Looking Back At A Look Forward

May 11, 2020

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The schedule for this (hopefully) upcoming 2020 season came out in September of 2017. And when it did, I wrote an article talking about how weird it was that 2020 was way off in the future but we probably already knew 75% of the starting lineup for that season. We were two games into the 2017 season and we already knew that it was a "play the true freshmen now and let's see where we are in four seasons" kind of scenario.

That post was called 2020 Vision. That must have been the time where we were having trouble with the online database of posts because this morning, while looking for another file, I came across a bunch of Word documents where I had saved the text from every post as some kind of backup or something. I saw the document titled "2020" and thought I should probably check it out.

In that post I put together a two-deep for the 2020 season. I could only use freshmen from the 2017 team and recruits already committed in the 2018 class but it really felt like we already knew two-thirds of the 2020 lineup. So I did this two deep with the "knowns" in bold and the "not sure yet" players in regular type with questions marks by their names.

Here's how that came out. Keep in mind that this was the Garrick McGee offense which is why I'm listing the OL positions using his terminology ("strongside tackle" and "quickside guard").

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.


OK, so let's see how we did.

First off, this really drives home the loss of the players no longer on the team. Bobby Roundtree's injury + the departures of Bennett Williams, Louis Dorsey, and Larry Boyd were really big losses. Maybe I should just start with the players in bold.

I put 14 players in bold - 12 were true freshmen in 2017 (and had played two games so far in their careers), and two were redshirt freshmen (Doug Kramer and Jake Hansen). Of those 14 names, four guys are no longer on the roster as mentioned above: Larry Boyd, Louis Dorsey, Bennett Williams, and Bobby Roundtree.

Of the other 10 names, I still expect all 10 to start this season. Palcho is now a right tackle and not a "quickside guard", and Jake Hansen might move to middle linebacker instead of weakside linebacker this fall, but overall, the 10 players are in the spots where I expected them to be. I also put Calvin Avery and Kendrick Green as the starting defensive tackles (but not in bold because Avery was just a verbal commit and Green was redshirting). Green is a starter - just on offensive line now, and Avery should be a starter as well.

That left eight positions where I put question marks: quarterback, two receiver spots, two OL spots, two linebacker spots, and strong safety. And since that day, we lost those four players listed above, so that means there's 12 spots open. Kendrick Green moved from DT to OG, so that removes an open OL spot but creates and open DT spot.

And please keep in mind that for each open spot I simply put the names of players we knew at that point. This was September of 2017 and we knew about 35 of the 85 names who would be on the 2020 roster. The whole point of that post was the "holy crap" I was experiencing - we only know 35 of 85 names but we probably already know two-thirds of the 2020 lineup?

A quick recap and then we'll go position by position and see how we filled it out. 24 spots. 12 of the players predicted there are starters on my 2020 depth chart (with Green moving from DT to OG). That means there's 12 spots to be filled by 2018 recruits, 2019 recruits, 2020 recruits, and transfers from all three offseasons. Those positions:


We went the transfer route here. It did look a bit "are we sure we know the guy?" in September 2017 (Thomas, Taylor, Rivers, and QB commit at the time Cordel Littlejohn), but the 2019 offseason brought Brandon Peters who started in 2019 and will start in 2020.

Tight End

This spot is open since Louis Dorsey (in bold above) was dismissed from the team. The starter in my depth chart for 2020: Georgia transfer Luke Ford. But, really, we'll have two TE starters: Ford and Daniel Barker, a 2018 recruit. Ford is likely a future NFL draft pick, which is why I put him as the starter on my depth chart, but Barker was the starter last year and it's probably going to be really hard to rip it away from him.

(In actuality, both will play as many snaps as possible so I should probably go back to making a depth chart with TE1 and TE2.)

Wide Receiver

I'm not exactly certain who will start next season, but I think the top four receivers will go Smalling-transfer-transfer-transfer. Transfer #1 and certain starter - Josh Imatorbhebhe. Transfer #2 and transfer #3: Trevon Sidney (USC) and Donny Navarro (Valpo). Oh and the #5 guy could seriously be another transfer (Desmond Dan from New Mexico State). Anyone sensing a theme yet?

Offensive Line

One of the names with a question mark there (Vederian Lowe) would soon move into the starting lineup about three weeks after that post. He might have started out his freshman season as a starter, but he was injured all of camp and didn't really start practicing until around the time of that post. Once he was healthy and ready to go, he went right into the lineup.

The other starting spot (alongside Green, Palcho, and Kramer) is, of course, likely another transfer (Blake Jeresaty). People who are concerned about the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes have already stopped reading this post and loaded it into their "it's about to all fall apart" cannons. Perhaps rightly so.

Defensive Tackle

I had Avery at one of the starting spots and put Kendrick Green at the other spot. Green went to the offensive side of the ball so another 2017 recruit, Jamal Woods, moves into the starting lineup there. If you're keeping score at home, so far we've filled these spots with transfer, transfer, transfer, transfer (or transfer), 2017 recruit, transfer, and 2017 recruit. Also, if it's not Woods and Avery starting, it's maybe Deon Pate (2017 recruit) or Anthony Shipton (juco transfer).

Defensive End

This one is fairly straightforward. I had Bobby Roundtree as the starter, he suffered that horrific accident, and now the starter will be another 2017 recruit, Owen Carney.


Look! A 2018 recruit! And one I had listed there since he had already verballed by September 14, 2017. Khalan Tolson (likely) moves into the lineup next to Jake Hansen at the two "inside" linebacker spots (MLB and WLB).

The SLB spot? It's not one of the guys with question marks there - it's Milo Eifler. He's, yeah, he's a transfer.


We needed to fill both safety spots here since Bennett Williams was dismissed from the team in 2018 (he went juco in 2019 and signed with Oregon this winter). My depth chart currently has last year's starter (and honorable mention All Conference safety) Sydney Brown plus Miami transfer Derrick Smith. So, a 2018 recruit and a transfer.

Let's put all of that together. 24 spots. I listed 12 names in 2017 who are still in those spots in 2020: Epstein, Smalling, Palcho, Kramer, K. Green, Gay, Avery, Hansen, Hobbs, Adams, Hayes, McCourt. For the other 12 spots:

Peters (transfer)
Ford (transfer)
Bhebhe (transfer)
Navarro (transfer)
Lowe (2017 class)
Jeresaty (transfer)
Woods (2017 class)
Carney (2017 class)
Tolson (2018 class)
Eifler (transfer)
Brown (2018 class)
D. Smith (transfer)

I should try this again this September 14th. Honestly, for the 2023 team, I'm not sure I could get 5 of the 24 names correct. That's not an insult to the 2019 and 2020 classes, it's just that on September 14, 2017 we had already seen the future team with our own eyes because the freshmen had beaten out the sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Like, I think it will be Isaiah Williams, Marquez Beason, Shammond Cooper, Keith Randolph, and Seth Coleman from the 2019 class plus James Frenchie, Reggie Love, Cooper Davis, Deuce Spann, and Johnny Newton from the 2020 class, but I won't know that this September because none of those players will likely beat out the sophomores, juniors, and seniors ahead of them. The whole point of that other post was "uh, we're already watching the 2020 team".

Actually the point was more "I'm so totally giddy about beating Western Kentucky with a bunch of true freshmen and I cannot wait to see where this team goes". As per usual, when I get giddy like that, it never goes like I think it's going to go. After that game we'd go on to lose the next 10.

If you want to see how hopeful I was, just look further down in that post at how excited I was about the 2020 schedule. At the time, we were set to play Florida Atlantic (they backed out because they got a better deal from Minnesota so we replaced them with Illinois State). Here's how I saw the 2020 schedule on 9.14.17:

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.

Hahahahaha. Who is that hopeful kid, unaware that "man I hope we beat Iowa at home in 2018" would become "63-0"? Also, "man it will be fun watching PJ run the sideline while down 27" - OOOF.

Of course, the first six games there, I really kinda feel the same as I felt back then. Beat UConn by 50 in Champaign. Beat Bowling Green. Rutgers is perfect for the first road game. Nebraska tells us if we are for real. And Purdue might be frisky under Brohm but won't have a defense.

After that, though, it's a really tough road. Which - offseason theme alert - is also perfect. Rebuilt Minnesota at home, at always-good Wisconsin, home for always-good Iowa, at rebuilt Indiana, home for top-5 Ohio State, at Fitzee. A test that a coach given five years to rebuild from scratch must pass. I can already tell that I'm going to write a post after the Purdue game called "Final Exam".

You know, if there's a season.


uofi08 on May 11, 2020 @ 09:24 PM

Another very informative article and really staggering roster breakdown. This team (starters) is basically 1 high school class and a ton of transfers. Seems crazy and unsustainable but maybe it can work.

I’m curious on your thoughts on if the coaching philosophy has changed or if it basically just got to “win now” mode with respect to young players vs transfers. The reason I bring that up is because there were some decent players that were benched for true freshman in Lovies first year. And while they’re pretty good players now, that was not exactly the case at the time. Lowe was substantially worse than DiLauro. I don’t think Palco or Boyd were better than Megginson or Schmidt. The freshman DL besides Roundtree were worse than the upperclassmen.

Fast forward to now and you’re seeing transfers brought in for almost uncontested starting jobs. Are there really no linemen being developed to play guard? Or DE? Is the staff failing to develop their own guys or just changing philosophies where at the beginning of their tenure they threw young players in to learn on the job, but now they don’t trust their own players so they have to chase transfers? What’s the disconnect? I know it’s a hot button issue but does this basically all boil down to recruiting? And could this over reliance on transfers be one of the reasons for the poor prep recruiting?

MinnIllini on May 11, 2020 @ 11:01 PM

There’s gonna be a season. Scared for the DL this year. Petrified for the OL next year.

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