Not Great, Bob

Jun 21, 2020

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I've started the Dylan Rosiek LLUOI post three times now. Yesterday morning - couldn't write it. Last evening - couldn't write it. Tried again this afternoon - stared at a blank screen. I'm stuck in a mental traffic jam again - I can't write those posts until I write this one.

Here's how it works in my brain. With 10 players in the class now, I think this is a good spot to look at where we stand on my "we need this many ready-to-go players and this many projects" list. But I don't want to write that post until I write these other three LLUOI posts because I'd have to tip my hand as to the rankings I'm going to give those three players and I shouldn't do that until I write the individual posts and give each player the breakdown they deserve.

Each time I try to do that (write those posts)... I start wandering off track and ranting. So I guess my brain just won't let me write those posts until I get this out.

My issue, I think: Many of you have dealt with recruiting anxiety all spring. Rutgers had 14 verbals, Illinois had 2, and most of the Illini people I interact with were in a panic and I was calm. And when they asked why I was calm, I basically said two things (chronicled in three very lost posts here last month). One, I expect Lovie classes to be slow to develop - they have taken their time evaluating and evaluating the first four years and I don't know why we'd expect something different now. And two, I'm more of a "let's learn the names and then see what we've got" guy, not a "we only have two recruits we're doomed" guy. It's not like the class is going to be empty, so I just wait to see what players we're bringing in.

We're now at 10 verbals. I ran all the numbers a few weeks ago and, assuming normal attrition and backdating some early enrollees (we can backdate up to six players because of the small 2020 class), this class might be as many as 20-22 freshmen plus 8-10 transfers. That's just a guess based on how many transfers the staff has pursued the last two years, and we don't really know the attrition numbers so we don't know if we'll really have 30 rides available, but it will be somewhere in that ballpark. The point: we're probably halfway there with this freshman class. We'll add 10 or 11 more and then look at transfers.

So if I'm a "wait for the names to arrive" guy, and we now have half the names, how we doin'?

Not great, Bob.

This class is so important. After 63-0, everything appeared dead, but I still clung to a glimmer of hope (I always cling to a glimmer of hope). I wrote about it here. Recruiting is going to suck after you go 4-8 in your third season, but if you can somehow get to a bowl game in 2019 and then flip the switch, you can still pull out of this dive. 2020 is going to be a small class anyway so maybe you can survive a recruiting dip and then really hit the gas once you get that sixth win in 2019.

We got the sixth win in 2019. And we did hit the gas a bit: the final four players added to that class in December (after we had qualified for a bowl game) were all the type of recruit I was talking about: Deuce Spann, Johnny Newton, Cooper Davis, and Tre'Von Riggins. Because of those four plus the two Trinity guys (and because the 2020 class only had 13 players), we were still OK. But that meant that the 2021 class had to be The One. It's time for a top-35 class. Smith Center is completed, bowl game is achieved, take this momentum and crank up our recruiting game.

After 10 players, it's just not there. It has stayed the same. So far, it's the 2018 class. That's still better than the roster Lovie inherited, so it's not "we're looking at 2-10 or 1-11 again soon", but I had a very specific goal for this class: top-35. And unless it changes quickly, we're just not going to get there. And that has me so down that I just can't make myself write the LLUOI posts.

Let's get specific with the numbers. I've laid out the path to that Top-35 class several times. Here's a cut and paste from my post a few weeks ago:

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
Projects: 5

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

Let's update that list. We've added four more players to the class, so where do we stand after 10 recruits?

Certainly look like players who could win the Big Ten West: Brody Wisecarver, Daniel Edwards, Patrick Bryant
Players somewhere between the two lists: Sedarius McConnell, Trevor Moffitt, Joriell Washington
Projects: Prince Green, Samari Collier, Dylan Rosiek, Theodore Lockley

So if we're trying to track for that all-important top-35 class, what do we need?

Certainly look like players who could win the Big Ten West: Have three, need eight more
Players somewhere between the two lists: Have three, need three more
Projects: Have four, can only add one more

Again, it's not some hard and fast rule. It's not "the success of the program depends on clearing this bar!". There are coaches that bring in 45 four-stars and fail; there are coaches who bring in low-to-mid three-stars and win. It helps, but it's not some "unless you recruit like this you'll never win" thing. There's a bunch of factors: player development, finding players that fit your systems, having a high-end QB to elevate the entire offense, etc. As I wrote a few weeks ago, recruiting is way over-emphasized and also extremely important. The key to all of it: build a program.

My goal here is simply this: in my evaluation of the program and where it goes after the 2020 season, a deep and talented 2021 class will be very, very important. It's going to be a third of the roster. This is a very, very important class, and we have a bowl game to sell, and we have the Smith Center, sooo... the bar is top-35 class. It's time.

And it doesn't look like it's going to happen. That's so, so difficult to swallow. I think I'm having trouble putting my feelings into words here. Let me go for a quick walk and think about this.

OK I figured it out. It's like if McCourt had missed the field goal in the Wisconsin game. Imagine how deflating we would have felt had the kick sailed wide right. Wisconsin players celebrate, the entire stadium falls to their knees, and Same Old Illinois would be the story once again.

It wouldn't have "meant" anything. We could have still beaten Purdue, Rutgers, MSU, and maybe Northwestern to make a bowl. We could have pointed to that missed FG a showing we're right there ready to turn the corner or whatever. It wouldn't have meant that it's all over.

But it would have been so deflating. We would have held on and kept the faith and hoped and hoped and hoped some more and then we'd have seen Witherspoon's tackle and Bhebhe's touchdown and Adams' interception and started to think that all of our faith and perseverance was going to be rewarded. And then... deflation.

That's how I feel halfway through this recruiting class. I really did hold onto hope that a bowl game + the facility upgrades would have meant a big step forward in recruiting. We're basically just recruiting the 2018 class again (without an Avery or Brown so far) and that's really deflating. We're still bigger and stronger and faster than we were in 2016 (see the "Roster Turnover" post I wrote last week), and I feel good about this season and good about the roster overall, but we're not making The Leap in recruiting.

Which basically feels like I'm watching the FG is sail wide right.


lucasmeducas on June 20, 2020 @ 08:41 PM

I don't think Rosiek is on the "projects" list. I think he's easily in the 2nd group... a Jake Hansen clone.

IBFan on June 21, 2020 @ 02:28 PM


ahamm445 on June 20, 2020 @ 08:41 PM

Great read, but what else is new? Thought I’d remind you that this coaching staff has proven that they can identify quality underrated talent, have done well getting higher rated hs guys late in the process, and are great at adding plug n play transfers.... I wouldn’t feel deflated just yet.

IBFan on June 21, 2020 @ 02:32 PM

Exactly. This just needs to be posted to every “sky is falling” recruiting post. Yes it isn’t Ohio St numbers but the team talent, however it gets here and wherever it comes from is better than it has been in a long time.

Robert on June 22, 2020 @ 12:50 PM

This post isn't about the sky falling, it isn't about identifying talent, and it isn't about the overall roster. It's about the very important 2021 class and the (very reachable) bar I set for recruiting a class right after making your first bowl game.

I've studied nearly every successful "resurrect a program from the dead" rebuild that exists. One consistent benchmark: a recruiting uptick once a bowl is reached. This class means so very much if we want to join that list of "resurrect a program from the dead" teams.

So far, we're not reaching that goal.

IBFan on June 22, 2020 @ 02:39 PM

Maybe a disconnect here but “recruiting uptick” is about getting quality talent to the roster, right? Do we care where it comes from? Do we care if the class has 6 transfers?
His post was about the staff identifying talent that was being underrated or overlooked which they have proven they can do. How they have closed, flipped higher rated players late in the class. Also roster building through transfers.

The bowl just happened, pandemic, only partial class completed...things will be ok. I agree there is a lack of what you are labeling as power 5 level starter talent, impact players at this moment from what it seems. However, this is based on junior year and no camps. This class is loaded so far in measurable’s though.

McAdoo on June 20, 2020 @ 09:13 PM

Four years in, I don't see things quite this negatively. When Lovie Smith was hired, yes, I expected recruiting to improve more than it has. There's no way to sugarcoat that. However, I do think Lovie and the staff have been above average both in talent evaluation and in the transfer market. I think there are more "solid" college football players on the 2020 roster than at any point since Zook's tenure ended. There certainly isn't the top-end talent that Zook had for most of his time coaching the Illini, but I think there aren't many "poor" or "bad" players on the team right now.

I would love for Illinois Football to win 8, 9, 10 games a year. I don't know yet if Lovie Smith can deliver that, but I do think if he doesn't then at least there's a foundation in place so that the next head coach might be able to take that next step. We know that Beckman and Cubit weren't going to do that, Beckman because he was a nightmare with the media even before the allegations and Cubit because he simply was a poor college football coach.

Efremwinters84 on June 22, 2020 @ 04:00 PM

Admittedly, I always use Mike White as my benchmark, and I even took a couple of hours to watch game highlights from the 1983, 1984 and 1985 seasons this past weekend. It was so invigorating!

Our turnaround under White was immediately noticeable in game #1 of his first year as head coach. Game #10 in his tenure was a program turning point --- a 600 yard passing game by Dave Wilson vs. Ohio State.

By year 4 we went undefeated in the Big 10 at 9-0; then played UCLA in the Rose Bowl, entering that game as the consensus #4 team in the nation --- with a shot at ending the season as National Champs!

Bo Schembechler was lauding the Illini on national TV as being the new powerhouse in the Big 10. "They've always had a stellar offense," he said about the 1983 team, "and now they have an amazing defense to go with it." (We beat them 16-6 that season.)

We went 17-11-1 against OSU, MICH, MSU, IOWA and WISC, cumulatively over White's first six seasons as head coach. We had a winning record in seasons 2 thru 6. We also had numerous 1st Team All-Big 10 players and even a 2-time All American in WR David Williams.

I agree with Robert -- Lovie and staff ain't yet getting it done. We're projected for a last place finish in the Big 10 West and we're ranked anywhere between 12th and 14th in Big 10 recruiting. WE NEED MORE TALENT.

UofIL6 on June 20, 2020 @ 10:18 PM

Going by composite ranking, here's how Lovie/Illinois stack up against their B1G peers:

Top 300 players

  • 41 committed to conference foes; None to UI

Top 1000 players

  • Nearly 150 committed to the conference
  • % of UI class made up of top 1000 players: 30%
  • % of B1G classes made up of top 1000 players: 79%

Top 900 players

  • Nearly 140 committed to the conference
  • % of UI class made up of top 900 players: 10%
  • % of B1G classes made up of top 900 players: 75%

So, yes, we have 1 top 900 player committed while there are 140+ others that will be playing against us

Lovie has given up on anything in-state, and has pretty much ceded STL to...gulp....Miznoz.

Robert on June 22, 2020 @ 01:15 PM

I don't know why you're going out of your way to spin here?

This is the kool-aid methodology, only in reverse. We've seen plenty of Illini fans do the same number game before. We'll have a four-star and then two basketball recruits ranked 122 and 174 and so we'll see someone say "Illinois landed three top-175 players while Michigan State only landed two", like "top-175" is a thing and Michigan State's two four-stars don't matter. It's just a way to frame numbers to make people feel good.

Well, making up something like "top-900" in order to exclude two recruits ranked in the 900's is just a way to frame numbers to make people feel bad. Why do it?

ktcesw on June 20, 2020 @ 10:58 PM

IL has a lot of things that hamper recruiting (one being the in state perception of the program). No one has been able to visit the school for months now which is also going to negatively impact recruiting. The kids know what is at the other facilities. They can only watch film of the UI's football facility. Not the same impact. Bad timing for the virus to hit but, still getting some kids with speed and a willingness to hit. I am not down at all over recruiting.

Ronald Zook PhD on June 21, 2020 @ 12:46 AM

As former head foot ball coach Ron Zook always used to say, “you gotta wiggle sometime before you can waggle”

MinnIllini on June 21, 2020 @ 09:39 AM

Thanks for having the courage to write this while all others that cover Illini football look the other way. Without a good class this year we are probably looking at falling off another infamous Illini cliff followed by a firing, a hiring, and another rebuild. Now, if Juice 2.0 ends up being the next Antwan Randle El or Deuce Spann ends up being the next Pat White that would change things. Sigh.

Robert on June 22, 2020 @ 01:18 PM

((whispers)) I want Pat White throwing TO Randle El.

orangejulius on June 21, 2020 @ 11:37 AM

Lovie needs to recruit at a much higher level to make up for his well below-average game strategy and decision-making. To this point, is the class any better than Beckman/Cubit/Turner could have done?

On the other hand, is it possible that the rating services will be less accurate this year due to corona? Can we reasonably hope that Lovie has somehow latched his way onto some underrated kids?

The inability to get even one decent recruit from the State to this point is very disconcerting.

MinnIllini on June 21, 2020 @ 11:53 AM

This is essentially a Beckman/Cubit class so far. Nothing this staff has shown me in the first four years indicates they will suddenly change that either. Add to that the fact that almost everyone in the West is recruiting better than their historical norm. I’m going to savor every win this year because they are likely going to start getting much less common next year.

jdl on June 21, 2020 @ 12:02 PM

Seems like the transition from selling "hope" and "playing time" to selling "success" is the trickiest one. A single 6 win season where you didn't finish very well isn't going to be enough "success" to sell. So we really need this season to happen and to win 7 or more. Then you can start to talk about that "success" to go along with the nice new building. And hopefully get some better recruits on board before the 2021 season starts.

Robert on June 22, 2020 @ 01:27 PM

Great point. Although, FWIW, Brohm was able to sell 6-7, so it can be done.

Brave Illini on June 22, 2020 @ 09:02 AM

For years we lamented the sub-par football-related facilities as a reason for sub-par recruiting. I wonder what impact the Smith Center has had on recruiting. I have read a few references to it by recruits who have announced, but how significant of a factor is it?

neale stoner on June 22, 2020 @ 09:37 AM

Smith Center is not much help in recruiting this year. Bad break.

Chukwuwumba on June 22, 2020 @ 10:26 PM

Pros/negs for recruiting. Neg: staff moves slow, Giant misstep by not pressuring/ accepting commitments early on. Slow out of the gate, playing catch-up.

Pros: if the staff thinks it can better find/evaluate talent than other schools, this is the year. No camps, senior tape???, rankings will not matter as much.

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