Tate: Don't judge Illini recruiting just yet

Tate: Don't judge Illini recruiting just yet

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It's natural to be skeptical about UI football recruiting when (1) Chicago is forever a tough nut to crack and (2) the Illini are currently trailing other Big Ten schools in 2012 numbers.

This state doesn't produce many four-star prospects, and Iowa has picked off three of them in suburbanites Ryan Ward, Jaleel Johnson and Maurice Fleming. Resurgent Michigan already has 20 commitments, including nine with ESPN four-star ratings. The UI has but six announced verbals, none with four-star ratings and only one from the state, receiver Jason Robertson of Lincoln-Way East.

At first glance, it doesn't look good. But Joe Gilbert, recruiting coordinator for Ron Zook, says not to worry. He reminds that early commits aren't always the best. And Gilbert might have another recruiting point: The outcome is often different than it originally appears.

As example, most of us had no idea what to expect from the UI's upcoming sophomore class. Fifteen of the 21 scholarships went to out-of-staters. Most were from the South. The UI's highest ranked prospect in 2010 was Downers Grove QB Chandler Whitmer, an obvious mistake by the evaluators. He left early.

Based on what we saw this past spring, this class is offering far more hits than misses, a greater percentage of producers than the UI is accustomed to. For me, this class is the reason Illinois will be better than the summer magazines predict. And that's because all those southerners, about whom we knew little, are better than we had reason to believe ... fullback Jay Prosch, tight end Evan Wilson, linebackers Jonathan Brown, Houston Bates and Brandon Denmark. This class now provides the nucleus for Paul Petrino's receiving corps. In the prominent category I count 12 young second-year squadmen from Florida (4), Georgia (2), Louisiana (2), Arkansas, Alabama, Virginia and Tennessee.

This is a new approach for the UI. And it may develop that "unknowns" from the South are better risks than "knowns" from Chicagoland. At this juncture, the only Illinoisans in that class with the likelihood of making an impact in 2011 are reserve defensive tackles Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe — the UI is frightfully thin there — and offensive tackle alternate Mike Heitz (arriving at 260, he is now 6-6 and 298). As for backup QB, it remains to be seen how Mount Prospect sophomore Miles Osei stacks up with incoming plebe Reilly O'Toole.

Point is, before concluding anything about 2012 recruiting, you are advised to wait until they hit the field. But we must admit: The Illini would look awfully good with Michigan's 20-man list.

Losing battle

Robert Potts, retired Arkansas State chancellor, offers the same advice for the University of North Dakota that prevailed at the UI relative to the Native American controversy. Arkansas State changed its nickname from Indians to Red Wolves. North Dakota is bucking NCAA demands in an attempt to retain Fighting Sioux.

It is a losing battle because both NCAA and conference do-gooders have the power to penalize UND in terms of schedule limitations that would hurt the athletic program long-term. Nor will the NCAA be influenced by the intrusion of Dakota's state legislators.

"If the university expects to build a first-rate program in all its sports, it can't do it very well if it's treated as a pariah by a lot of other Division I programs and it can't host NCAA events," Potts said. "The NCAA is just too big an animal to thumb your nose at and expect to be a participant in its programs and so forth."

Emotions are powerful, but there comes a time when the facts must be faced. The UI Board of Trustees was heavily criticized for appeasing the minority, but there was no other realistic choice. Meanwhile, the 3-in-1 music remains, providing halftime opportunities for Chief Illiniwek supporters to relive history. Look for anti-Chiefers to approach the new Marching Illini band leader in that regard.

$56 million question

Why does White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen keep shoving Adam Dunn into the cleanup spot?

Hasn't this strategy reached the point of no return. Don't tell me the Sox can't locate a better designated hitter. Check Sunday's full major league list and, at .163, Dunn is at the absolute bottom.

Just imagine where the Sox would be if they had picked off Lance Berkman instead. They'd certainly be over .500. Cardinal fans grimaced when Berkman came aboard, pointing to his weak numbers with the Yankees ... and he's healthy now and leading the National League in home runs (27). Not only that, he can run and play acceptable defense. Sox fans rejoiced with the acquisition of Dunn, and they have a guy who is demonstrating daily that he can't hit southpaws, can't hit a fast ball over 93 mph, is helpless against a changeup, and is apparently in the lineup simply because his four-year, $56 million contract demands it.

The least they can do, if they can't make a deal with the Cubs for Alfonso Soriano (that's a joke), is move him down in the lineup. It is a shame to have Paul Konerko reaching base consistently, only to be followed by Mr. Strikeout.

Tate's tidbits

— Kendall Gill deserves plaudits for remaining a supporter of Cunningham Homes for more than 20 years, his golf outing bringing between $20,000 and $30,000 annually. Said Gill last week: "For me, it's seeing kids who are now adults and how much Cunningham helped them. That's my satisfaction."

— Sporting News basketball guru Mike DeCourcy said UI sophomore Meyers Leonard "nearly rescued the USA from a big deficit against Russia" in the recent U19 World Championships. The USA was outscored 36-0 on treys in losing 79-74. Leonard's last three games in Latvia provided the first signs that he might be maturing into the task ahead ... and it is a huge task.

— Gilbert, in assessing his offensive line, says he doesn't expect junior tackle Corey Lewis to be ready before late September or early October. That'll give Illini redshirts Simon Czijanovic and Michael Heitz valuable experience as they alternate opposite senior Jeff Allen in the non-conference games.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

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sparrowguy wrote on July 26, 2011 at 6:07 am

I think it's quite unfair to say the evaluators missed on Chandler Whitmer.

JimOATSfan wrote on July 26, 2011 at 10:07 am

I agree with 'sparrowguy'. Last camp Whitmer out passed Nathan and has the much stronger & accurate arm. They lost another good arm when the NC guy left last year after starting a few games in Juice's last year.

While I think Coach Petrino is excellent, he must value a running QB more than a pure passing QB. Even this year he thinks Nathan should run for over 1,000 yards.

Is it really needed? We had a great running game last year and a solid O-line. If we had a pure passing QB to create a consistent passing game threat, we would have won 8-9 games instead of 7 in MHO.

Smackey wrote on July 26, 2011 at 11:07 am

JimOATSfan please explain your comment in light of ..... Ryan Mallett.

hopefulmike wrote on July 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I disagree about the Chief. Maybe if the U of I had some principles it would present a better image. We would be the underdogs valiantly fighting against the politically correct storm troopers. Is it a coincidence that Illinois football and basketball (the only sports really affected) deteriorated after the Chief ban?

I'm sure the ban also impacted donations. When I came from California a couple of years ago for a game, the campus stores were full of items with Chief logos.

Why was Florida State able to retain Chief Oceola? Because they persevered. All Illinois has to do is get a sponsoring tribe, which should not be difficult, because the tribes consider this whole controversy to be a joke. It only appeals to white guilt.

JimOATSfan wrote on July 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm

@Smackey

When Coach Petrino was the decision maker here at Illinois, 2 pure passing qb's were passed over for a run first, learn to throw later qb. So the comment was made in support of 2 now-departed passers who only ran to escape pressure.

A pure passing qb, would look locally like hugely successful former Missouri qb's Brad Smith and Blaine Gabbert. What happened at Arkansas (Mallett) had other decision makers involved too.

It would be interesting to read a post on the success of run-first qb's in the pro's & college: how many actually won a SB or NCAA championship.

I suspect both Osei and O'Toole can pass better than Nathan at this time. They will be lucky to see the field but it would be great to rotate them in once each quarter of play for a series.

Maybe I'm the only fan interested in a potent passing game, but it is just my opinion. Go Illini!

myattitude wrote on July 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm

As to why the Chief retired I believe RG wanted him gone to avoid the sanctions on minor sports which I would have gladly endured and the political push in the State of Illinois government and by the corrupt Trustees along with an administration who wanted him gone. No valid attempt was made by UI to keep him by working with any of the Native American Tribes. It is political correctness gone amuck but lucky to see many at the NG say so.

Smackey wrote on July 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm

@OATS

since the discussion is on College it will begin there.... NCAA Champions Tim Tebow, Vince Young and i will toss in Vick and McNair as excelling in college with a run first. At Illinois you seem to forget Juice and his record at Michigan as the all time single game yardage leader and Illini records for total offense. I expect i can cover the walls of your office with college QB's that ran with great success. Going to the Pro's McNair and Vick are / were very successful. Steve Young while not not that speedy of a runner used his legs to keep drives going and WIN SB's. Brad Smith is not a QB at the Pro level as Randal EL. Fran Tarkenton scrambled into the hall of fame. I expect the Petrino is playing the QB that gives him the best chance to win. This i am certain we disagree.

NEOhioIllini wrote on July 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Why are the examples that get provided relative to "The Chief" battle that of University of North Dakota and Arkansas State? Why not talk about Florida State's success in retaining the Seminole nickname? Looks to me like Loren providing some political cover for the good people of East Central Illinois U.

STUMPWALSH wrote on July 26, 2011 at 4:07 pm

I hope the Illini keep recruiting down here in the South. It is evident that we play pretty good football. It is hard to be a Big Ten fan here in the moddle of SEC country. I am a Fighting Illini who is positive that we will be fine. Can our Nation be positive for once this season. GO ILLINI- Scott Walsh-Tupelo,MS.

Dudesickle wrote on July 26, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Florida State was given the OK to continue using the nickname by the Seminole Tribe itself. They wanted the nickname to continue. Hard for the NCAA to buck the tribe's own wishes.

JimOATSfan wrote on July 26, 2011 at 5:07 pm

OK Smackey - you win! 2 college running qb's won a NCAA Championship out of 100+ years of championship games. Let see 2/100 = 2%.

In the pro's: Steve Young out of almost 90+ years of NFL Championship games. Hmm 1/90= 1%

Wow, what a staggering chunk of data. How could I question running first qb's?

Cheers!

Illinigrad wrote on July 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Hmmmmm. Did anyone mention that FSU donates big money to the Seminole tribe every year for the right to use the name. And you wonder why the tribe argues for FSU to use the name?! It leaves only the casinos to deal with in FL.

illiniphil85 wrote on July 27, 2011 at 7:07 am

Hey Jim, wasn't that many years ago that QB's didn't even pass in college. The problem with the Illini hasn't been running QB's. Most of the problem has been defense that couldn't stop opposing QB's.

Smackey wrote on July 27, 2011 at 9:07 am

@Oats ... i'm not trying to be right but you are mighty thin skinned dude. I gave you some names and you reflect these against the history of college football. You need to grow up. as i stated Petrino is playing the QB that gives him the best chance to win. If you are a regular reader of NG sports page you read that Nathan has the respect of his teammates and that he is a one of the most competitive players for the Illini. If you want a true drop back QB you'll either need to wait till one EARNS the job at Illinois or root for Purdue.

JimOATSfan wrote on July 27, 2011 at 10:07 am

OK so back to my point, a pure passing QB is a better asset on a team with a good running game & o-line.

Love the fact that Nathan is a good leader and the Illini respect and rally around him. That is a different point. If Nathan plays 98% of the snaps this season, I will be rooting for him to be the best in the Big10.

If less than 5% of the qb's in the college and pro game have won championships, I just question the wisdom of using a run first qb. That was my only point. Enjoy the season guys.

Go Illini!