This is maybe a "Part II" to my "Click" post from last week. I say "maybe" because I'm not really sure where this one is going to go. But, after writing that post, my brain has settled on one thing: the roster is now in place for the rebuild we've been studying for the last 3+ years. Will We Win? I still don't know. Camp will tell us so much this year. But, the pieces are in place.
Now, when I say that, there's no prediction in there. I'm not saying "we've recruited well enough to win" or anything of the sort. I never really go there. You can't really go there until you see it all assembled, I don't think. It's why I won't make a season prediction until the night before the season.
It's easier for basketball. I think we can "predict" at this point. Ayo + Trent + Giorgi + Kofi is enough to dance. Everything is in place for a big leap. It's now up to the coaches to get there.
With football, I'm more or less retiring "this team is still so young" and "we don't even know who the quarterback will be next year". During spring ball, I was in an absolute panic (I believe I tweeted "Defcon 2 passing game concerns" during the spring game, what with no QB's or WR's to be found). The roster is now complete for next fall, with USC WR's Trevon Sidney and Josh Imatorbhebhe being added to the mix as well as Michigan QB Brandon Peters. Isaiah Williams is now on campus, Marquez Beason is now on campus, all of the pieces are in place. The "rebuild" part of the rebuild is mostly complete.
Am I saying "Lovie has rebuilt this program"? No. 63-0. We've seen almost no results so far. There are #reasons we haven't seen results while Purdue has gone to back-to-back bowl games, and given how we were going about it I even predicted back in 2017 that Purdue's rebuild would be ahead of ours for two years before we'd surge past them in 2019, but we really haven't even seen a hint of "results". Maybe the South Florida game + the Minnesota game? But, given the three 60-balls, no results.
Now the construction is complete. The occupancy permit has been applied for. Lovie tore the entire thing down to the ground and started over with true freshmen. It's now ready for a soft opening on August 31st and a grand opening on the date I've had in my Twitter bio for three-and-a-half years: October 12, 2019. This, I don't know, hotel might not turn a profit in 2019, but by 2020 it should be booked up every night.
That's been the plan. Get your first recruiting class, play 22 of them as true freshmen your second year, by the time they're juniors the program is rolling and by the time they're seniors they're competing for conference championships. When the architect assembled the blueprints, that was the plan. Tear it all down, massive foundation, build it slowly and methodically.... shiny new hotel.
And with the addition of six transfers - Petitbon from Alabama, Ford from Georgia, Peters from Michigan, and Betiku, Sidney, and Imatorbhebhe from USC - the rebuilt roster is complete. Three recruiting classes, these six transfers (plus other transfers like Milo Eifler), more upperclassman than underclassmen... the project is pretty much complete. The original plan for this roster had Cam Thomas as the junior QB and MJ Rivers as the sophomore QB, they both left, so there had to be some adjustments along the way (namely, go out and get Peters), but we're here now. You rebuild this way so that there's a click, and it's time to see that click.
Is it what I thought I'd see? Absolutely not. I thought Lovie would recruit top-35 classes from the get-go (name recognition, what I thought was a $4 million budget for nine assistants which turned out to be $4 million for the entire football staff), and that hasn't happened. My original prediction was 6-6, then a bad (maybe 3-9) season with all of the seniors graduating, then 6-6 again in 2018, and then OCTOBER 12, 2019 WHERE WE ANNOUNCE OUR RETURN TO THE BIG TEN. After seeing us turn to the freshmen midway through 2016 (and seeing us, you know, go 3-9), I switched to 3-5-7-9. Win three games in 2017, five games in 2018, seven games in 2019, and nine games in 2020. THAT is now limping along as some kind of hybrid "2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate" hope-fest (win two, then four, then six...), so no, we haven't met expectations.
But even as all of that has fallen short, I've stuck with "we don't know yet". Even after 63-0. I simply don't believe you can know that you know until you've seen a coach develop his own recruits.
Just look at, say, the defensive ends. Lovie recruited five defensive ends in his first recruiting class. Why? Because his 2017 DE depth chart was going to look like this:
WDE: Henry McGrew / Brandon Jones
SDE: Sean Adesanya / Brandon Roberts
The earliest that Lovie could fix that would be 2017 (he didn't get a 2016 recruiting class because he was hired in March). And at that point he has two options. Fix it with junior college players or fifth-year transfers (more or less what Chris Ash did at Rutgers) or fix it with freshmen. He chose to fix it with freshmen, take lumps, and then hopefully see a click later on.
(One note: he did get creative at defensive end, moving inherited linebackers like James Crawford and Ayo Shogbonyo over there in 2017. So it's not like his only option was playing the true freshmen. But you get my point.)
We are now at the point where we should expect that to pay off. That's what I mean by "construction complete". There's still a lot (A LOT) of finishing work, but the "rebuilding" part is done. We have all of the pieces here now. For the first time since Lovie arrived (and I mean that - for the very first time since Lovie arrived), we have an excuse-less depth chart. Injuries? At this point you should have a depth chart that can handle any injury. Star players like Bennett Williams and Lou Dorsey getting kicked off the team? Tough luck, but you recruited them and needed to have a backup plan. The roster still looks better in 2020 than 2019 (only 12 seniors on this team and then 30+ next year), but I'm looking for the "NOW we will find out what we have" point, and we're there. I'm so ready to do some evaluatin'.
And I've already experienced this while assembling the list for The 90 Illini. After several years of "wow - this really shows that wide receiver must be addressed in the next class" (or whatever), I find myself much more in evaluation mode. Lot's of "the staff must feel good about these two guys from the 2018 class because they didn't even address that position in 2019" and such. I might not agree with all of those roster decisions, but in my estimation, you can now see where they were going with all of this.
And as I've said many times, even watching games these last two seasons, I've not been watching for those seasons as much I'm trying to see where the program will be when these players mature. I'm going to be, like, 15 times more nervous during games this fall because the result means so much. This is it, we're finally ready to go live, and it will either succeed or crumble before our eyes.
Remember how the team all signed the final steel beam that went into place for the Smith Football Center last fall? That's how I feel about Brandon Peters committing to Illinois. After three full classes, he was the final piece. Quarterback was an issue after Thomas and Rivers left, they landed on Peters, the roster is complete.
Can they win with that roster? Man, I'm nervous. Right now it feels like I walk out of Memorial Stadium after a 47-13 loss on October 12, 2019. But, these things usually come out of nowhere if they do happen (or veer quickly off the rails if they don't), so I'll remain hopeful until it does or doesn't happen. I'm on the record for the final two years of this five-year plan seeing 17 victories (yes, seventeen), so we'd better get to gettin'.
If it's rebuilt and we do go to a bowl? Well, we're not done. We need to be even better in 2020 and then prevent a fall off the cliff in 2021. Tepper, Turner, Zook, and Beckman all got to a bowl by year three but none of them built a sustainable program. So this is just Phase I, really.
But it's kind of nice to finally be here. Starting in just over two months, time to see what we've got.