Projected Roster Balance

Jan 23, 2020

Gonna slide in a quick football post here before getting back to basketball. The reason: with Dominic Stampley tweeting that he's transfering, I started looking at the number of seniors on the roster next year. That number has dropped significantly in the past eight months. So let's talk about it.

At the end of the school year last year (which is when you learn of the final players transferring because some choose to transfer after spring ball), with several transfers coming in as juniors, I started talking about the 31 seniors on the 2020 team. 31 scholarship seniors. Senior Day would take 90 minutes.

That number is now 20. How did we get there? Here's the list since the end of the school year last May:

  • First, the awful - Bobby Roundtree was injured in a swimming accident and can no longer play football.
  • In July, junior Brandon Jones took a medical scholarship and retired from football.
  • Both Mike Epstein and James Knight were injured and missed the season (Knight's injury was in spring ball; Epstein's injury was during the first game). Both will be redshirt juniors next fall instead of seniors.
  • Redshirt juniors Griffin Palmer, Kurt Gavin, and Ayo Shogbonyo all walked on senior day and will not return for a fifth and final season.
  • For whatever reason (injury, fell out of rotation, held out for redshirt purposes), Marc Mondesir and Kendall Smith only played in 3 and 2 games, respectively. Because both played as true freshmen and true sophomores, they can take a redshirt and return next year as redshirt juniors. This doesn't necessarily mean that they won't follow the Palmer, Gavin, and Shogbonyo path (graduate and move on after a fourth season with one year of eligibility remaining) but for roster purposes, they're redshirt juniors this fall, not true seniors.
  • Wole Betiku declared for the NFL draft, skipping his senior season.
  • Dominic Stampley announced that he planned to grad transfer somewhere for his final season.

That's 11 players who are no longer seniors. Senior Day just went from 90 minutes to 60.

Now, that can certainly change. With Betiku and Stampley leaving, that's now six open scholarships for next season. If there's a run on fifth-year transfers this spring, it's possible we jump back up to 22-23-24 seniors. But as of today, the number has dropped from 31 to 20.

How does the entire roster shake out? Well, only four scholarship freshmen played in five or more games (Tarique Barnes, Casey Washington, Devon Witherspoon, and Dalevon Campbell), which means that nearly the entire class redshirted under the new 4-or-less rule (including Isaiah Williams, Marquez Beason, and Shammond Cooper).

Let's make a list of all the classes. If a player played in four or less games, I keep them in the same class. For example, Marc Mondesir played in three games, so I have him as a junior. Carlos Sandy played in one game (the bowl game), so I have him as a sophomore again. Dylan Wyatt missed the entire season after playing as a freshman, so I have him as a redshirt sophomore as well. Here's the numbers:

  • 20 seniors
  • 18 juniors (I'm including Juco recruits Anthony Shipton and Lavar Gardner here)
  • 18 sophomores
  • 12 redshirt freshmen
  • 11 true freshmen
  • 6 open scholarships

These numbers constantly change, of course. I could hit "publish" on this post and then find out 15 minutes later that another player tweeted "thanks to Illinois for a great few years but I've decided to put my name in the transfer portal...". Those six open scholarshipscould go to graduate transfers, sit-out transfers, or even high school freshmen on the second signing day on February 5th. A guy like Gardner has three more years of eligibility so he might redshirt next fall and then play two years making him technically part of the sophomore class this fall. Changes will be happening.

But for now, that's where the roster stands. It doesn't really change the outlook for next season. It's still massively senior-heavy. How senior heavy? Well, a senior QB (Peters) throwing to three senior receivers (Imatorbhebhe, Smalling, and Sidney) with three (Lowe, Palczewski, and Kramer), possibly four (Cerny) senior offensive linemen. The defense will have two senior defensive ends (Carney and Gay), two seniors anchoring the linebacker position (Hansen and Eifler), and two senior cornerbacks (Hobbs and Adams). Oh, and the kicker (McCourt) is a senior. And the punter (Hayes) is a senior. And the longsnapper (Tabel) is a senior.

So this is not a "wow, we're not as experienced as I thought" post. This is still, for the most part, the 2017 recruiting class + last year's two-year grad transfers, all starting as seniors. There are multiple players with three years starting experience, many with two years starting experience... you know, I should just list them:

Will be fourth-year starters: Palcho, Kramer, Lowe, Hobbs, Smalling, Adams, Hayes, Tabel
Will be third-year starters: K. Green, Hansen, S. Brown, Barker
Will be second-year starters: Peters, Imatorbhebhe, Eifler, Woods, McCourt
Have started at least 8 games: Carney, Gay, Ware, Martin

And that's not listing the players who were starting in November and the bowl game due to injuries (Tolson, Navarro, Washington, Witherspoon, Robinson) or players who were injured (Epstein). My point: in my 11, soon-to-be 12 seasons doing this, the 2020 team will be the most experienced - the most snaps played across the entire roster - of any Illini team I've covered. It's still very senior-heavy. It's just a little more balanced now. At one point I thought we'd need to oversign in the 2021 class just to fill out the roster, backdating players to the 2020 class. That's not the case anymore. We went from 31 seniors to 20, and once the dust settles (meaning, other transfers), I simply see a full class of 24 or 25.

OK, I don't know where I'm at anymore. Why am I writing this during a 6-2 conference start on the other side of Kirby? I'm not sure I remember. Let me read through...

Right - Betiku declared and Stampley transferred and now we're down to 20 seniors instead of 31 and I wanted to trace through why that happened. And I think we've done that. I should finish this post now.

End of post.


ktal on January 23 @ 09:04 PM CST

Great insight to how the program is working. Thanks.

I have high hopes for next year's team.

Nashvegas Illini on January 23 @ 10:56 PM CST

I read this and I hear we've got 79 scholarship players and what do we do with 6 open scholarships? Do we sign 1 and done grad transfers that can plug wholes in our depth. Do we got traditional transfers since we know we'll need them in 2021? Do we can continue with the 2 yr guys? What do you think?

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