.

And as always, the best way to get me to respond directly: call me a cotton-headed ninny muggins.

John Case on December 19 @ 04:44 PM CST

I like the class the players. Really like the productivity and higher ceiling athleticism in some of the Dline recruits. Totally agree with Robert about Spann. Said right when I saw his film, hmm, Illinois might finally have that 3 to 4 year starter at QB for this spread offense. Love Reggie Love on tape but I'm cautious now because of his injuries. Terry Hawthorne has forever changed my view of that stuff. So freakishly talented but probably never played a single game of college without being dinged up. My only concern is the Oline. I think Kevin Tyler will be the Asamoah winner out of this class. The other ones are just tall. I don't see potential on film. Doesn't mean its not there. Just means I don't see it now. They look to have a long road of Body By Lou in front of them. Last comment, Newton has craziest tape for a Dlineman I've ever seen recruited to Illinois in 20 years of looking at film on these recruits. He runs in space better than anyone since Mercilus, but he's actually better at it. Doesn't detach well or play well coming off the ball but damn can that kid run and he never ever quits on a play. When I evaluate Dlinemen I look for several things but one thing I always pay attention to is how far are they willing to travel to make a play and this kid is willing to travel further than I've ever seen.

IBFan on December 19 @ 09:12 PM CST

Thanks Robert, good thoughts.

John- I agree with almost everything you stated. The film is awesome on a few of these players. Oh my my my on Newton. On the OL hoping that staff got what they wanted and maybe got a future gem or two. Maybe all redshirts and a year of BBL like you said.

Groundhogday on December 20 @ 11:05 AM CST

Cory Liuget was better, but Newton reminds of Liuget: a big RB who grew into a DT and could really run.

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