The 90 Illini - 85 ~ 81

Jun 07, 2019

See, I told you this was difficult. Here we are, in the 80's, and now a guy I had #14 on the list is told he won't receive a waiver from the NCAA and will have to sit out the season and play in 2020. So now I have a spot in the teens that is vacant. What else can I do besides move him down to the lowest current spot available and move everyone else up higher? (Also, I'm moving tight end Daniel Barker higher because he just became twice as vital this season.)

85. Luke Ford

Tight End
Carterville High School / Carterville, Illinois
Redshirting Sophomore (4 years to play 4)
Tom Cruises: 4

What I Know About Him:

I'll take this as my opportunity to talk about Ford's waiver being denied today. Some quick history: Ford transfers to Illinois. The staff sends in a waiver application stating that Ford is moving back to Illinois to be near his ill grandfather. The NCAA denies the waiver application. The Ford family hires Tom Mars, the lawyer who has been getting players declared eligible left and right. Mars' waiver application - and this is how Mars discussed it at the time, but to be honest, we haven't seen that waiver application - was to claim that if Ford wanted to return to Georgia, his offensive coordinator had left since Ford left, and because he'd have to play in a different offense, he should be granted immediate eligibility. The NCAA denied that appeal today and Ford will have to redshirt.

It's now being discussed everywhere on Twitter, even national media. I'll just give one example (Bill Connelly, whose S&P+ ratings I quote here all the time):

The NCAA's Wheel of Random Destiny strikes again. Ford had like a 50x better case for immediate eligibility than, say, Tate Martell.

-- Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) June 8, 2019

This is where I will... say something you're not expecting. Is Ford's case better than Martell? No, not at all. I don't really think Ford had a case, to be honest.

In my opinion, the NCAA is granting waivers with regularity these days because they know the hypocrisy of the coaches (the ones who make the money) moving around freely and players being stuck. So with the new transfer portal this fall came a flurry of transfers getting immediate eligibility. As Stewart Mandel wrote, "welcome to free agency in college football".

But the waivers which are being granted are almost always tied to three things: 1) coaches leaving, 2) players being forced out ("Creaned", if you will), and 3) an environment the student athlete needed to escape. The last one was used by Mark Smith's family to get immediate eligibility at Missouri - the player clashed with the coach, the coach was too harsh with his discipline, the player needed to get out.

The second one (and kind of the first one) was used by Tate Martell to gain immediate eligibility at Miami. And this is where there are two things going on. Why is Martell transferring to Miami? Because Justin Fields transferred to Ohio State and is going to win the starting QB job. Why did Martell's waiver claim he's transferring? Urban Meyer left, Ryan Day didn't want him on the roster, he was a man without a football program until Miami offered a second chance.

In the NCAA's eyes, that's a waiver claim. Bill Connelly (and you) may think that Luke Ford's ill grandfather is a much better reason than "lost the starting job at Ohio State" (and it is), but that's not why the NCAA increased waiver approvals. The mounting "coaches can do whatever, students have no rights" storm is what the NCAA is responding to, so any claim of coaches wanting a player gone will be fast-tracked to approval.

Kirby Smart did not leave Georgia. Kirby Smart did not force Luke Ford off the roster. Kirby Smart did not create a volatile environment for Luke Ford. And so Luke Ford's waiver was denied.

Do I wish that the NCAA looked at cases of sick grandparents the same way they look at cases of coaches asking players to leave? Of course I do. But that's not in their guidelines, and that's not what they're emphasizing, so that's not what they're doing. Which means Luke Ford will have to redshirt.

What I Expect From Him:

He will redshirt. And then be our starting tight end in 2020.

And, if I may, as someone who doesn't see Ford as an early entrant into the NFL draft, his 2022 season (which he will now participate in since he has to redshirt) will be three times better than his 2019 season would have been. And yes, I've written an outline for my 2022 "enjoying Ford's All American season? it's only happening because of the 2019 waiver denial" post.

84. Nick Fedanzo

Running Back
Montini Catholic High School / Lombard, Illinois
True Freshman (5 years to play 4)
Tom Cruises: 2

What I Know About Him:

I know it's totally unfair to think he'll eventually move to linebacker but in my head, with our running back depth and lack of depth at 'backer - and especially with this new "fastbacker" (my word) position that Delano Ware is playing, requiring an undersized but fast guy on the outside - I want Fedanzo at linebacker eventually.

I had a friend text me from the state championship game saying that Fedanzo is a legit Big Ten tailback, so I know he had a solid season as a tailback, but I can't help it - I want to spread our athletes around.

What I Expect From Him:

I think he'll redshirt. There's plenty of depth at tailback, so he won't be needed, which means it's a good year for him to settle in and show the coaches what he has.

And yes, that might very well be tailback. That's why he accepted the offer. I'm being dumb with this linebacker thing. But that's my hope.

83. Griffin Moore

Tight End
Bloomington High School / Bloomington, Illinois
True Freshman (5 years to play 4)
Tom Cruises: 2

What I Know About Him:

Speaking of changing positions, Moore is a high school quarterback who will be playing tight end. The last one of those we had was... Matt LaCosse? Given that Matt LaCosse just signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Patriots (he had 24 catches for 250 yards last year with the Broncos), this means that all high school quarterbacks who become college tight ends at Illinois will have the same success.

While we're on the subject of LaCosse, I still remember seeing the NFL scouts gathered around him at Camp Rantoul his sophomore year. I just don't know how they know. He had one catch for 11 yards his freshman season yet there are several NFL teams, sending scouts to Rantoul, Illinois to check out a sophomore tight end.

What I Expect From Him:

Given that this will be the first year for Moore playing tight end, you know what I'm about to say. He's about to endure 12 straight months of blocking drills. He played QB in high school and has likely never blocked anyone, so there's so, so much to learn before he can get out on the field and combo-block a Michigan State strongside defensive end.

We're in the 80's here, which is mostly all "walkons who might actually play + freshmen who will redshirt", and this is a freshman I expect to redshirt.

82. Christian Bobak

Defensive Back and/or Running Back and/or Special Teams Dynamo
Hinsdale Central High School / Hinsdale, Illinois
Redshirt Junior (walkon, 2 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: not rated (walkon)

What I Know About Him:

Hey, speaking of "walkons who might actually play", let's talk Bobak. He was a walkon running back in 2016 who caught the coaches eye in 2017(to the point where I believe he got at least one carry in a game). They liked him as an athlete, and they need athletes on defense, so they moved him over to D.

He also found his way onto the field as a freshman as a member of the kickoff coverage team. He's been on and off that unit over the last two years, but I'd say there's a good chance he's back on it this year.

What I Expect From Him:

82 seems to low, but there are a lot of scholarship guys ahead who all have a better chance of making the rotation either at their position or on special teams. Such is life for a walkon. Always going to be battling up hill, and 17-25 new scholarship athletes arrive each summer to make the hill taller.

But the coaches love Bobak, and you know I love a walkon who fights his way onto the coverage teams, so Bobak makes The 90 Illini. Can he contribute in the defensive backfield? Probably not. But I do think he might be that Special Teams Dynamo that every team needs. Maybe he can even force a fumble on a kickoff return or something.

81. Kenyon Sims

Running Back
Lincoln High School / San Diego, California
Redshirt Freshman (4 years to play 4)
Tom Cruises: 2.5

What I Know About Him:

I know I need to take this moment for a little shout-out to a commenter. As I was looking up how many Tom Cruises Kenyon Sims received, I noticed this comment on his LLUOI post. The first line is a quote from that Sims LLUOI article where I referenced Reggie Corbin being the forgotten man, the rest is from Sweetchuck13...

"There's also forgotten man Reggie Corbin..."

Corbin was quite the playmaker when he got opportunities. Feel like he should get a prime chance under Smith.

If there's one thing that was mind-boggling about McGee (ok, maybe just the most mind-boggling as there's a number of WTF issues with him), it was his seemingly complete lack of interest in getting the ball to playmakers. Hoping we never again see a game where Mike Dudek is on the field and only gets 2 touches.

Good call, Sweetchuck. I'd say Reggie made the most of his Rod Smith opportunities.

Kenyon Sims would be much higher on this list if not for our crazy depth at running back. I believe all of the carries this season will be gobbled up by Reggie Corbin, Mike Epstein, Dre Brown, and Ra'Von Bonner. If there are any crumbs on the ground, they'll likely get scooped up by Jakari Norwood. So for guys like Fedanzo and Sims, it's a year of learning. For Fedanzo, a true freshman season. For Sims, a redshirt freshman season.

What I Expect From Him:

Sims played in one game last season (Iowa, once it was 55-0), so with the new four-game rule, he got a redshirt. For this second freshman season, with so many players in front of him on the depth chart, it's all about the scout team. The depth chart will lose Dre Brown and Reggie Corbin after this season and then Mike Epstein and Ra'Von Bonner after next season, so carries will be opening up soon. If I were to lay out a path to those carries, he's battling for the #5 spot (with Norwood and Fedanzo) this year, battling for #3 next year, and battling for the starting spot in 2021.


jmethven on June 08 @ 04:45 AM CDT

I don't know why I'm writing this either... but something I just thought of with regard to Luke Ford. He's already enrolled at Illinois, correct? So from the Ncaa perspective, I can see the argument that he's already relocated to be near his grandparents, the aspect of whether he can play football this year or not is kind of irrelevant to that.

illiniranger on June 08 @ 09:52 AM CDT

The NCAA has historically not given a lot of weight to “ill grandparent”. It’s not uncommon for players to have an ill or infirm grandparent that has difficulty traveling. Many, many players could use “ill grandparent” as a reason to transfer, so the NCAA gives it little weight.

Dr. Chim Richalds on June 08 @ 08:32 AM CDT

As someone who knows more about these waiver applications than I do, could you explain your logic for why Justin Fields's waiver was approved? He and Ford were transferring away from the same offense, and I don't think any school is "Creaning" one of the top QBs in the country.

Understanding that I believe I saw that his lawyer didn't publicly discuss the case that they made, so knowledge may be more limited for this one.

illiniranger on June 08 @ 09:29 AM CDT

Hostile environment, claims UGA fans called him racial slurs

Dr. Chim Richalds on June 08 @ 09:34 AM CDT

Seems like his lawyer refuted that that was the basis of their waiver application. But maybe the NCAA took that into account nonetheless.

Nashvegas Illini on June 08 @ 12:52 PM CDT

Justin Fields claim was based on an alleged situation where a baseball player called him a racial slur at a game. This fell under the "Health Safety and Well Being clause" . As a black man I'm happy that Justin got his waiver. But as a college football fan, doesn't this mean anybody that gets called anything at any time on campus or team related activity can use this excuse?

Justin did immediately back off this claim once his waiver was approved. His sister is still on the UGA Softball team and his family didn't want any issues for her.

illiniranger on June 09 @ 01:48 PM CDT

To the last sentence of your first paragraph, probably.

I think Robert clearly laid out the three cases the NCAA will use, and even the meagrest evidence that falls into one of those three bins is good to go. Unfortunately for Luke Ford, his transfer reason does not fall into one of those three bins. Had he gone the “coach change” route first, he might have had more success. I think the NCAA looked at that after the “ill grandparent” and decided no, that’s too transparently an excuse in search of a loophole.

thumpasaurus on June 12 @ 03:42 PM CDT

The Fields claim is ridiculous to me especially because he didn't even find out about the baseball player referring to him with a racial slur until at least a week after the game. This was a flimsy case, but it's also one the NCAA probably wanted to tread lightly around. Still, is the claim that nothing racist will ever happen at Ohio State?

Luke Ford could just have easily used the exact same claim as Fields, saying that even though it didn't refer to him directly, just knowing that such language was used made him so uncomfortable that the situation was untenable.

I hope Justin Fields throws 35 interceptions.

Hoppy on June 11 @ 03:01 PM CDT

I know you may not see this post as it’s a few days past when the original 90i post went up, but I want to say it anyway.

I know you are logical, and your brain works how it works. And I know you can rationalize why the NCAA did what they did with Luke even though you wish he had been approved.

But can we get a little more emotion on it? Maybe some outrage? I mean, I get it, from a robotically logic’s standpoint, our inputs were not the correct inputs so our output came out crap.

But this is one of OUR guys (though it took an extra year to realize it). He will wear our colors and carry our standard and he just got smacked down by the subjectively corrupt organization that has been a model of inconsistency and favoritism for decades. (I believe they were more than happy to hurt your college sports experience because of that inconsistency and subjectivity)

Sure the system is messed up and sure Luke didn’t have the best case in the eyes of that messed up system. But wanting to have your ailing grandfather, who has recently taken a turn for the worse, see you play one game in person is a way better transfer reason (no matter how loop-holey it is) than “I’m butthurt about playing time” or “Coaches get to move all the time, players can too”. I mean, if a coach took a job or stayed at a job due to a sick child needing care and the best hospital for that ailment was in location X, nobody would even BLINK, regardless of Year’s left on contract or buyout. (Not exactly the same...but close-ish)

Anyway, this corrupt organization set up a situation where, God forbid, Luke’s grandfather may never see him play in person. And while that may not have been a huge issue when he committed to Georgia (health was better? Travel plans were being made when they knew he would be playing more in a later season?) it is a huge issue now.

And the NCAA pissed all over that. Get pissed Robert (or at least get mildly upset). One reason I read this blog is because I love the pure emotion you show at times. That completely biased touch that you apply here makes this the best Illini fan site. Your highs (leaving press row to cheer at a basketball game when we are about to knock off a ranked b-ball opponent) and your lows (feeling the pain in your writing from 63-0) keep me engaged.

Let us know how you feel. Our guy got the shaft. Isn’t there more than just “I get why it happened but wish it wasn’t that way”?

Here’s hoping you see this.

Robert on June 11 @ 04:48 PM CDT

My honest response is that I never anticipated a waiver so I never anticipated him being eligible. So I'm telling you my real emotions - no reaction because this was the most likely outcome.

To be honest, my biggest emotion in this whole thing was being driven nuts by the "#freelukeford" hashtag. I even started a few tweets saying "EVERYONE PLEASE STOP DOING THIS" before deleting them. Antagonizing the NCAA? Behaving like Missouri did in the whole Dru Smith affair? Everyone is getting excited as Jay Bilas takes up the cause and I'm reading Twitter saying "no no no no NO" to myself.

The NCAA denied Ahmad Starks' waiver on these same grounds. I expected Ford's grandfather waiver to be denied. I remained hopeful that Tom Mars could spin this the right way and get the NCAA to approve it - I even left Ford on my depth chart (in italics) in hopes of this happening - but that didn't happen. And then the reaction disappointed me - Martell DID have a case based on the way the NCAA is handling these now, Ford did not, and I'm not sure why everyone keeps saying the opposite - so I wrote this post.

Hoppy on June 12 @ 05:18 PM CDT

Fair enough. You went into it with a mindset of “There is a very good chance this gets denied because the NCAA is what it is.” So it didn’t phase you when the denial came.

I guess my anger is more that the NCAA still “is what it is” and kids can suffer for it when they could have reasons just as important if not more than “I want more playing time.”

Was it fields that left Georgia along with Ford due to racial reasons? Then walked it back and said those weren’t a part of the transfer reasoning? If they weren’t, what was his true reasoning and why did it get approved and Luke’s not? I’m curious.

I have the answer to transfers, by the way, and how to make it fair and even across the board...letting all the decisions and the risk/benefit analysis be at the hands of the players/their families.

Hit me up sometime if you’d like to hear it.

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