Up To Speed - 4-29-21

Apr 29, 2021

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Maybe it's a new feature. Maybe it's just one article. Maybe I'll start writing Up To Speed posts every week. WHO COULD POSSIBLY SAY?

But seriously, with the way I write, I'm always behind. I'm a magazine writer in an internet world. Used to be, you'd get the news from the newspaper but get the in-depth writing from the magazine. I'm an in-depth guy, so writing about some football transfer without 4 to 6 hours of research doesn't even make sense to me. How am I supposed to tell you what I think if I don't know anything about him? The way I see it, you pay me to research, not to write.

I am aware, however, that I need something to bridge the gap. A flyer attached to your door which you can read until the magazine shows up in your mailbox on Tuesday. So let's try something like this. Let me bring you up to speed.

Rutgers QB Artur Sitkowski transfers to Illinois

As I tweeted last night, my first thought here is "well, we have some imminent transfers in the QB room". It happens every time you change the offense, but I still don't want to watch. I invest in players on the roster and I want them to stick around, even though they might not fit the new offense.

Which, of course, is #1 on my "things I overemphasize when it comes to college football" list. Fit. One scheme's 2-star is another scheme's 4-star. Yes, you need athletes, and you'd prefer that those athletes have two dozen P5 offers, but on Signing Day 2010 the Illinois coaches were most excited about a 2-star RB they signed from Alabama named Jay Prosch because they knew they needed a blocking fullback for their new offensive scheme and Prosch was the guy. (And then Prosch was probably responsible for 700 of Mikel Leshoure's 1,700 yards that fall.)

In my observation, it's the same at nearly every position. There are 6'-6", 330 lb offensive guards who can drive you straight into the ground and there are 6'-2", 290 lb offensive guards who can run like a tight end. Some offenses need these guys and some offenses need those guys.

This is, of course, the most obvious at quarterback. Even recruiting sites list quarterbacks as "PRO" or "DUAL". Some guys are better for pocket offenses (taller, stronger arms, not exactly lighting anyone up when they take off and run), and some guys are better for spread-option offenses (run/pass combo). As I've said before, the guy who would have rocketed up the depth chart in this Bielema/Petersen offense if he were still here: MJ Rivers. Tall pocket thrower.

So when the schemes change, we see a lot of quarterback movement. Aaron Bailey left after one year in the Bill Cubit offense. Eli Peters left after one spring semester in the Garrick McGee offense (he had been recruited by Cubit). Change offenses and you're often changing quarterbacks.

With the addition of Sitkowski from Rutgers, it feels like there will be big changes in the QB room again. With the offense we saw in the spring game, and with Peters leading the Orange offense, and with Donovan Leary as the QB recruit in the 2022 class, it seems as if "tall pocket passer" is now the emphasis. Sitkowski is 6'-5" with his best quality being arm strength, so yes, that sideline pattern to Luke Ford I diagrammed in the CTT post? That's the core of this passing offense. Find QB's who can sit in the pocket and make that throw. Scrambling ability optional.

You might remember Artur Sitkowski from the Rutgers game in 2018. Quan Martin picked him off on the very first play for the Rutgers offense. He did throw for 267 yards that day, but the three interceptions (including the game-clincher by Nate Hobbs in the endzone) were the difference.

Sitkowski was a freshman at the time, and was supposed to be the Rutgers savoir after they beat Miami for his services out of IMG Academy. But handing him the keys as a true freshman didn't work. He threw 4 TD's and 18 INT's. They changed offensive coordinators in 2019 and started Johnny Langan, and then Greg Schiano got the job and recruited Noah Vedral from Nebraska. So Sitkowski put his name in the portal and ended up at Illinois.

Because he only played in 3 games in 2019 as the backup, he took a redshirt year. And because 2020 didn't count for anyone, he comes to Champaign as a redshirt sophomore with 3 years to play 3 seasons. So he could be a backup to Peters this season and then play two more years in 2022 and 2023. If he can find his 4-star form, maybe he's even the starter those years.

Or perhaps he never gets his accuracy figured out and his career TD/INT ratio (8 TD's, 20 INT's) carries the day. I'll maybe do his LLUOI next so I can dig into his film and see if he might just blossom as an upperclassman. Because above all else, I'm a guy who believes that everyone blossoms as an upperclassman.

Da'Monte Williams returns

Speaking of blossoming as an upperclassman... Da'Monte is back.

Let's start with this. I didn't expect either senior to return. So I'm very surprised (and pleased) that both will be back. Really helps bridge the gap. I look at it this way:

When Giorgi announced he was leaving, I noted the total minutes that were on their way out the door. The main rotation last season consisted of eight guys, and six (Ayo, Kofi, Giorgi, Da'Monte, Trent, and Adam) were leaving. That left only Curbelo's 21.5 minutes per game and Grandison's 15.3 minutes per game returning. If you add up the minutes of the guys leaving, 160.7 of our 200 minutes were on their way out the door. That's a full-on rebuild.

Now, we get Trent's 33.7 minutes back AND we get Da'Monte's 24.9 minutes back. From "160.7 minutes on their way out the door" to 102.1. I know we're just talking minutes, and minutes aren't points, but still, as far as "now let's sustain this", that's really important.

As I wrote last week with that T-Rank article, getting Da'Monte back boosts our preseason ranking quite a bit. Torvik has updated the site to reflect Da'Monte returning, and that moves us from 48th preseason to 35th:

Try not to get too lost in those points/minutes projections. They don't include Hutcherson (how could they? he's a player who hasn't played in two years and transferred in from D-III - there's no formula you could plug in to meet the expectations for that player). They probably have Hawkins too low. But the point here is "that's about the 35th-best team, per the numbers", not the number of points we'll get from Ramses Melendez. Apply the same assumptions to 350 teams and Illinois is right around 35th.

Add Kofi and we move to 6th. Add Tre Mitchell and we move to 17th. Add a lower-ranked transfer big man like Collin Smith from UCF and we move to 28th. Again, sounds about right when you apply the eye test. Da'Monte is a big boost because he can shoot and he can guard the four. But if Kofi doesn't return, really need another big.

Kofi, please return.

(I don't personally think Kofi will return.)

Don't Read This Part

I warned you, OK? When you get mad at the end, remember that the title for this section is "don't read this part".

I... do not share the current glee I see surrounding the 2022 football recruiting class. I will give you 15 seconds for a few breathing exercises to calm yourself before reading on.


First, the disclaimers.

  • It's very early. What's my rule? Pay attention to no rating until after camp season in June. July 1 is when you can first begin to rely on a player's ranking.
  • This year, that might not even hold true. Illinois high schools finished their season on Friday. Offer-wise, for those kids, we're basically at "November of their junior year" right now. Schools need time to evaluate junior film and build their big board.
  • So far, the class is mostly offensive linemen and tight ends. Those are the positions where you'll always hear me say "it's a crapshoot because you're recruiting a guy based on how much weight you can put on his frame by 2025".

So it's early, and these are mostly linemen, and it's Covid, and it's still early, and rankings will change, and it's early. BUT, I'm still concerned when I see Northwestern winning battles against the rest of the Big Ten while we're, well, I'll just list the main competition for each recruit:

  • Joey Okla - Illinois or Eastern Illinois
  • Hunter Whitenack - Illinois or Cincinnati
  • Clayton Leonard - Illinois or Toledo
  • Hank Beatty - Illinois and Iowa State were the two P5 offers, then G5 schools.
  • Henry Boyer - Illinois and Kent State are the only two offers listed.
  • Owen Anderson - Looks like it came down to Illinois and Michigan State. His other P5 offer was Georgia Tech.
  • Donovan Leary - Hard to say given that a lot of his offers were 18 months ago so not sure which ones were "active". His 2021 offers were Illinois and Colorado State.
  • Jordan Anderson - Illinois plus 6 of the 12 MAC schools offered (not sure which one was the main competition).

A quick sweep through my disclaimers again. It's early. It's Covid. This is mostly OL/TE. I haven't watched much film yet. Loved Okla and gave him 3.25 Cruises, might find myself doing more of the same for the others.

BUT, going just by offers, there's 8 players listed there and it's possible the only active P5 offers for any of them would be Iowa State for Hank Beatty and MSU/Georgia Tech for Owen Anderson.

Meanwhile, Northwestern has three verbals: A 4-star WR with offers from Penn State, Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan State, Minnesota, and a dozen others, a tight end with offers from Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Kentucky, and the guy I had in my Ten Names You'll Learn In 2021 article as the most important football recruit for us, Danny McGuire (offers from Oregon, Tennessee, Michigan State, Kentucky, Arizona State, Minnesota, and a dozen others).

One more time: it's early. I haven't watched film. Rankings might jump by July 1. Covid. But just going by the offers, I'm not where most people seem to be with this recruiting class. I mean, if we just go by average star rating in the Composite rankings:

2017: .8371
2018: .8381
2019: .8622
2020: .8490
2021: .8416
2022 so far: .8358

Keep in mind that there's grade inflation every year. That .8371 in 2017 would be somewhere around .8500 today. Actually, I can look that up. The .8371 class in 2017 was ranked 46th. The #46 class in 2021 was Memphis and their player average was... .8480. So yes, we need to consider the 2021 class (.8416) as our lowest ranked class since the Cubit class. And this year, with the first eight recruits, it's .8358 with only three other P5 offers among the eight (perhaps more if Leary's 2019 and 2020 offers were still active).

All of this is premature. It's April 29th. The Illinois HS season just ended. But so far, I'm hesitant to pump any fists.

Just looking at the raw numbers... not great, Bob.


BelieveInIllinois on April 29, 2021 @ 02:18 PM

Wow. Debbie downer on recruits

BelieveInIllinois on April 29, 2021 @ 02:22 PM

Can't edit the above note. I wanted to add that it will be interesting to see if your opinion changes after watching film.

Robert on April 29, 2021 @ 04:18 PM

I don't think it's "Debbie Downer". Granted, I've only evaluated two of the eight, but this is just an assessment of the current rankings and current offer lists. And I listed all of my caveats (rankings and offers are hard to trust in April, especially this year).

The reason I said that I don't think I'm at the same excitement level as everyone else is because my texts (and Twitter @'s) seem to have the vibe that this is our best recruiting start in a long time when technically it's our worst start since 2016. Long way to go but that's what the numbers say today.

Brave Illini on April 29, 2021 @ 03:08 PM

While I noticed the relative rankings and competitive offers, it still feels gratifying to receive the verbals. Just a couple points. First, where would recruiting be if the prior coaching regime was still in place? The transfer portal may have, once again, been the main talent reservoir to which we would have looked. Secondly, as for Northwestern (since you mentioned them), just look at their recent success and state of their program compared to ours. Small, crappy stadium but other facilities appear to be very good if not great. Proven head coach with long term stability who has grown into the job and who can now both recruit and coach well (putting aside his personality quirkiness). Great academic institution. Quality players, including NFL draft picks. And I have to add that NW's last win over us in Champaign, which I witnessed in person, was so disheartening because of the way they did it - methodical offense consistently gaining ground yards, with a few big plays mixed in, and a defense we couldn't break through. They looked better than we did in all phases (other than punting and kicking). We seemed to have caught them when they were recovering at the end of the year from a season with a losing record. We were favored in that game but I wasn't buying it. I was envious and hated it. We will get there and beyond, but it will just take a little time.

Robert on April 29, 2021 @ 04:23 PM

For what it's worth, and this is just a personal thing, I get zero fan gratification from the number of verbals. All that matters is what the class looks like when there's 25 players on Signing Day. Whether they come early or late, I mostly do not care.

Brave Illini on April 29, 2021 @ 06:36 PM

Another point I meant to add is that I think this Staff feels an obligation to follow up and make good on their stated emphasis on in-state recruits and continue to build quality relationships with H.S. coaches and others in the State. Taking a few recruits now that aren't highly rated may be a good longer term "investment" in the State and building trust. I understand that until we have signed letters, we don't have players on board. But I'm a big believer in momentum and early verbals can lead to others (including from higher-rated players) that we wouldn't otherwise have received. We've taken some pretty big swings with other recruits so we'll see how it goes; which we should have some idea about after the June official visits. Plus, having early commits sure reduces anxiety levels compared to waiting on pins and needles to see what transpires closer to signing day. I would be surprised if any of these verbals flip, even if their stock rises over the next several months, given the energy and attentiveness this Staff has shown thus far. I think they will stay on top of all recruits through the day they sign.

illinizeeman on April 29, 2021 @ 03:48 PM

% worried = 0

kyle.bendsen@gmail.com on April 29, 2021 @ 05:22 PM

I have a statistical point about recruiting. Patrick Bryant last year was about where Jordan Anderson is this year in terms of overall rank (1050 range) yet Anderson is about .01 lower on the star rank. Also, last year's class has about 33% above the 1050 range with this year's class 50% above that range. There is something more to dive into why the discrepancy would be wide between last year's class and this that doesn't have to do with small sample size. No one probably cares about this but seems like a miss on standardizing year over year equivalents which actually make our class look better.

Robert on April 29, 2021 @ 05:50 PM

I think it's just a function of hundreds of players (maybe 1,000?) not even having a profile yet since it's only April 29th. Once we reach signing day, I'm guessing there will have been maybe 350 players added who will rank higher than Anderson.

Last year, Anderson's composite score (.8416) would have been the 1,334th on the list. So once all of the players are added and ranked, he'll slide down around there.

Worth noting: ESPN has only assigned a ranking to Owen Anderson and Joey Okla. So once they evaluate the other six, their composite scores will either climb or tumble. Rivals hasn't ranked Boyer, so he doesn't really even have a composite score yet. So a lot of these will move.

22 on April 30, 2021 @ 11:21 AM

JMO but these 4 decimal point rankings on still developing kids have long struck me as ridiculous, but especially this year for IL kids who didn't get to practice or have a normal season.

p.s. On Boyer, that I know of, Iowa and Duke were all over him

iluvrt on May 2, 2021 @ 02:35 PM

ESPN rankings are not great

IBFan on April 29, 2021 @ 08:42 PM

Maybe watch some film, look at “interested” teams (Covid delay not everyone has offered), look at recent camps (Leary). BB ability to close and lock up players before more evals are done also might have something to do with your holy grail of who offered. If you have seen Hank play and seen comps to Dudek you might be excited. The JCatholic back looks legit. Leary outperformed QBs going to other P5 programs at the most recent camp. Could be busts I guess. Look like program builders to me.

DB50 on April 29, 2021 @ 09:25 PM

You're cover screen made me laugh because I was wondering how you were going to catch up, priceless!

Douglascountyillinifan on May 1, 2021 @ 05:55 PM

The team's focus seems to be on foundational in state recruits and he's only had 5 months to start developing relationships. Hopefully these kids can develop that mythical momentum, and our End ranking is solid. If, in year three, we're still at .8400 or less, we can then be 'not great, bob.'

NC_OrangeKrush on May 2, 2021 @ 09:09 AM

Again, I love the discussion on in-state recruits and I agree with it.. . but I definitely remember that Ron Turner's last year was fan and media grumblings that he only had Illinois kids or too many Illinois kids... the pendulum swings both ways - and looking for the happy balance between in-state talent and talent overall... but B1G talent either way

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