FACT or FICTION: It's time to worry about the quantity of Illini football commits.
Jeremy Werner, Illini Inquirer publisher
Fiction. Come back to me in a month.
Interestingly, the previous Illini staff may have had more commitments by now. They were pushing for in-state prospects OT Isaac Hawn (NIU commit), WR Jamir Whitelow (no power-five offers), DT Caylon May (no power-five offers), OL Kendrick Green (uncommitted but has a Minnesota offer) and DE Jackson Perkins (Navy commit). But that staff was in a different position. They had just one season to prove themselves and wanted to build a solid foundation heading into the season to try to build some area recruiting momentum.
http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1686106-illini-football-recr...Lovie Smith's staff has a much longer leash with an expensive six-year deal. They also have a better sell: stability, playing for Lovie, etc. So this staff has been a bit more deliberate and picky. Could it come back and haunt them? Possibly. Being patient could cost them a chance at some solid prospects who currently are feeling more love from other programs. But the Illini don't want to settle too early. They want to see if the Lovie buzz can help them land better out-of-state prospects, like Florida DE Owen Carney or Texas DE Corey Bethley. They also know that some wins this fall can help their sell even more -- though losses could make the waiting game a bad gamble.
Still, quantity of commitments in July doesn't matter as much as the quality of signees in February. This staff has shown that it doesn't care about its class ranking in mid-summer, and it's shown with the recruitments of Marc Mondesir and Cam Thomas that it trusts its own evaluations.
The Illini have more than six months left to finish the class, and they have a big month ahead. Illinois is expected to host several of their top priorities (players with offers) toward the end of the month with the hope of closing on them heading into the fall. Count me as one who thinks the Illini should have 10 commitments heading into the season.
The two big decisions coming up are Huntley DE Olalere Oladipo and LB Micah Awodiran. As of today, Illinois has the advantage for both. Oladipo has visited campus three times since Lovie took over and has spent a lot of one-on-one time with the Illini head coach. Awodiran is excited at the opportunity to play linebacker for a man who's coached Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Lavonte David. But the Illini have increased competition for both. Oladipo just visited Penn State and plans to visit Duke this week with Awodiran. If Illinois lands both though, it'd be huge for their future foundation on defense and their in-state momentum. Illinois also is in the top-two for St. Louis University High athlete Tony Adams and Cincinnati OL Howard Watkins, who both are expected to visit and would like to make decisions before the season. Miami (Fla.) Central teammates Owen Carney and Carmoni Green also are expected to visit, and Green is close to a decision. The Illini also are the clear leaders for Crete-Monee teammates Juawan Treadwell and John Mitchell right now.
Illinois has a lot of smoldering irons in the fire. If those are doused by those targets going elsewhere, then it's time to reassess this question.
Ryan Easterling, Illini Inquirer recruiting reporter
Fiction, though I agree with Jeremy that if the class is no different in a month or so, then maybe there's reason for concern. Honestly, I'd almost be more concerned if the staff had begun reaching by now for the sake of filling the class. It's been discussed at length that this staff got a late start on this class, but I do credit their commitment to their plan in targeting the guys they want and not getting impatient. They need that patience to pay off over the next couple of months, though.
http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1683565-illini-football-tren... One other reason that the commitment list isn't longer right now is geography. Illinois has landed some of the better available talent in-state since Lovie and his staff took over, save a couple guys like Isaiah Robertson, who decided shortly after Lovie came on the job. And two other key in-state guys in Awodiran and Oladipo are expected to make decisions in the next couple months. But a large portion of Illinois' recruiting board in 2017 lies out of state, which means they are after a lot more guys who have more than a 3- to 4-hour road trip when taking an unofficial visit. For that reason, a lot of them will wait for official visits early in the fall to check out the campus.
Now, a handful of targets have made the trip despite the distance. Alabama native Jaylond Adams was on campus within the last couple of months. Carmoni Green, Antwan Collier and Owen Carney are expected on campus later in July. But, the fact remains, it's not cheap to take visits far from home, and many of these players rely on official visits to fund their travels to campuses more than a car ride away.
The other aspect to this is the perception of the fanbase. I, along with a few others, cautioned the fanbase about setting expectations too high too soon on the recruiting front. Did I expect this staff to be able to capitalize on the buzz of Lovie Smith's hire a bit more? Sure. But I also didn't expect this staff to come in and start landing 5-star talent for a while. My expectation for this class has been and still is that it finishes comparable on paper to the 2015 Illinois class with a couple 4-star talents and a solid core of 3-star type players.
So am I worried? No. Not yet at least.