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The Illini are reclaiming the state of Illinois

Bielema’s plan to recruit in state is bearing fruit.

Wyoming v Illinois Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Bielema made the pitch when he was hired, and he is following through.

It is no secret that Bielema is hitting recruiting the state of Illinois hard. And those checks are cashing. The 2023 class will be proof.

Let's look at the history of the state of Illinois and its top-50 recruits. In my analysis, I do make an assumption for sake of argument, which I’ll explain later.

The yellow boxes show teams that recruited from the state of Illinois at or above the number of players Illinois signed in that year.

The orange boxes show the percentage of players that Illinois had from the state of Illinois in a recruiting class. For top-50, I highlighted at 30% or above; for top-25, at 15% or above; for top-10, at 6% or above; and top-5, at 3% or above.

Couple of notes from the recruiting stats above.

  • In 2020, Illinois had 0 (ZERO) top-50 recruits from the state of Illinois.
  • Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers don’t really recruit top-50 players from the state. Ohio State and Penn State will snag a top-5 player from the state every now and then.
  • MAC schools recruit heavily from the state. Leading the MAC in recruiting from Illinois is, as expected, Northern Illinois. MAC schools love the players in the 25-50 range, again as expected. But there is no reason that they should pick MAC schools over Illinois, the flagship school in the state. The growth of MAC recruitment from the state expanded during Lovie’s era, which adds to the notion that Lovie just flat out gave up from recruiting from the state.
  • After not really having time to recruit during the season, Bielema has shot through the roof in percentage of players he recruited from the state. Not only has he beaten every single Big Ten team in recruiting top-25 players from the state, but also is beating MAC teams in signing players from Illinois.
  • Iowa has by far been the biggest recruiter of Illinois talent, expected since it is the top school for students that don’t get into Illinois and every kid from Naperville. But since Bielema started, he has stolen multiple recruits, including the big signing of Gibson City native Aidan Laughery.
  • Same goes for every nerd that goes to Northwestern. The so-called “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” has lost to Bielema’s recruiting pitch each year since Bielema started recruiting. That success should continue as Pat Fitzgerald slows his success in the Big Ten West.
  • If you look at the list of top-50 recruits stolen from Illinois, the Big Ten teams that have taken Illinois recruits are Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Illinois has the chance to beat every single of those teams this year.

Let me phrase that better.

Illinois can beat EVERY TEAM that has out-recruited Illinois in its own state THIS YEAR. Every player that has committed to other Big Ten teams that is from Illinois should reconsider their commitment, because their home school can and will give them a better chance to win. (I know Indiana beat Illinois this year, but given our success, the point stands.)

The section below is for your reference, but I am highlighting successful players from the state, with some notes. So feel free to jump straight to where I start talking about Bielema.

Tim Beckman

2013: Top 50: 7 | Top 25: 2 | Top 10: 1 | Top 5: 0

Illinois Players of Note: Jalen Dunlap (47), Kendrick Foster (48)

2014: Top 50: 3 | Top 25: 0 | Top 10: 0 | Top 5: 0

Illinois Players of Note: Nick Alligretti (29), Mikey Dudek (32)

2015: Top 50: 6 | Top 25: 3 | Top 10: 1 | Top 5: 1

Illinois Players of Note: Dre Brown (14), Jamal Milan (24)

Beckman was fair in recruiting players from the state, but only developed a few stand up guys and two NFL caliber players from the state.

Bill Cubit

2016: Top 50: 2 | Top 25: 0 | Top 10: 1 | Top 5: 0

Illinois Players of Note: Doug Kramer (45)

Bill Cubit, and probably Tim Beckman, gave us Doug Kramer, who ended up getting drafted by the Bears. While he never played for Cubit, his legacy spanned three coaches and was an Illini fan-favorite.

Lovie Smith

2017: Top 50: 9 | Top 25: 3 | Top 10: 1 | Top 5: 0

Illinois Players of Note: Kendrick Green (8), Lere Oladipo (15) Alex Palczewski (28), Kendall Smith (38), Vederian Lowe (44)

2018: Top 50: 3 | Top 25: 3 | Top 10: 1 | Top 5: 0

Illinois Players of Note: Julian Pearl (6), Jordan Slaughter (19)

2019: Top 50: 5 | Top 25: 2 | Top 10: 0 | Top 5: 0

Illinois Players of Note: Kieth Randolph (11), Griffin Moore (48)

2020:Top 50: 0 | Top 25: 0 | Top 10: 1 | Top 5: 0

Illinois Players of Note: N/A

The start of Lovie’s Illinois recruiting makes sense. A coach that took the Bears to a Super Bowl clearly called to the ears of top recruits in the state. His first class had 4 NFL caliber talent. But its clear that after that, Lovie gave up on the state of Illinois.

Bret Bielema

2021: Top 50: 2 | Top 25: 1 | Top 10: 0 | Top 5: 0

Illinois Players of Note: Josh Kreutz (25), Zachary Barlev (38)

2022: Top 50: 7 | Top 25: 2 | Top 10: 0 | Top 5: 0

Illinois Players of Note: Matthew Bailey (35) and lots of devo guys I am excited for

2023: Top 50: 7 | Top 25: 5 | Top 10: 3 | Top 5: 1

These numbers are TBD, but trend is really up and Bielema is holding true to his words. I think there's a lot of guys who are committed to MAC teams and other Big Ten teams that I think will commit to Illinois.

I am not a recruitment expert, and here is my assumption, but 4-star recruit Jyaire Hill out of Kankakee was wearing Illinois gloves in his game last Friday. There are predictions out there sending him to Michigan, but a strong showing by Illinois on Nov. 19 in the Big House could swing him to the Illini. The fact that Illinois is still a player this late in the game against blue blood says a lot.

Illinois has a chance to reclaim the state. Illinois alumni are excited about the program. The Big Ten network loves the Illini. ESPN loves to talk about Illinois, even showing Chace Brown on their home page. Even our mentions and impressions are up this year. The Illinois fever is very, very real.

Recent success has not only grabbed the ears of national media, but it has promoted its players into Heisman contention and in the running for major awards in college football.

Nothing can beat in-state talent being cheered on by their friends and family in their own state. Every player knows this. I know every player is evaluating Illinois and commitments are coming into question. Simeon (Chicago) WR Malik Elzy decommitted from Cincinnatti and Illinois looks like the new front runner. Hill could be the next in-state recruit to join.

Consistent success breeds future success. It is known that all this could come crumbling down in seconds. As Illinois fans, we know this all too well.

But Bielema has built the right staff to continue building this program to heights not seen before. Let’s win Saturday and keep this train rolling.

Edit Note: Earlier version said that Hill was committed to Michigan. He is not committed to Michigan, his recruitment is still open. I-L-L.

Edit Note 2: Aidan Laughery is from Gibson City, not Quad Cities.