Spring Mailbag III

Apr 27, 2019

Let's start this one with an email question. I'm an equal opportunity mailbagger. Sure, Twitter is flashy and modern, but sometimes you just want to take a question from someone via good old electronic mail, you know? Why, I can remember a day when we didn't even HAVE email.....

My question actually relates to that. With the extreme misery of football and basketball coinciding with the start of your site, do you think that your passion for Illini sports has grown or waned since you started the site?
~Eric F.

GREAT question. Excited to answer this one.

First off, it has definitely changed the sports I pay attention to. From the time I started the blog to today, my percentages are roughly something like this:

2009: Illini FB 25%, Illini BB 20%, Rams 20%, Cardinals 20%, Blues 15%
2019: Illini FB 48%, Illini BB 40%, Aston Villa 5%, Cardinals 4%, Blues 3%, Rams 0%

Part of that is just that thing where you get older and you realize you don't have to do All The Things and concentrate on the stuff you're really passionate about. For me, it was this realization that I far prefer college sports to pro sports, and that nothing the Cardinals or Blues could do would ever match the excitement I feel walking into Memorial Stadium or the State Farm Center, and so if that means I can't even name ten Blues players, so be it.

To get back to the question, yes, I believe that the "extreme misery" (well put) of Illini football and basketball since I started the blog really has taken a toll. I can't tell you how many times I've had the thought while driving back to St. Louis "what would it even be like to make this drive after a ranked Illini football team knocked off Penn State?". I honestly can't even imagine it.

I think the best way to answer this question is to say this: I still get super excited to drive to Champaign for both football and basketball games. And a big part of that is the ability to cover both teams from the pressbox/press row. I wasn't given a press credential until 2013, so I spent four years busting my butt and building a following and earning trust. So that part plays into all of this. I enjoy covering the teams even more than I enjoy following the teams.

Has it been hard? Yes. I'd kill for a winning team to follow/cover. But if anything, from 2009 to today, my Illini fandom has only increased.

How would you rate the overall talent level for each of Lovie's years as HC?

-- Danny (@DannyFellin) April 24, 2019

Just the other day I was going through Illini draft picks since Mike White. When restricted to just the first seven rounds (since there are only seven rounds today), here are the draft picks since Mike White's first recruiting class was draft eligible:

1982 - 2 draft picks in the first seven rounds
1983 - 2
1984 - 3
1985 - 1
1986 - 6
1987 - 0
1988 - 4
1989 - 1
1990 - 2
1991 - 5
1992 - 1
1993 - 1
1994 - 1
1995 - 4
1996 - 3
1997 - 1
1998 - 1
1999 - 1
2000 - 2
2001 - 2
2002 - 1
2003 - 5
2004 - 2
2005 - 2
2006 - 0
2007 - 1
2008 - 1
2009 - 3
2010 - 4
2011 - 4
2012 - 4
2013 - 4
2014 - 0
2015 - 0
2016 - 3
2017 - 1
2018 - 0
2019 - 0?

The question mark is there because there's a chance Nick Allegretti gets drafted. But if not, that's four of the last six years without a single player drafted. And after not going back-to-back years without a draft pick since the 1940's, we would do it twice in the last six years.

And next year doesn't have any sure-fire picks. Perhaps Bobby Roundtree has a monster year and declares early, and if Reggie Corbin takes another step forward maybe he can get drafted, but there's also a chance that's another 0-fer.

So to answer your question, thus far, Lovie inherited one NFL draft pick (Dawuane Smoot who played for Lovie his senior season in 2016). When you include the Cubit class in that (I don't think there are any NFL players in the 2016 class), it looks like history will show that Lovie inherited Smoot (for one year) and that's it.

That holds with what I've seen at training camp, I think. Each year the talent has gotten progressively better. It's hard to judge how much better, given that Lovie hasn't coached his own upperclassman yet (and young players are hard to read), but I think anyone who attended the 2017 training camp would tell you that when you watched the practices, 12 of the 15 most talented players on the field were true freshmen.

So I'll answer this way.

2016: Decent talent (guys like Justin Hardee and Hardy Nickerson Jr. made it in the NFL as street free agents).
2017: All the talent was in the freshman class, with so very little coming from the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes.
2018: The freshman class didn't match the one form the year before; the talent was found in the sophomore class.

2019, hopefully, is another "wow these freshmen (and transfers) are quite talented". If it's another 2018, we might be in trouble talent-wise. If it's another 2017, we might be getting somewhere.

Can this DL get pressure against a Big 10 OL?

-- Brian Dietz (@BDietz22) April 24, 2019

I think it can. I feel better about the secondary than the defensive line, but I will say that I expect the defensive line (out of all the positions) to make the biggest leap this season. That leap might only be "now the 68th-best defensive line in college football!", but hey, it's better than nothing.

There are two main reasons I think the DL can take a big step forward:

  1. We'll finally have tons of seniors and juniors on the field.
  2. We'll finally have depth.

I feel like I recently covered this, but here's a real quick look at the depth:

WDE: Gay (JR) | Betiku (JR) | Shogbonyo (JR) | Coleman (FR)
3DT: Oliver (SR) | Woods (rs-SO) | Oladipo (rs-SO) | Randolph (FR)
NT: Milan (SR) | Avery (SO) | Jackson (SR) | Pate (rs-SO)
SDE: Roundtree (JR) | Carney (JR) | Holmes (rs-FR) | Okpala (FR)

That's a four-deep, and honestly, it feels like I'm forgetting someone. When filling it out, I find myself wondering if Lere Oladipo would really be third string (no way) or if Deon Pate should be on fourth string (no way). When I have that feeling, I start to think that this will be a dependable position.

Like, why am I worried about wide receiver? Because I can't come anywhere close to putting together a depth chart like that. Quarterback? One first year player, three second-year players, zero third-year, zero fourth-year, zero fifth-year. Defensive line? Three seniors, five juniors. three redshirt sophomores. That's a depth chart that's primed for a leap.


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