1 Of The 17 Day
Here's the new plan. I always announce plans and then never stick to them, so I don't even know why I'm saying this right now, but here's the adjustment I'm making:
For several years now, I've been struggling with how to adjust to the changing football recruiting landscape. You've seen me write about many of those things. Grade inflation in recruiting rankings. Classes rated by high school recruits while ignoring portal additions. A system for ranking players beyond the top-300 going to the top schools which has fallen apart because players are rated by the school they choose, not their film or offers. Even the way the recruiting calendar works is wildly different from five years ago.
In this new world - the "take your roster, remove your seniors, have difficult portal discussions with players third string and below, add high school recruits, fill the other gaps with portal transfers" world - my thoughts about "next year" have changed significantly. Glaring needs have gone from "need a juco transfer" to "need someone out of the portal". High school recruiting is more foundational and less "immediate playing time available." The whole thing is different, is what I'm saying.
Because of that, it was more and more difficult to write Looks Like University Of Illinois articles when players committed. Looking into the future to see where that player might fit is a huge part of every LLUOI, and suddenly, well, the tea leaves were much harder to read. The picture would change with a few portal additions (or the picture would change with "they didn't add anyone from the portal there - they must think he'll be ready immediately") and re-reading LLUOI articles later led to a lot of "man, I wish I would have waited to write that."
Aligned with all of that was this realization that my first 18 months doing this as my full time job were a departure from why I started blogging in the first place. I was caught up in this "I need to be a reporter now" thing and I feel like I lost my way a little bit. I'm still slowly but surely working my way back to the main path.
Put those two things together and I finally came to the realization that waiting for more information was a better way to LLUOI. With "waiting" being the key word. Waiting until after the current season to get a better idea of what players on the current roster are big pieces for the future. Waiting for senior film on all high school recruits. Waiting to see what the portal window looks like to see who might be leaving and who might be coming back. Waiting to see who is headed to the draft and who is returning.
When the NCAA announced that they were going to build "windows" for the transfer portal, and that the window would close in mid-January (no more portal entries or exits until May), it gave me the perfect plan. 1-17. I could start my evaluation of the newcomers on 1 (of the) 17 (days in January). I even wished you a happy 1-17 on Twitter this morning.
Happy 1️⃣ of the 1️⃣7️⃣ day to all who celebrate.— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) January 17, 2023
The plan is to use 1-17 as my new jumping off point for evaluating next season. The portal additions. The LLUOI's for the signed LOI's. We'll know who is coming back (two big ones yesterday) and we'll have a good idea of where the newcomers fit in. Write the Cal Swanson LLUOI in June? "Need to see senior film first but as of right now it will be Swanson vs. Donovan Leary to see who starts as a freshman (unless we bring in a portal quarterback)." Write the LLUOI after 1-17? "Luke Altmyer, entering his redshirt sophomore season after transferring from Ole Miss, will be the likely starter, allowing Swanson to develop alongside Leary. But please note how much better Swanson's senior film was than his junior film."
Get it? Got it? Good.
The closing of the portal seems set to align with MLKjr Day each year. Most schools begin classes the following day (that's today), so it seems like the NCAA has said "that's when we want the portal to close." Which means that, give or take, 1-17 will be the "okay, everyone is enrolled, NOW we have an idea what this roster is going to look like and how these freshmen/transfers will fit in" day. All hail 1-17.
The current plan is to fit all of this in between now and the start of spring ball. Yes, that's during basketball season, and some of you will object to so much football content during basketball season, but I've found that I have a surprising amount of "writing free time" in January and February. There's a lot of, well, what I'm doing right now: 8 hours on a train from Minneapolis to Champaign. And if I'm not on a train, I'm sitting in a hotel room in, say, East Lansing, wondering what I should do before the 8:00 pm game. So the plan - what have we said about plans, kids? - is to use the next two months to fit in all that I've described above.
My main goal is to be fully aligned with the reason I started blogging in the first place. In January 2009 I was doing what I had always done - writing up a long breakdown of the football recruiting class to be published on The Deuce. And that year I decided on that first Wednesday in February to publish it as a blog post, thus beginning the journey to this train. It wasn't some kind of audition for a future job or anything - I just loved writing about Illini football and wanted to share it with others. Then I got caught up in "Illini land Florida DB - MY COLUMN" culture. And now I'm back to "I just love writing about Illini football and I want to share it with others."
First up (tomorrow)? The portal closes, so we'll talk about who came in and who went out as well as who declared for the draft and who did not. "Who did not" is going to be very, very fun to write.
Happy 1-17 everyone. It's time to begin our journey towards a complete understanding of the 2023 Illini football team.
I'm your host, Robert.