Before we move on to the next cycle, I wanted to provide my thoughts on what Illinois expects to come away with in the 2014 signing class.
First, the offense:
What I like: The staff did a good job of assembling playmakers at wide receiver, a mix of junior college and high school recruits to provide both immediate and long-term help.
What I don't like: I know the numbers were tight, but adding only two offensive linemen, no matter the circumstance or depth chart, always worries me.
I'll be the first to couch the whole, sign some JUCOs, get instant production, give your young, freshmen players time to development, mentality.
It didn't exactly work out last year. Martize Barr looked great in fall camp and began the season with nine catches in two games. Another nine catches to open Big Ten play happened, and then he went into the witness protection program for the rest of the season.
And let's not even get started about the defensive guys. Zane Petty came on late, and he was the guy with the least amount of expectations coming in.
So, we're not dealing with exact science, but I do like the theory and believe it's the best route to take for a program like Illinois to use for filling holes until the depth chart (hopefully) planes out.
A few things about these two new wideouts… They're both 6-3. They're both around 190 (Stone-Davis a few pounds more, Allison a few less). Allison has the coolest first name, Geronimo. Tyrin has a hyphenated last name, which for some reason I've always appreciated (because it usually pays homage to both a father and stepfather or mother). Both won championships at the junior college level. Stone-Davis is from Philly, for those of you that like the tough, hard-knocks approach. Allison is from Tampa, for those who appreciate good strip clubs and the notion that every kid from Florida is faster than anybody else.
So… you pick which one you think will make the biggest mark in 2014. Yeah, you're probably right.
The opportunity is there because it's essentially a clean slate. And I'll take my chances again on the JUCO guys before I roll with a fresh faced 18-year-old (more on them later).
Wes Lunt has to throw to somebody. I think Stone-Davis and Allison have as a good a chance to be targets as anybody else.
Next… My personal favorite: Offensive lineman Nick Allegretti.
Due to his combination of talent, potential and all around nice-guy-to-be-around-ness, I'm a big fan of Nicky, as his family calls him.
The offensive line returns everybody except for Corey Lewis and Jake Feldmeyer. Yeah, that's usually not a good sign for an incoming freshman. But not at Illinois. Alex Hill is as likely to play guard as he is center and nobody besides Ted Karras and Simon Cvijanovic does much for me.
Again, it's an opportunity for the taking. Even if Allegretti doesn't play all that much, he'll still be in the mix for playing time to get ready for the following year, much like Austin Schmidt did this season.
I said earlier, I don't like only bringing in two offensive lineman, but Allegretti's addition makes this sting less. I think he's going to be a good one. Next season's class, it's imperative Illinois sign a bigger group of guys for the trenches (but that's a long-winded rant for another day).
Players I like for the long haul:
While I'm not ready to call these guys main pieces in play for their freshmen season, I like the upside this trio presents. All of them come from winning programs and, in my opinion, each has some form of chip on their shoulder, always a good thing for a college coach to use to his advantage.
First up, wideout Mike Dudek. Known as Mr. Illinois among other commits and recruits, nobody loves the Orange and Blue as much as Mikey D.
Dudek is super fast, and he's more technical than most high school wide receivers are. We're (almost) talking about the total package here -- speed, attention to finer details, past production and a history of making highlight reel catches. He'll probably be in line catching punts and kicks during practice early in his career as well.
His 2013 stats: Caught 69 passes for 1,384 yards (20.1 ypc) and 19 TDs, rushed 30 times for 260 yards (8.7 ypc) and three TDs, and returned 21 kickoffs for 692 yards (33.0 ypr) and two TDs.
The only knock? His size. He's listed at 5-11, 185-pounds. That may be generous and it may be what kept other big time schools from offering.
That may be. Once he got the chance to be an Illini though, he took it and shut down his recruitment. His size may place limitations, but I think he'll grow, figuratively speaking, into a main contributor down the line.
Next, let's talk Malik Turner. Another kid with a background steeped in winning, the Sacred Heart Griffin product has the size you want, at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds.
His chip stems from battling injuries for most of his high school career. I don't blame schools for not offering because there really wasn't much to go on. Props to Illinois for taking a chance though because Turner, finally healthy, proved himself plenty capable during a senior season that saw his team win the state title thanks in part to his production.
The junior college kids have a jump on him, but I could see Turner growing into 220-pound, fast as yeah sophomore that breaks out in a big way.
Lastly, we have Matt Domer. He's from Mount Carmel, a premier program in the Chicago area. So, there's one gold star. He's also one of those football players that, you don't always know the why or the how… but you can't question the what. He just makes plays. He's not the biggest cat on the field, nor does he have the measurables that wow you on paper. He's just a winner. When the lights come on (or the breakfast has just been eaten for those dreadful early kickoffs), Domer comes to life.
That's good, though. That will give Domer time to getter bigger, stronger, faster and get ready when his time does come. And it will. I believe that.
Wait and see mode…
And this is in order of my confidence that the Illini have something here, most to least...
I like Chayce Crouch's arm strength, attitude, frame and the fact that he's enrolling early. Good kid who committed early and helped recruit others for the class.
Now, the quarterback recruiting shuffle is different than any other position. It's more of a marriage than anything else, so once a school and kid (usually still a junior) find each other, every other suitor falls off the map (at least that's how most marriages are supposed to work). Crouch didn't have any other major offers when he pledged, though. I'm told he was Bill Cubit's top choice in the class, so I'll revert to his judgement on all things pertaining to quarterbacks.
Still, Crouch enters a room that already has Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey diligently working on their craft. And I went to school and covered the University of Georgia (David Greene, D.J. Shockley, Matt Stafford, Aaron Murray). Excuse me if I have a high standard for quarterbacks.
I'll say this, Peter Cvijanovic has the pedigree. I like his brother Simon a lot. Other than that, I don't know much about this kid. I do know that he needs to add size (currently at 275) and strength. That's a must. But he wasn't heavily recruited and he's coming from a prep school, East Coast, that I know zilch about.
Finally, Jordan Frazier comes to Illinois as a versatile tight end who could potentially play defensive end if the staff makes that call. He led his team in receptions all four years and in tackles as a senior and will enroll in a few weeks. That's good.
It's just I'm not bullish on home school stock because, well, why would I be? I know it's not fair on an individual basis, but Frazier played in a home school association against much more diluted competition than your average bear.
It may be harsh of me to put it that way, but life is harsh. And so is college football. I don't doubt that Frazier can have success. It's just that I have no clue if he will.
Anyway... My overall impression is this: I like what the Illinois did in this class on the offensive side of the ball, given that the unit returns many integral pieces next season and the numbers were tight. The sure-fire star power is clearly lacking, but the staff hustled to assemble a decent group. In the future, the overall level of talent signed needs to be better, but this is a step in the right direction.
That's the take on the offensive side of the ball. Be on the lookout for the defensive perspective in the near future.