Has Illinois football recruiting stalled? Absolutely.
A 3-7 record hasn't helped the Illini's efforts and the staff seems to be waiting to use most of its evaluation days for after the season, focusing instead on the current club to try as much as possible to put together some extra wins.
Action should heat up, though, in the coming weeks.
The Illini plan a big visitor weekend for its final home game this weekend against Iowa. The staff, including head coach Lovie Smith, then will hit the road in full force when the contact period opens on Nov. 27, the day after the regular season finale at Northwestern.
This will be a hugely important time for the Illini staff since it didn't arrive at Illinois until late March, and Smith has been limited to mostly on-campus recruiting. The Illini are very eager to get their head coach and best recruiter on the road, in high schools and in homes talking to coaches, prospects and parents.
Also, the Illini -- which plan to fill all 25 scholarships in the Class of 2017 -- are honing in on some very precise targets who fill needs and look very recruitable.
Who are those prospects? How are the Illini trending with those targets? Check out the Illini Inquirer Trending Meter!
Off the board
Prospects to commit elsewhere since the last update
Watkins took his third overall visit to Illinois earlier this month, and it is a very, very positive sign for the Illinois. Not to mention that Watkins said it was fair to call Illinois his leader. "Illinois seems like a great fit for me," Watkins told Illini Inquirer. "I just want to make sure, like I tell everybody else, I just want to make sure Illinois' the best fit." Watkins had planned a decision on his birthday, Oct. 29, but postponed that announcement. It's starting to make sense why. Louisville, one of his top options, has backed off, and Iowa State recently offered, so he wants to visit the Cyclones so he can re-evaluate his options. Still, Watkins bought a bunch of Illini gear on his latest visit. His mother, father, uncle and his girlfriend now have all visited the campus, and he named Illinois the leader. Iowa State will have to blow him away to take the top spot, especially considering Illinois has the longer relationship. Watkins said he plans to decide in December.
An official visit to Illinois seemed to solidify that Reggie Roberson's commitment to Kansas was pretty "soft," and he made his decommitment official last week. Illinois really impressed Roberson on the visit, despite a loss to Purdue, with the speedy Texas receiver telling Illini Inquirer: "It’s just going to be a hard decision now because I really have something to sit down and think about now because I really liked it a lot. It just felt like home. I felt like I was supposed to be there. I didn’t feel like I was in the wrong place or anything like that.” Illinois set the tone, and an even better sign? They're getting another visit. Roberson told Illini Inquirer last week that he plans to visit Illinois again when Illini commit Ricky Smalling takes his official visit. The two wideouts have struck up a good friendship recently, which should help the Illini. The Illini have some competition. Word is that ECU is a major player here and Roberson may visit there, Indiana and Kansas before making a decision. However, the Illini are the leader in the clubhouse. Roberson's dad is a big Lovie Smith fan, and his mom really warmed up to the staff during the visit. Roberson himself saw a path to immediate playing time, and Illini wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker has made him a priority for half a year.
Illinois recently offered New Jersey offensive lineman Joshua Fedd-Jackson, who actually reached out to Illinois with interest. Illinois offensive line coach Luke Butkus watched him the night before the Rutgers game and liked what he saw. Fedd-Jackson has held some nice offers, but most schools have backed off him due to academic questions. The physical guard spent his freshman year at a school not cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse, so none of those credits counted. Most schools have seemed scared off by those questions. But Fedd-Jackson has made up a lot of those credits through summer school and extra courses. While eligibility questions still remain, he seems on a better pace to qualify. And Illinois appears to be in a pretty good place with him right now.
Illinois has cast a wide net for defensive ends, and defensive line coach Mike Phair may have found a heck of a sleeper in his home state. The Illini extended a scholarship offer to Yuma (Ariz.) Catholic defensive end Daniel Callendar last month. Callendar is long and athletic (he's a heck of a basketball player). Illinois is his only power-five offer and he plans a visit soon. "With their great coaching staff, they can push me to my true potential," Callendar told Illini Inquirer. "My reaction was just being blessed and happy to have an offer from another school. I'm a very happy person."
Otomewo is a bit of a project, but it's rare to find players with his size and athleticism. The Illini have a huge need at the position and also want to nudge their way into the Indianapolis recruiting scene, so their recent offer to Otomewo makes a lot of sense. Otomewo visited Indiana last weekend, but he also plans an Illini visit in the next month or so.
With Dawuane Smoot, Carroll Phillips and Gimel President all departing, Illinois could probably use four defensive ends in this class. But few prep defensive ends are prepared to make an immediate impact so the Illini are targeting several junior college prospects with Bagner recently receiving an offer. The Illini were the first power-five program to offer (Toledo and Idaho also have offered). Bagner plans a visit in December, and though he doesn't know much about Illinois, he is intrigued by the opportunity -- both for playing time and in the Big Ten.
Illinois needs immediate help at tight end. It loses three seniors after 2016, and most of its talents are underclassmen unready to make an impact. The Illini think Williams can bridge that gap. The California JuCo product had a nice combination of size, athleticism and hands that could make him the versatile weapon Garrick McGee wants in his offense. Illinois is the first power-five team to offer (Utah State and New Mexico also have shown interest). Williams plans to visit this winter.
Illinois recently offered the East St. Louis quarterback and Missouri commit. Estes over the weekend told Illini Inquirer's Ryan Easterling of the offer: "Nothing's changed (with my commitment status). I'm still solidly committed to Mizzou. I'm always excited to say I'm committed to the Tigers. It was a big offer I picked up the other day from Illinois, though, but I'm focused on the season and nothing else right now." What's the reasoning behind the offer? For one, Illinois isn't afraid of Mizzou. They've already won two recruitments (Larry Boyd and Tony Adams) over the Tigers new staff, and Mizzou is a little vulnerable right now. Also, Illinois needs depth at quarterback and though Estes is undersized, he is a dynamic athlete. Also, Estes is very close to a teammate Illinois would love to add.
Thomas is comparable to Tavon Austin, just an inch or two taller. Not hyperbole. He is one of the fastest, most dynamic football players in the country. Just check out Ryan Easterling's highlights of Thomas from East St. Louis' quarterfinal win. Offering Estes could be a ploy for the Illini to nudge their way further into this recruitment. Thomas visited Illinois during the fall, but most consider Mizzou the leader. Plus, Alabama has offered. But what's the hold up? Thomas has serious academic concerns. But a junior college coach told me that ESL coaches are telling JuCo's that Thomas "is going to be fine" academically and that they "don't want to talk to JuCos at all." That same source then wonders why Thomas hasn't committed to Mizzou yet. Maybe he's waiting until after the season. But the door isn't closed yet, and the Estes offer likely shows that the Illini are willing to do whatever they can to nudge in that door. Because Thomas is a rare talent who can lift a program.
Illinois is a major player for Roundtree, who plans an official visit to Champaign this weekend. He's called Michigan State his biggest offer but it's not certain how hard the Spartans are pursuing him with several defensive end commitments already. A source in Florida considers Indiana the favorite right now. The Hoosiers are putting together a solid season and a good class of defensive linemen. The Hoosiers have built up the best relationship to this point, and a visit to Bloomington could seal the deal. But Roundtree hasn't scheduled that visit. In fact, the Illinois visit was the only one he'd scheduled to this point. Also, Illinois seems sneakily confident here. Lovie Smith made a then-stealth visit to watch Roundtree play during the Illini bye week -- one of the few prospects Smith has visited in person. Smith has personally made Roundtree a top priority and sees him as a Julius Peppers-type defender (long, athletic and versatile) for his defense.
The clock is ticking for Carney. He seems dead set on enrolling early, but the top school on his wish list (Florida State) doesn't have an early enrollee spot for him right now. Also, while FSU has offered, that offer doesn't seem committable right now -- otherwise, Carney likely would have. Meanwhile, Illinois has prioritized Carney for the past eight months. They would love for him to early enroll. He took a three-day unofficial visit to Illinois in July. He's locked in a follow-up official visit for Dec. 9. “I’m very high on Illinois’ staff," Carney told Illini Inquirer.. "They treat me like family. If I call one coach, I’m going to end up talking to the whole staff. That’s just the way they are. No other program has treated me like that.” Carney recently visited Maryland and has interest in Tennessee and Arkansas. With Florida State dragging its feet and others coming in and out of this recruitment, the one constant has been Illinois working its tail off to get him.
Carney's teammate gave Illinois a commitment in late August. But after a strong senior season, Green is picking up interest from some big programs. He always planned to take his official visits with Utah, Oregon State and Pittsburgh among the schools who had offered him prior to his Illinois commitment. Temple offered recently, but that doesn't move the needle. North Carolina's offer does, however, given Larry Fedora's success and explosive offense. Green plans to early enroll, so they really only need to hold on for another month. We'll see if UNC or other programs truly make him a priority. Illini assistant Thad Ward has built a pretty good relationship with him. Despite Green's commitment, Illinois is still recruiting the Florida wideout hard.
Illinois is in the top-five for Alabama offensive lineman Preston Mixon, along with Cincinnati, Nevada, Memphis and Florida Atlantic. Mixon has been pretty quiet lately. His coaching staff doesn't like its players to delve fully into recruiting until after the prep season, but expect Mixon to visit Illinois in December. Mixon is a bit of a project and while he plays offensive tackle in high school, Illinois envisions him as a physical center who can help the Illini get a better push on the interior. As the only power-five team in his top-five, Illinois seems to be in a great position. But Mixon made it clear that conference isn't one of the most significant factor in his decision. "Big Ten, SEC and all that stuff, that really doesn't matter," Mixon told Illini Inquirer. "I just want to go somewhere and play and get my education. Basically, I want to play in the NFL. But as long as I do what I want to do at the next level, the NFL is going to come to me."
Epps didn't play fooball as a freshman and sophomore but put up huge numbers as a senior (48 catches, 1,100 yards, 13 touchdowns). Illinois last month became the first power-five team to extend an offer, but Epps visited North Carolina last week. The Tar Heels have taken a keen interest in him -- they also are highly interest in Illini commit Carmoni Green -- and Epps seems to have taken a liking to Larry Fedora's offense. "No matter who offers, I'm really liking UNC based off of what I saw this weekend and the coaches and the campus," Epps told Scout.com's Inside Carolina. Epps is a tall, athletic wideout, similar to current Illini sophomore Sam Mays, different than their other receiver targets. Epps plans to visit Illinois this weekend for the Iowa game.
This arrow isn't because Adams isn't interested in Illinois. He told Scout.com that Illinois is in his top five and one of the three schools recruiting him the hardest. It's not that Illinois isn't interested in Adams. They love him. He ran 4.39 40-yard dashes during an unofficial visit to Illinois last summer. That translates to the football field too. In 10 games this season, Adams has 50 receptions for 1,109 yards and 16 touchdowns along with 560 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 52 carries. But I'm told Adams has some academic issues to overcome. Hopefully, he can overcome them because he has the play-making speed that Illinois sorely needs.
The Miami Southridge cornerback announced his decommitment from Illinois late last month. It wasn't a huge surprise given that Collier committed before he ever visited Illinois and that he'd always planned to take his official visits. Still, it's a bummer for Illinois because Collier is the long, physical, athletic cornerback that Lovie Smith wants and needs desperately in his defense. Nebraska has drawn Collier's interest fr a while, but Miami is the biggest competition here. The hometown Hurricanes have taken a big interest in him lately.
Illinois has ground to make up here, though Cotton may take an official visit this weekend. He took official visits to Oregon and Nebraska during September and visited Colorado last month. Hardy Nickerson has built up a very good relationship there, so Illinois has a chance since he's visiting. But they're playing catch up.
Illinois needs some impact edge rushers and defensive line coach Mike Phair is trying to find some success recruiting his home state of Arizona. He focused some recent attention on 6-foot-5, 215-pound top-60 defensive end Odua Isibor. But Isibor has offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, Colorado and USC. Can the Illini pull him away from the Pac-12? That seems tough, especially after Isibor told Scout.com this month that "(proximity to home) is starting to matter a bit more. I feel like it would be a lot easier to deal with a new academic setting and a new setting in general if I was closer to home."
Harris decommitted from Indiana last month. Decommitting is kind of his thing. He did it a few times with Iowa before the Hawkeyes cut bait. Illinois had interest, and Harris visited an Illinois satellite camp in Chicago last summer. Harris transferred from his high school in Iowa back to his hometown in Wisconsin and seems to have a lot of different influencers in his life. He's burned a lot of bridges, seemingly including Illinois. Harris unprovoked reached out to me on Twitter last month to tell me he no longer has interest in Illinois. When asked why, he said something that suggested he has a beef with the Illinois staff -- probably because Illinois recently has backed off Harris, a talented but seemingly troubled prospect. He told me Michigan, Notre Dame, Alabama and Iowa State are all interested and he plans official visits there. Besides Iowa State, those don't seem very believable. One Big Ten source told me: "He's in full revolt mode because he doesn't have a spot anywhere. Folks are telling him he has to go to JuCo and he refuses to accept it. He's got to go to JuCo, get qualified and shed weight. It's the only chance he has."