As of my typing this, the Illinois Fighting Illini's 2015 recruiting class is ranked 45th nationally and 6th in the Big Ten. Happy National Signing Day everyone!
Seriously though, this is one of the best football recruiting classes we've had in Champaign for quite some time. The following table was made using 247's composite class rankings.
|Year||National Rank||B1G Rank|
Those conference class rankings retroactively include Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers but the point remains: this is the first time since 2009 that we have a recruiting class in the top half of the conference. That's huge. And you might say "But Mark! Look at that 2011 class! That doesn't seem so bad!" We've been over that before, so go look again.
A huge part of the football program's struggles over the past four seasons has been a complete inability to keep up in the recruiting arms race. You're not going to have much luck beating conference opponents when they've spent the past few recruiting cycles pantsing you. It can happen because this is college football and all, but it's not something sustainable.
So here we are, coming off the first season of the Tim Beckman era that resulted in a bowl game and look at the difference a year makes. The 2013 Fighting Illini go 4-8 (1-7) and Becks is firmly placed on the hot seat. This results in the worst recruiting class in the entire conference. The team turns things around in 2014, going 6-7 (3-5) and the coaching staff is at least guaranteed another year. And holy shit, look what they've done with that guarantee.
The only Big Ten teams with better recruiting classes this year are Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Michigan is behind us. Minnesota, Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa, and Indiana are well behind us. That. Is. AMAZING.
This is trending upwards. This is looking at the middle class of the conference and declaring that what was theirs is yours now and they can back off or be bloodied.
You can look at that commitment list and see who will be taking over for Josh Ferguson (Ke'Shawn Vaughn), Wes Lunt (Jimmy Fitzgerald), V'Angelo Bentley (Cameron Watkins), Geronimo Allison (Sam Mays), and Matt LaCosse (Andrew Davis). You can see the new anchors on both sides of the line (Gabe Megginson and Jamal Milan). There is a battalion of new offensive linemen and running backs they'll protect. There's a linebacking corps and the secondary that will support them.
Are they all going to turn out the way they're supposed to? Are they all guaranteed to remain Illini? Of course not. But the last few recruiting classes have been about building depth and establishing an overwhelmingly important sense of consistency that had been completely lacking in central Illinois over the past half decade. Things sure as hell aren't perfect, but they're definitely looking up and that's what signing day is all about.