Rankings don't mean much to football coaches at the start of the season.
With recruiting, however, rankings are a tool coaches use to promote their program to potential players year-round.
Before Illinois football had even played a game under Tim Beckman, the Class of 2013 he had put together had garnered a top 25 ranking by Rivals.com.
With his first full recruiting class about to sign in less than three weeks, Illinois has fallen out of the top 25 team rankings to No. 30, but it's still an upgrade from the Class of 2012.
"This is a shocker of a class for Illinois," writes Dallas Jackson, a high school football analyst for Rivals. "The program was terrible on the field this year, limping to a 2-10 season with wins against Western Michigan and Charleston Southern. It is also a (bit) of a surprise as Ron Zook was most known for being a good recruiter and losing him would have figured to hurt recruiting. Credit has to be given to Tim Beckman for the success."
In fact, the No. 30 ranking Illinois has right now is the best for the program, according to Rivals, since the Class of 2008 garnered a No. 23 ranking.
The Class of 2012 checked in at No. 64 in the rankings, with Ron Zook's last full class, the Class of 2011, finding itself at No. 42. The Class of 2012 was a combined effort with Zook and his old staff along with Beckman and his new staff.
Since Rivals unveiled its team rankings in 2002, the highest Illinois has climbed is a No. 20 slot with the Class of 2007 (which featured five-star prospects Arrelious Benn and Martez Wilson, but also included four-star prospects like D'Angelo McCray and Mark Jackson. Both players did not finish their career at Illinois after off-the-field issues).
Included in that class as well was linebacker Ian Thomas, a two-star recruit out of high school who found himself a fixture on the field at Illinois with his tackling ability, once again proving that one shouldn't write off two- or three-star prospects.
What does the most recent ranking by Rivals mean for Illinois? It doesn't guarantee a winning season in the future by any means and it increases expectations for future Illinois football teams to succeed.
This year's class is helped out by numbers (24) that could swell in the remaining weeks before signing day, with key official visits planned this weekend (Peoria Central defensive tackle Josh Augusta among them), and a start on the Class of 2014 getting a boost the following weekend with a large junior day weekend planned.
The No. 30 ranking is the fourth-best in the Big Ten Conference, with Ohio State (No. 4), Michigan (No. 5) and Nebraska (No. 19) ahead of Illinois.
Teams trailing the Illini are Penn State (No. 42), Northwestern (No. 44), Indiana (No. 45), Wisconsin (No. 48), Michigan State (No. 49), Iowa (No. 59), Minnesota (No. 72) and Purdue (No. 76), with future Big Ten members Rutgers (No. 39) and Maryland (No. 40) cracking the top 50.
Quarterback Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook (Ill.) High School and wide receiver/defensive back Caleb Day of Darby (Ohio) High School lead the list of players Illinois will have in its Class of 2013. Both are the only two four-star prospects.
"Beckman is very energetic, and if you have ever been around him, you kind of feed (off) his passion and that really does feed into recruiting," Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell said. "He picked up in some of the strongholds that Zook had and expanded his boundaries. Usually when teams such as Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan are recruiting well — like they are this year — it is usually Illinois that feels the most pain. But this class is shaping up to be pretty impressive."