Many fans of Illinois football expected a better season.
Some veterans on this team seemed due for a leap forward, and as long as the quarterback situation resolved itself, a record of 4-8 or 5-7 seemed within the realm of possibility.
Those possibilities never materialized as the worst-case scenario played itself out throughout the season. However, what seemed most surprising was the fact that this coaching staff committed itself to a long-term rebuild without the benefits of short-term gains.
Several spots, supposedly, filled by veteran leaders (defensive back, linebacker, offensive line) were flipped upside down as the coaching staff went with its recruits rather than more established players. Relying more on youth might have contributed to the lack of success on the field, but the long-term gains of these youngsters could pay off down the road.
The Illini burned a lot of redshirts in the process as well, with players such as Dawson DeGroot and Marc Mondesir receiving early opportunities on special teams and in the two-deep. That may prove to be a mistake as the season's progress, but with a little luck, that experience will pay huge dividends over the next few years.
If Lovie Smith and Co. can continue to identify underrated recruits, such as Bennett Williams (named an ESPN Freshman All-American on Monday) or Louis Dorsey (who should have been), then the ceiling of this program could be Wisconsin or Iowa. Really that's all you can hope for.
They’re just going to have to get there with Lovie's guys.
Let the youth movement commence!