I just got 1,500 words into the Brody Wisecarver LLUOI post before I realized that it wasn't a LLUOI post at all because I was 1,500 words in and I hadn't even mentioned Wisecarver once. So that is now this post, and then the Wisecarver post will come later.
This post, which was that post and is now this post, is a checkup on this all-important recruiting class. This will be a full class, and with 6 verbals, we're basically at the quarter pole. So let's see where we are, shall we?
The target I set for this class is top-35 nationally. It's Lovie's fifth recruiting class, and he's coming off a bowl game, so it's time for him to recruit his best class. Why top-35? Well, to answer that, we need to backtrack. Let's start with a snippet from my Signing Day post in December (when the 2020 class signed).
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
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:
- 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!
- The class saw an uptick in December, presumably because they could sell a bowl game and some hope for the future.
- 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.
The obvious wrench in the gears with this methodology, as I've been discussing with just a few words lately: this staff's push towards transfers. In the last two years, the recruiting class size was at least somewhat close to the number of high school recruits added (last year, 11 seniors graduated and they added 13 high school recruits), and then all of the attrition departures have been filled with transfers. As I've discussed in those two very long posts, the only way to truly evaluate Illini "recruiting classes" is to give the transfers a ranking and add them to the class.
Which, I suppose, can still follow along with my "12 players need to go in this column, 6 players in this column, and 6 players in this column" thing. I'd like to think this is going to be a class of 25 high school recruits, but I think we all know it's going to be something like 17 high school kids and 8 transfers. Actually, thinking about this, with attrition, they'll probably get creative and add somewhere around 30 players. OK, I need to explain all of that. I get a lot of questions about this, so perhaps a big, long explanation is needed. It's not? Sorry, I think it is.
Recruiting classes are maxed out at 25 players per class for every school. In the Big Ten you can sign up to 28 per class (which allows for a few signees who might not qualify), but by June, when the players enroll, only 25 can count towards each class. They're called "initial counters", and they can be high school recruits or jucos or transfers. Each class is maxed at 25 "initial counters".
Before the Houston Nutt Rule (plus the advent of four-year guaranteed scholarships in the Big Ten and elsewhere), coaches would sign 35 players, tell their 10 worst players to get lost, and overhaul the roster that way. That all went away. It's now capped - you have to tell the NCAA "here are the 25 names who count towards the 2021 class".
You can mess with the numbers a little bit by assigning early enrollees to the class before or assigning summer transfers to the following class. But you're robbing Peter to pay Paul. Sure, you can take some very late summer guys, call them "blueshirts", and assign them to the next class if you're already at your 25. But now next year is trimmed to 24 or 23 before you even start. Conversely, if you want to bring in a massive class after a small class, you can add some early enrollees and assign them to the previous class. But then, when you max out your next class at 25, no early enrollees at all the following year. Sure, you can get creative, but after a time you've painted yourself into a corner. You graduated 26 seniors, a few of them who were front-dated blueshirt transfers, and now you can only bring in 21 players because you cooked the books so much, so you're about to be stuck with unused scholarships.
This is the reason why I still believe that Charlie Weis at Kansas should be seen as the worst debacle in college football history. When David Beatty took over, due to jucos graduating and mass transfers, there were 39 scholarship players. At that point, under this structure, Kansas is completely screwed for a minimum of four years. Under the old rules, yes, Beatty could have added 46 players (jucos, transfer, high schoolers, anyone he could find). Under these new rules, he's limited to 25 every class.
I'll just lay out the numbers. Say he only loses 13 players per year out of those 39 (graduating classes of 10 and then he somehow holds attrition to 3 players transferring out per year). Then these are the numbers:
Year one: He inherited 39 scholarship players, 11 who had used their eligibility. So he was at 28 for his first spring ball (how was this not the biggest story in college football?). He could add a class of 25 so I'm guessing he went into his first year with 53 scholarship players.
Year two: 53 - 13 = 40 -- 40 + a full class of 25 = 65 scholarship players on the roster.
Year three: 65 - 13 = 52 -- 52 + 25 = 77 scholarship players on the roster.
Year four: 77 - 13 = 64 -- now he can add 21 recruits and finally be at a full roster of 85 players. In his FOURTH SEASON. (Which is when he was fired.)
The Houston Nutt rule meant that David Beatty had no shot - like, zero chance - to succeed at Kansas unless he was given six years. Even if he got really creative with his first class and front-dated a bunch of players so he could add 32 players, well, he's then restricted to 18 in the next class. You just can't climb back from something like that for four years. Not with this "25 players per class and no more" rule in place. There is simply no coach I've ever felt more sorry for than David Beatty.
Why did I say all of that? To establish that college football isn't just a "dump the bad players, get better ones" scenario anymore. You can't sign 28 high school players (the NCAA max), go find 7 transfers, clear out 35 scholarships by dumping your worst players, and then bring in 35 new players to fill all the holes. Every year, that number is out there looming (25 initial counters). If it's 20 one year it can be finagled to reach 30 the next year by taking five of those guys and backdating them (usually through early enrollment), but then it's 25 the next year and then 25 the next year.
(Yes, there's other math, like giving scholarships to walkons and such, but that's even too far down the rabbit hole for me. The point here: 25 is the all-important number.)
OK, we can finally start to climb our way back. We don't know the exact numbers here (for example, was a player like Dalevon Campbell a blueshirt, meaning he counts towards the 2020 class, not 2019?), but I'm guessing that with two small classes in a row (2019 and 2020), there's some reassigning going on. Since Phifer Griffin and Blaise Sparks enrolled early, I'm going to assume they were backdated to open spots in the 2019 class. If you have open spots in your "25" and you have early enrollees, you backdate.
That would mean that this 2020 class only has 11 recruits counting towards the 25. 11 players in the class + 7 or 8 transfers (depending on where Derrick Smith "counts") = 18 or 19 initial counters. Let's just assume it's 19. That means there are six available spots for backdated players (early enrollees) next spring.
(Hey, look, we're finally at the place I assumed would be the third paragraph of this post!)
There are two numbers to check when trying to figure out how big your recruiting class will be:
1. How close are you to 85 scholarships?
2. Do you have any wiggle room on your 25 initial counters?
If you're only graduating 7 seniors, obviously you don't have to worry about getting to 25 - you only have a few scholarships to give out. Sure, you might have 10 players leave, but that only gets you to 17 available rides.
If you're graduating 33 seniors, now the 25 limit really matters. You have to get creative or you're not going to be able to fill all your available scholarships.
This fall, Illinois will have 26 scholarship seniors - 22 on the roster right now plus four grad transfers arriving this summer. That means, at a minimum, one 2021 recruit will have to count towards 2020 (to get under 25).
But there will also be attrition. We don't know what that number will be yet, but we can probably assume that five is the target. Why five? Because, as we established above, if there were 19 spots filled in 2020, there can be 31 spots filled in 2021. See how that math works out?
- 6 open slots in the 2020 class plus 25 initial counters in the 2021 class = 31 slots available
- 26 seniors + an assumed attrition of 5 = 31 scholarships available
Again, I could be off by 1 or 2 in either direction - this information is never public - but we finally have a number. Between recruits and transfers, we will add (somewhere close to) 31 players in the next year. See how important these next 12 months of recruiting will be? 36% of the roster will come from these recruits + transfers.
So I can finally amend my numbers from above. I guessed 17 recruits + 8 transfers for the 25. Well, let's assume that 31 is our number, and here's how we might get there:
- 6 early enrollees fill out the open slots from the 2020 class
- 16 other high school recruits in the 2021 class
- 9 transfers added to the 2021 class
My new numbers assume 22 high school recruits plus 9 transfers, so yes, we just crossed the quarter pole with high school recruits. Going back to my December post, I said that they needed to fall in these categories:
Certainly look like players who could win the Big Ten West: 11 recruits
Players somewhere between the two lists: 6
Here's where I'd put the six recruits so far. I think it's 2-2-2:
Certainly look like players who could win the Big Ten West: Brody Wisecarver, Daniel Edwards
Players somewhere between the two lists: Sedarius McConnell, Trevor Moffitt
Projects: Prince Green, Samari Collier
That means we're behind. I'm granting space for five projects and we already have two. We need 11 Big Ten West winning players and we only have two (yes, I love Moffitt and I gave him three Cruises, but I still can't push him to the top category). We need 11 players in the top category and then 11 players in the bottom two categories and we've filled two slots up top and four down below. Lots of work to do.
Where do the composite rankings put the class so far? In a fight with six other recruiting classes for worst class in the Big Ten. That's not going to cut it for "has to be Lovie's best class". If it's last in the Big Ten, it's not going to be anywhere close to 35th nationally.
Here's how I see the Composite Rankings. The totals are all different (Rutgers has 16 verbals; Illinois and Indiana have 6), so you pretty much have to go with average player ranking at this point. The bottom five there:
Northwestern - 86.38
Indiana - 85.94
Purdue - 85.03
Michigan State - 85.02
Illinois - 84.92
Rutgers - 84.70
So, at the quarter pole, we're at the back of the pack. We don't have to win the race - the expectations here are not "best recruiting class in the Big Ten" - but we do need to finish in the middle of the pack. Something like 8th-best will do. Just get into the top-35 nationally. We need a class that will allow us to compete in the Big Ten West for years to come.
So far, we're not there.