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Signing Day Breakdown 2013 February 5, 2013

Four. This blog is now officially four years old. The first official post was Signing Day 2009. And some of those players have now graduated. And that’s really weird.

Let’s go back real quick and look at my very first prediction:

Terry Hawthorne (4-star WR from ESL, Parade Mag #1 receiver in the nation)
I get a Deron Williams vibe from Hawthorne. Part of a tandem of top recruits at his school, all the way until the end of his senior season the other guy was hyped more, and near the end articles like “you know, Terry Hawthorne might be the best player in the entire Midwest” start popping up.
I’ve said this before, but I think our top three recruits this decade are as follows:

1. Rashard Mendenhall
2. Arrelious Benn
3. Terry Hawthorne

Oh Terrance. Why did you have to only get (maybe) 18 healthy games in your four years? Why did only one coach let you return punts, and that was an interim coach, and you gained 45% of our punt return yards on the season in that one Vic Koenning game? Hmmm… I guess the first question answers the second.

Now it’s Signing Day 2013. The bad news: I’m a Year Three Rule guy, so these are the players who won’t really have much of an impact until 2015 and 2016. The good news: it’s our best crop of players since Terry Hawthorne’s 2009 class.

Each year I add something new to this birthday post. This year: an RSCI of sorts. If you’ve read anything basketball related here over the past 4 years, you know that I’m an RSCI junkie. I love the concept. Take all of the different basketball recruiting rankings, combine them, average them, and find the true top-100.

So I’ve done the same with this class. I’ve taken the rankings from four services – Rivals, Scout, ESPN, and 24/7, listed out their rankings for our class from #1 to #25, and put together a list for this class from highest-regarded player to lowest. You’ll never guess who came out on top. The rankings, with the player’s point total included:

1. Aaron Bailey (6 – #1 on Rivals, #1 on Scout, #3 on ESPN, #1 on 24/7)
2. Darius Mosely (12 – #5 on Rivals, #2 on Scout, #2 on ESPN, #3 on 24/7)
3. Paul James III (16)
4. Jarrod Clements (18)
5. Caleb Day (24)
6. Merrick Jackson (32)
7. Darwyn Kelly (45)
8. Christian DiLauro (48)
9. Dillan Cazley (51)
10. Jesse Chadwell (52)
11. Abens Cajuste (56)
12. Dionte Taylor (58)
13. Marize Barr (60)
13. Bryce Douglas (60)
15. Zane Petty (61)
16. Miguel Hermosillo (63)
16. Dawuane Smoot (63)
18. Kendrick Foster (65)
19. Marchie Murdock (66)
19. Tyler White (66)
21. Austin Schmidt (68)
21. Dallas Hinkhouse (68)
23. James Crawford (74)
24. Eric Finney (82)
25. Jaylen Dunlap (86)

There’s a clear top-5 to this class: Bailey, Mosely, James, Clements, and Day. I knew that going in, but this list helped me see that these players were consistently ranked high.

The player who surprised me the most on this list: Merrick Jackson. #12 on Rivals, #5 on Scout, #6 on ESPN, #9 on 24/7. I didn’t realize that he was consistently listed as one of the better players in this class. Other guys weren’t as consistent – Dionte Taylor was #6 on Rivals and 24/7, but 24th on ESPN – but Jackson was consistently ranked up there.

The other thing that sticks out: the defensive line. Jackson is a true nose guard, and I think Jarrod Clements will be a 3-technique DT. So three of the top-6 players in this class are defensive linemen – James at DE, Clements at DT, Jackson at NG. Add in Dawuane Smoot (who will play the Michael Buchanan “Leo” position), and you have a pretty solid D-line in one class.

OK, right to it. For the fifth consecutive signing day, I present to you the ALE Signing Day Breakdown. As always, listed in five categories: Instant Impact Players, Great Gets, Recruits I’m Excited About But Can’t Really Tell You Why, Recruits I’m Not That Excited About But Can’t Tell You Why, and Recruits I Just Don’t Know That Much About.

Instant Impact Players

Aaron Bailey
Bolingbrook HS / Bolingbrook, Illinois
Best Offers: Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Arizona, Wisconsin

Nebraska wanted him as the successor to Taylor Martinez. RichRod wanted him to run his offense in Arizona. Ohio State wanted him because he’s an elite athlete. And he picked Illinois.

I’m not sure what I could say about Bailey that I haven’t already said in this space the past nine months. He’s one of the top-10 high school athletes ever recruited to play football at Illinois. Almost Rashard-like in his ability to run with the football.

Can he throw? Well, he ran a triple option in high school, meaning he didn’t throw very much at all. He does have a strong arm (much stronger than Scheelhaase coming out of high school), but he’s just not very experienced. Worst case scenario, he’s a wide receiver or a safety. Best case scenario – he’s a poor man’s Braxton Miller.

ALE Projection: I think we have to get him on the field this fall. Maybe not at quarterback, but you can’t sit an athlete like this. I’ll guess that we design some packages for him (some where he’s a wideout, some where he’s in the backfield, some where he takes the snap). He’s our Slash next year (Steelers, not hair metal), and then the following three years he’s our starting quarterback.

Darius Mosely
Cornerback/Wide Receiver
O’Fallon Township HS / O’Fallon, Illinois
Best Offers: Vanderbilt, Michigan State, Arizona State, Kansas State

Besides Bailey (at Steak N Shake, checking my phone at the counter while paying), Mosely is the only other “I remember where I was when he committed” player. I was kayaking with my wife on the Meramec River. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and I had zero cell signal. That morning, en route to kayaking, I had read somewhere that Mosely’s latest follows on twitter were James Franklin and all of his Vandy assistants. So I launched my kayak expecting to lose him to Vanderbilt. We reached a highway bridge, I checked for a signal, had enough bars to check twitter, and BAM – Mosely to Illinois.

I said this in May before he committed and I’ll keep saying it until it doesn’t come true: I get this odd Brandon Lloyd vibe from Mosely. Something about how fluid he is on film makes me think that this kid is special. He’s not as far off the radar as Lloyd was – Brandon was a 2-star cornerback recruit, while ESPN ranks Mosely as a 4-star – but I just have this funny feeling that he can be an instant impact player like Lloyd.

Given our depth issues, I’m sure he’s bound for corner (so maybe I’ll say he can be Vontae-like). But I’d still love to see him at receiver.

ALE Projection: Mosely enrolled early and has been taking classes for 3 weeks. Given that he’ll get to go through Spring Ball, and given our depth issues at cornerback (we only have three returning – V’Angelo Bentley, Eaton Spence, and Javaris Little), Mosely is basically already in the two-deep for August 31st. With a decent chance that he starts as a true freshman.

Jarrod Clements
Defensive Lineman
Trotwood-Madison HS / Trotwood, Ohio
Best Offers: Tennessee, Louisville, NC State, West Virginia

Clements is one of those players who makes me, as an Illinois fan, hate recruiting rankings. He picked Illinois rather early in the process (May 1st), and then had a breakout performance at a Nike camp, where talent evaluators for Rivals and ESPN raved about his burst and his strength. He wasn’t rated at the time, so when the rankings came out on Rivals, he shot all the way up to… the highest 3-star rating they could give.

Rivals lists him as a defensive end. There were 16 four-star defensive ends ranked. So they moved Clements to 17th. There were 19 four-star players from Ohio. Rivals slotted him at #20. Had he picked Tennessee, or had he waited and received offers from bigger programs after the Nike camp, he would, in my cynical mind, easily be rated as a 4-star. When you pick Illinois, and you haven’t been rated yet, sorry folks, highest 3-star possible/highest Ohio 3-star spot possible is the best you can do. We’re Ceiling U.

But that doesn’t make him any less of a player. What does possibly make him less of a player is the fact that he tore his ACL at one of those camps in June. He missed most of his high school season recovering from the injury (I believe he did return for the Ohio state playoffs), and recent articles said he’s still not back to 100%. By the time Camp Rantoul rolls around, he should be at 100%, so I don’t expect a redshirt. I think he’s in the defensive line rotation in September (partly because we have depth issues, partly because he’s awesome).

ALE Projection: I always forget to save some info for this section. Well, by the time Camp Rantoul rolls around, he should be at 100%, so I don’t expect a redshirt. I think he’s in the defensive line rotation in September (partly because we have depth issues, partly because he’s awesome).

Paul James III
Defensive Lineman
Norland HS / Miami, Florida
Best Offers: Alabama, Florida State, West Virginia, Louisville, Texas A&M

ESPN ranks James at the best player in our class (and he’s #200 on their ESPN 300 list). And given his offer list, it’s hard to argue.

The best thing about the James verbal is that we really, really, really needed a strongside defensive end in this class. At DE this fall, Tim Kynard will start, and he’ll be backed up by two relative unknowns (Kenny Nelson and Dejazz Woods). Adding a highly rated DE with the size to play as a freshman was a huge need in this class.

ALE Projection: I think he’ll be third string behind Kynard and Nelson, but I don’t think he redshirts. And if he has a decent enough season getting his feet wet, there’s a good chance he starts as a sophomore in 2014.

Great Gets

Caleb Day
Secondary/Wide Receiver
Darby HS / Hilliard, Ohio
Best Offers: Ohio State, Arkansas, Louisville, Cincinnati

I was very close to putting Caleb Day in the first group. But given that I’m not sure he has a true position (I think we might try him at wide receiver, cornerback, and safety), I don’t think I can claim that he’ll be an “instant impact” kid. Great Gets is all I can do. Sorry, Mrs. Day.

I think Darwyn Kelly and the Jucos will decide where Day plays. (Darwyn Kelly and the Jucos this weekend at the Blind Pig – you going?) (Is there still a Blind Pig?) (Please tell me there’s still a Blind Pig.) If Kelly and Zane Petty and Eric Finney are ready to play right away in the secondary (or if someone would actually play my boy walkon Ben Mathis), then Day is probably freed up to give wide receiver a shot. If not, we probably need him at safety.

ALE Projection: I don’t think Day redshirts, but I also don’t think he contributes a lot as a freshman. He played a little bit of everything in high school – running back, wide receiver, cornerback, safety. I think we figure out where we want him and then spend the year teaching him that position.

Darwyn Kelly
H.D. Woodson HS / Washington, DC
Best Offers: North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Colorado, Purdue

Kelly is a safety from Eddie McGee’s old high school in Washington DC. Hmmm… that was also Tavon Wilson’s high school. And Evan Frierson. And Joelil Thrash. Are their colors orange and blue or something?

I see Kelly right on the line between redshirt and no redshirt. We need help in the secondary, but it’s really hard for a freshman to be ready to play at safety in the Big Ten. But with all of the unknowns (Steve Hull’s shoulder, does Earnest Thomas stay at safety or move to star, are the Jucos ready to play right away), I’m leaning towards Kelly playing as a true freshman.

ALE Projection: Plays as a backup and also on special teams. Two years of this, and then once Earnest Thomas and the Jucos graduate after 2014, Kelly moves into the starting lineup.

Merrick Jackson
Defensive Tackle
Althoff HS / Belleville, Illinois
Best Offers: Missouri, Iowa, Indiana

Jackson is another kid who might not redshirt. With Glenn Foster gone and Akeem Spence leaving early for the NFL, the DT possibilities next year are Austin Teitsma, Jake Howe (back from a broken arm), Teko Powell, and Vontrell Williams. From this class, add to that Juco Abens Cajuste, Jarrod Clements (who might still be a DE next year), Bryce Douglas, and Merrick Jackson.

Given their size, Jackson and Douglas are slotted for nose guard (Jackson is already 320 lbs, Douglas is 315). And given that we don’t really have any true monsters on the roster to play the shade, there’s a chance Jackson (or Douglas) gets a chance early.

ALE Projection: I think Cajuste will be ready to play immediately (best offer list of the Jucos), so in the end, I think Jackson will redshirt. He may be big, but every high school defensive tackle needs a lot of work in the weight room before they’re ready.

Abens Cajuste
Defensive Tackle
Victor Valley Community College / Victorville, California
Best Offers: Baylor, Cal, Arizona, Kansas State, Pitt, Rutgers

The biggest thing you notice about Cajuste on film is how quick he is. He can move pretty good for a guy who weighs 305 lbs. I think he enters the rotation immediately at defensive tackle. Maybe even starts.

And he’s already in school and will be participating in Spring Ball. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the post-spring depth chart as a starter at defensive tackle.

ALE Projection: Why do I keep doing this? I’m supposed to talk about the player up there and then discuss his future position down here. But I keep ruining it. Ruiner.

Recruits I’m Excited About But Can’t Really Tell You Why

Marchie Murdock
Wide Receiver
Legacy HS / Mansfield, Texas
Best Offers: San Diego State, Navy, Colorado State

Murdock is my Asamoah Award winner for this year (given to the 2-star recruit who I think is a sleeper recruit, like Jon Asamoah). I watched his junior film when he committed and, to be honest, I gave it a little “meh”. Then Rivals put up some senior film, and I was nowhere near “meh”. (I’d link it, but it’s premium content).

I really, really loved his senior film. Maybe it’s just that he’s from Texas, and the quality of football is that much improved, but I really liked how this kid caught the ball. One one play, he switches which shoulder he’s looking over trying to spot the ball and remains composed enough to catch it. You can’t teach that.

Now, granted, I always think Texas high school film is played back at 1.1x the speed of a normal tape. Feels like they speed it up just enough to make the players look faster while not detecting the fast-forward. So that might be at play when watching his senior film. But again, very impressed with how he played the position.

ALE Projection: We need a lot of help at receiver, but I don’t think Murdock will play because of it. I can see him redshirting, learning our system, and then breaking into the rotation immediately as a redshirt freshman.

Dillan Cazley
Defensive Back
Charleston HS / Charleston, IL
Best Offers: Kentucky, Purdue

Can I just admit something here? I have no idea – no clue – how to spell Cazley and Mosely. One is “ley”, the other is “ely”. In various posts on here and random message boards over the last year, I’ve probably typed both of their names 200 times. And I think it’s right down the middle – 50 times I’ve said Cazley, 50 times I’ve typed Cazely, 50 times Mosely, and another 50 Mosley. Still, at this moment, as I just typed that sentence, I have no idea which one is correct. I can go back and look, but it won’t do any good. By the time I finish looking it up and typing it out correctly, I’ll already be questioning myself.

Cazley (SEE) is another one of our TEN early enrollees. He was the first player to verbal (last Februany), which always means a player falls completely off the radar. Pick Illinois a year before signing day and you can guarantee zero recruiting buzz (BITTER ALERT).

So pay little attention to Cazely’s offer list. If you’re not a top-200 kind of guy, you’re not going to have huge offer lists in February. Instead, pay attention to Cazley’s film. Really like this kid.

ALE Projection: Even though he was an early enrollee, I still think he redshirts. A couple years learning cornerback (or maybe free safety) and then enter the rotation in 2015 or so.

Christian DiLauro
Offensive Tackle
Green HS / Uniontown, Ohio
Best Offers: Akron

That’s it. One Akron offer. And I’m crazy excited about this kid.

First off, I’ve been a “please start recruiting high school tight ends and turning them into offensive tackles” guy for about 33 years now. So to see us finally do that thrills me. Iowa and Wisconsin have been doing this for years

The good news: his size and especially his footwork show that he could be a really solid Big Ten Offensive Tackle. The bad news: Even though he’s an early enrollee, the next time you hear his name will probably be 2016. He needs to sleep in the weight room and double the Tisdale diet.

ALE Projection: 2016. But really good in 2016 and 2017.

Dewuane Smoot
Defensive End
Groveport HS / Groveport, Ohio
Best Offers: Indiana, Ohio, Western Michigan

As I said in the basketball signing day breakdown back in November, I’m a big fan of recruiting positions. That class had a point guard, a shooting guard, a wing, and power forward, and a center. And this recruiting class has a defensive end, a 3-tech defensive tackle, two nose guards, and a Leo (Smoot).

We really needed to add a Leo to this class, as we currently have Darrius Caldwell (who will start as a redshirt sophomore this fall) and Houston Bates (who is going to give Leo a shot after moving from linebacker). I like Smoot in some camp film I saw, and I think he can fill that role for us. Solid pick-up.

ALE Projection: I think he redshirts, and then I think he takes an additional year learning how to play the unique, part DE, part linebacker position of Leo DE. I could see him fitting in as Caldwell’s backup in 2015 (after Bates graduates) and then starting there in 2016.

James Crawford
St. Thomas Aquinas HS / Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Best Offers: Boise State, Northwestern, Houston

There’s always one “can’t explain why, can’t point to it on film, but love this kid” recruit in each class. Crawford is that guy in this class.

Truth be told, he was a Plan B recruit. We lost safety Joshua Jones to NC State, and Crawford was his replacement in this class. I loved Jones, and his decommit was a big loss, but I like Crawford too. St. Thomas Aquinas is the top high school program in the country. I believe 13 of their players are signing D-1 scholarships today. And I like keeping the pipeline going. Justin DuVernois from there in 2011. Dami Ayoola last year. Crawford this year.

ALE Projection: And we’ve reached the end of the “ALE Projection” section. Because the rest of these will just say “redshirt, get stronger, see you in 2016.”

Recruits I’m Not That Excited About But Can’t Really Tell You Why

Dallas Hinkhouse
Offensive Tackle
Iowa Western CC / Council Bluffs, Iowa
Best Offers: Nevada, Miami (OH), San Jose State, Ball State

OK, so we’ve entered the “sorry, but…” section of this post. I always feel bad when I say things like “yeah, so he has NO chance of playing”. But this is the call ‘em like I see ‘em section. You know, where I say things like “Akeem Spence doesn’t show much on film”.

I keep seeing depth charts that put Hinkhouse with the first string this fall, and I’m just not seeing it. Maybe I’m just so entrenched with my “offensive linemen need three years in the weight room” mantra that it’s hard for me to see a Juco guy come in and start. He is on campus now, so he’ll have spring ball to learn the scheme, but I’m just not seeing him take a spot from one of the returning tackles. As bad as they might have been last year.

Martize Barr
Wide Receiver
Iowa Western CC / Council Bluffs, Iowa
Best Offers: None listed

I guess this is the “Robert dislikes Juco players from Iowa Western Community College” section. Barr has hopped all around. Originally from Washington DC, he was a Mike Locksley recruit at New Mexico. Next stop was Iowa Western CC, and now Illinois. We need wide receivers, and he’ll have a chance to play right away.

But will he? No other offers, and only third on his Juco with 30 catches in 12 games. Yes, they won the Juco national championship, so that was a really good team, but this is the “not that excited about” section, and I need more than 30 Juco catches to get excited.

Tyler White
Tight End
Plainwell HS / Plainwell, Michigan
Best Offers: None listed

I keep seeing “sleeper” attached to this kid’s name. Scout thinks highly of him (they rank him as the 8th best player in this class). And he looks pretty good on video.

But I’m preconditioned to shrug my shoulders at every single tight end recruit. I swear the last time we consistently used the tight end was Ken Dilger in the early 90′s. Maybe Bill Cubit will be different – Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse always impress me in Rantoul – but I just can’t find a way to get excited about a tight end recruit.

Dionte Taylor
Wide Receiver
University HS / Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Best Offers: Nebraska, Louisville, Boston College, Missouri, Oklahoma State

I guess there’s always a player that inexplicably doesn’t excite me. Taylor might have one of the five best offer lists in this class. But the highlights I’ve seen just don’t pop off the screen for me.

It’s probably my wide receiver depression. We were nearly last in the country in production from our wide receivers last year, so it’s hard for me to see Bill Cubit coming in and improving that. Maybe we just needed Florida speed like Taylor. Or maybe we’re broken and won’t have a passing game for three more years.

Austin Schmidt
Offensive Tackle
Olentangy HS / Galena, Ohio
Best Offers: Central Michigan

I mean, how cool of a high school name is “Olentangy High School”. See, I found something to be positive about.

It’s always hard to get a read on offensive linemen. The 4-star guys like Craig Wilson and Mark Jackson don’t pan out, and the 2-star guys like Jeff Allen or Jon Asamoah turn out to be your best linemen. It’s a really hard position to predict.

But of the three offensive tackles in this class, I like Schmidt the least. I mean, you have to like someone the least, right? Someone has to finish last. So Schmidt finishes last.

He’ll now start as a true freshman.

Recruits I Just Don’t Know That Much About

Michael Hermosillo
Running Back
Ottawa Township HS / Ottawa, Illinois
Best Offers: Toledo, Northern Illinois

Here’s another kid I keep seeing on internet sleeper lists. I love his high school stats. But I’m just not sure where he fits. Bill Cubit said in his press conference that the biggest difference you’ll see in the running game from him is more north-south and not as much side to side option stuff. So where is there room for a 5′-9″ speed back in that offense? When I hear that, I automatically think “cornerback in a few years”. Speaking of which…

Kendrick Foster
Running Back
Richwoods HS / Peoria, Illinois
Best Offers: Illinois State

I actually like Foster a lot more than Hermosillo on film. But he’s even shorter. That’s what Chris Beatty was trying to do with this offense – find the tiny Jeff Demps types. But will Cubit do that? He didn’t at Western Michigan. When I hear that, I automatically think “cornerback in a few years”.

Eric Finney
College of the Canyons JC / Santa Clarita, California
Best Offers: None listed

I should know a lot more about Finney. Wait – maybe I do. Is it his film I loved, or what is Zane Petty? Those two are one player in my head. Probably because both might start this fall. Finney is slotted for the star (hybrid linebacker/safety) position. And with Ashante Williams graduating, and TaJarvis Fuller kicked off the team last September, only redshirt freshman BJ Bello remains on the roster at that position. So there’s a good chance Finney starts.

Zane Petty
American River CC / Sacramento, California
Best Offers: None listed

You have to admit, it feels a little Mike White-y with all of these California Jucos, doesn’t it? Oops, sorry, some of you weren’t born yet. In the early 80′s, Mike White took an Illinois football program that had been dormant since the Slush Fund Scandal in 1967 and turned it around with California Jucos. And then he had a scandal of his own. And then John Mackovic took us near the top of the Big Ten. And then we went into a 20 year freefall. And I’m supposed to be talking about Zane Petty.

Zane Petty. Safety. Probable starter. And nobody, myself included, knows much about the kid. Bring on spring ball!

Jaylen Dunlap
Crete-Monee HS / Crete, Illinois
Best Offers: Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan

Dunlap was another Plan B recruit. Reon Dawson flipped a few weeks ago from Illinois to Michigan (grumble grumble grumble), and so we brought in Dunlap for a visit, offered him, and he committed at the Core 6 Showcase on MLKJr Day. Crete-Monee has become somewhat of a football factory of late (Anthony Standifer last year, Laquon Treadwell and Dunlap this year, 4-star linebacker Nyles Morgan next year. It’s always good to go with the football factories for your Plan B kids. So I like that we turned to St. Thomas Aquinas (Crawford) and Crete-Monee (Dunlap).

Jesse Chadwell
Offensive Tackle
Clarkston HS / Clarkston, Michigan
Best Offers: Kent State, Central Michigan, Western Michigan

Yeah, I should have watched more film on him, too. I remember liking him more than Schmidt, but I was so in love with DiLauro’s athleticism and footwork that all of his film stuck in my head and Chadwell and Schmidt’s faded from memory. Well, I guess I can go with the standard disclaimer: Chadwell redshirts. Chadwell eats 5 times per day. We don’t hear Chadwell’s name for three years. And then he gets his first shot on the field as a redshirt junior in 2016.

Bryce Douglas
Defensive Tackle
Plainfield Central HS / Plainfield, Illinois
Best Offers: Central Michigan, Illinois State

Are you kidding me? I just had to go back through the list to see who I missed, and it’s Bruce Douglas’ SON that I forgot. 300 lb son of an Illini legend and he’s the last player I get to? What?

I’m going to take this as a sign that Douglas is really good. The forgotten man. The true sleeper. His dad’s athleticism combined with 300 lbs of bulk. A future nose guard superstar. The Immovable Man In The Middle. Wow, how did I forget to cover Bruce Douglas’ son??

Final Thoughts

Overall, our best class since 2009. It was setting up to be a really, really good class in June, and then 2-10 happened, and that hurt us on two fronts: 1) We lost guys like Reon Dawson and Joshua Jones (although, given the disaster of this season, to hang on to our top-4 recruits was a bit of a miracle), and 2) we turned to Juco recruits to fill in gaping holes. And Juco recruits always kill your class ranking.

The biggest coup was getting 10 kids in here early. Especially the secondary guys, like Mosely (Mosley?). As we discussed over a year ago, the biggest *boggle* Tim Beckman experienced when he took the job had to be a look at our defensive secondary roster. Terry Hawthorne, Justin Green, Jack Ramsey, Supo Sanni, Patrick Nixon-Youman, all seniors. Leaving him with, when he took the job, with only Eaton Spence, Nick North, and STEVEHULL for 2013. He had 6 weeks last year and one year for this class to find 8-10 players for his secondary. Getting four of those guys in here as early enrollees in January was huge. Might move next year’s secondary from “triple sell” to “don’t buy”.

Where are the gaping holes? Well, we didn’t add any interior offensive linemen, although I’m sure the coaches are counting on the large number of freshmen and sophomores there (guys like Joseph Spencer and Tony Durkin and Chris Boles and Shawn Afryl that we haven’t seen yet, combined with Alex Hill and Teddy Karras.) We also didn’t land a top-end wide receiver, which means we might be in deep trouble with three seniors graduating (heck, we might be in deep trouble before the three seniors graduate). Didn’t add any linebackers, but we’re completely fine there (Brown, Monheim, Svetina, Cooper, Dickinson, Grimes, Neal).

But overall, our best class since 2009. I think I can confidently say that if we ranked our top-10 recruits (based on offer lists and stars) in the last four classes, Bailey, Day, Mosely, Clements, and James all make that top 10. Actually, let me do that.

1. Aaron Bailey
2. Jon Davis
3. Darius Mosely
4. Paul James III
5. Darius Millines
6. Jarrod Clements
7. Jonathan Brown
8. Caleb Day
9. Earnest Thomas
10. TJ Neal

There’s good news and bad news buried in that list. The good news is, this class starts our path back to having a complete roster talented enough to compete in the Big Ten. The bad news is, it will be a while before these freshmen are solid contributors, and if only five of our sophomores, juniors, and seniors can crack that list, we’re still a long way away from having that necessary roster.

But I’m patient. I’m an Illinois football fan. I’ve never been into the whole gift horse mouth-looking thing.

Lead us back, Aaron Bailey.

Illinifan4eva February 6th, 2013

Great job Robert. Really appreciate the time and affort put into this.

Harry Lime February 6th, 2013

Well done, sir. And Happy Birthday blog!

PittsburghNellie February 6th, 2013

I’m also really high on Murdock. I actually know the exact play you were talking about when you said he turned his shouler to position himself for the catch.
I think he’s a good steal

ATOillini February 6th, 2013

Happy 4th anniversary Robert. Patience is a virtue.

TC80 February 6th, 2013

Great writeup Robert. And Happy Blog Birthday! Been following you ever since the 19 point plan (which I think Zook/Guenther read and at least tried to implement back in the day).

It may be a long road back to relevance for Illini sports (I’m more hopeful about bball than football), but we’re right here with you cheering on the team and waiting for one of those 2 goals you always talk about (Basketball title or Rose Bowl win). Thanks for sharing your talents with us, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say I hope this eventually turns into more than a hobby for you.

ArchIllini February 6th, 2013

Great blog. Your insight is second to none.

There is a blind pig just not the one you remember. They switched to a different location. The old blind pig is now cowboy monkey.

illiniranger February 6th, 2013

great job and happy birthday!!! best illini page on the interwebs
this is a solid class, especially given the limited amount of time the staff had with recruits and the terrible season we just went through. usually a staff’s best recruiting starts with its 3rd class, so more to follow to see how well we do recruiting the next crop.
i would also agree that this is our best class since Blackcat’s, but it depends on how many of these guys get into school and stick around. TJ Fuller was our best recruit last year – didn’t play a game. Remember the class of Dondi Kirby and Clint Tucker? Too bad they didn’t make it. It seems like there are fewer questions with this group than in years previous.

Joe John February 6th, 2013

Robert, i’ve seen some propaganda but this top 10 list of the last 4 years really takes the cake. Where is Pat Flavin and Chandler Whitmer? Both of those guys would be ahead of all of the current recruits except Bailey.

Joe John February 6th, 2013

Also, i dont think Bailey will play QB and said it when he committed…but 247 Sports is crazy to rank him the 11th best player in the class. Even if you think he’ll be a WR, RB, or DB, there’s no way he’s that low.

Robert February 6th, 2013

The first five players on that list had at least 4 stars on at least one site. Caleb Day did as well, but that was only one site, and others ranked him fairly low. Jonathan Brown was high on ESPN and had an LSU offer. Earnest Thomas was a fast riser at the end of the 2010 recruiting period (Penn State, UCLA, Wisconsin, Stanford).
As for Flavin, he wasn’t a 4-star anywhere, but I’d say he’s close to Neal at #10 (high 3-star most sites). Neal’s offer list, though (Auburn, Florida, Nebraska) is better than Flavin’s (Oregon, Cal, UCLA).
Chandler Whitmer did have a 4th star from one of the sites, but he plays for UConn. I guess I could put together a list of guys who don’t play here (Dondi Kirby, maybe Clint Tucker), but that would defeat the purpose of positioning this class vs. the talent on the current roster.

Robert February 6th, 2013

Bailey 24/7 was a typo. He’s #1 on their list. I will edit.

Joe John February 6th, 2013

Ok that makes sense. I only looked at Rivals for 5.7 and above players and then their offer lists to see who was a better prospect. You’d think a tackle with an offer from Oregon could make the starting O-line at Illinois but with offensive lineman it really is a crapshoot. Next question…say all these guys Illinois signed do make the grades and enroll. Then take the amount of underclassmen from last year that were on scholarship and stay on for the upcoming year…if you add those two together are you still under 85 (the limit)?

Robert February 6th, 2013

Beckman said today they’re over by one (86). You’re allowed to be at 88 after signing day – you just have to be at 85 in June when they all move in.
At some point between now and June, a redshirt junior will graduate and leave, or one of these guys won’t make grades, or someone will transfer, or someone will get a medical hardship waiver, or someone will violate team rules.

mlp94595 February 6th, 2013

Unfortunately, we’re still left with the question of coaching. I feel more confident with Cubit, but can they win a B1G game?

bkenny February 7th, 2013

I know it’s our only way out of this mess, but it’s really hard to give a hoot about football recruiting right now. Wake me up when they can win a big ten game. Instead of looking at guys and thinking hey, they could get us to the rose bowl, or another bowl game, we’re just dreaming about us being not terrible. Great. I can’t get excited about anyone, including Bailey, after how bad this is. Refuse to get excited, really, because we’re Illinois football, and we can’t be trusted.

Joe John February 7th, 2013

If Bailey was named starting QB, that would excite me in “cant wait to see what the new guy can do” way…similar to when a baseball team calls up a prospect. But if its Nate at QB, and the usual offense…with the likely decline in defense…its not going to be pretty. Bailey needs to infuse some life into the program like Juice did, whether he’s ready or not.

bkenny February 7th, 2013

I still think we’re better off redshirting him, letting him develop as a passer, and letting him play for 4 years. Next year is a lost cause anyway. I don’t see the point wasting him playing WR or elsewhere to waste a year if he’s supposed to be a QB.

Illinigrad February 7th, 2013

bkenny is right. Don’t waste a year on Bailey this coming season, UNLESS he is such a hot prospect in terms of leaving early for the NFL, that you would to make maximum use of his time at IL. Over the years, there are so many players that we should have redshirted in both FB and BB who would have been terrific to have that 5th year. I can’t get real excited about any recruiting class until Beckman shows he can coach the boys up and start winning some conference games. There is hope with the new O. C. The only other reason to play Bailey is to get fans in the seats for a fresh start to see what the wonder boy can do. But, you need a line and play makers around him. I hope Beckman can pull a pleasant surprise this season and put a team on the field that actually wins some games.

Lou-a-villini February 7th, 2013

Very ironic (sad) how basketball season came along just in time to take our minds off of football, and now football has returned the favor….

HHSILLINI February 7th, 2013

Great post once again, Robert!

Nate will be more than fine as a senior under an experienced OC and OL coach. That last part can’t be stressed enough. Cubit and Bridge can coach circles around the previous two coaches.

neale stoner February 7th, 2013

Thank you for the all the hard work Robert. Most readable and enjoyable. Happy Anniversary!

illiniguy February 7th, 2013

Marchie has the same problem that Knight and Whitlow had- he’s far too slow to get open. Like those other two, he looks great fighting for the ball on his highlight films, but the reason those are his highlights are that he’s not fast enough to get open in the first place. Moore is probably a half step faster than Knight/ Whitlow but he’s also smaller.

gusher February 7th, 2013

Excellent write-up, though I wish I shared the optimism. Isn’t this class ranked in the lower half of the Big Ten?

PittsburghNellie February 7th, 2013

I doubt NW’s receivers are much faster than Murdock and they’re open all the time. It’s about scheme. College football defenses are undisciplined and nearly always leave a man open.

Robert February 7th, 2013

Rivals ranks the class 7th in the Big Ten. Scout ranks it 5th in the conference.

GrogsBBQPepperoni February 7th, 2013

Good God – have we reverted to the Bruce Weber “25 foot from the basket” offense? WTF. This offense is not the same as it was a month or two ago.

Harry Lime February 7th, 2013

I haven’t seen anyone mention the top reason Bailey will see the field this year: Beckman is on the hotseat.

Joe John February 7th, 2013

Good for Tyler Griffey tonight. The kid has had a really rough go of it lately, but i kind of wonder if all those prior misses were evened out by tonight’s game, at least in his psyche. Seniors have been dumped on pretty fierce. Maybe this game will let em breathe and get em going again.