Between recruiting and transfers and coaches moving, there’s no end to speculation during college football’s offseason.
As a contrast Wednesday, Illini coach Tim Beckman offered some straight talk that dashed various inaccuracies running rampant in watering holes and on the Internet.
Dispelling a Chicago Tribune report, veteran running back Donovonn Young has indicated he will return and was working in the UI weightroom while Beckman spoke.
Young, who ran for 571 yards and caught 38 passes a year ago, is a key squadman because, as offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said: “You need depth at running back. I remember a time when I lost three (to injury) in one game. I’d like to be three-deep there.”
It’s undoubtedly true that Young wasn’t happy after elusive sophomore Josh Ferguson passed him as the starter, but a relatively new NCAA rule caused grass to appear less green elsewhere for a player in Young’s position.
The main point of a complicated rule: Seniors with only a year of football eligibility may not transfer from an FBS school (like Illinois) to an FCS school (like Illinois State) and be immediately eligible.
So Young is limited by (1) being required to sit out a full season at a comparable university or (2) going to Division II. Transferring down one level is not an option. The rule prevents Young from doing what Walter Mendenhall, brother of Rashard Mendenhall, did in 2008. After graduating at Illinois with a year of eligibility, Walter enjoyed four 100-yard rushing games at Illinois State.
As it stands now, Young intends to return as part of the UI’s 1-2 running punch.
Further UI clarifications:
Both coordinators are back on board, ending concern that Cubit might be enticed elsewhere, and stopping speculation as to the status of defensive coordinator Tim Banks. Cubit will receive $500,000 next season, this coming less than two decades after it became an issue when a successful coordinator, Greg Landry, wanted $100,000 during the Lou Tepper regime.
In other news, sub quarterback Chase Haslett is the lone scholarship player electing to transfer (to Wagner), defensive end Paul James returns after being forced to delay his enrollment last August and, contrary to message board speculation, Philadelphia twins Tyree and Tyrin Stone-Davis will enroll immediately. Both sat out 2013 after starring at Pierce College (Calif.) and arrive as key figures in a nine-player group in January.
“It is an indication of how hard all these young men have worked academically to come in early,” Beckman said.
With Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt the favorite to replace Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback, Cubit’s only serious needs are at receiver. Juco transfers Tyrin Stone-Davis and Iowa Western’s Geronimo Allison offer size (both are 6-foot-3) and figure strongly in the spring competition.
This is not to say there won’t be departures after spring when the 2014 lineups become obvious, but at this point there are only a few remaining question marks. Beckman acknowledged that neck issues may force freshman tackle Bryce Douglas to give up the game, and starting defensive end Houston Bates is said to be weighing graduate work vs. another year of football. As of Wednesday, Bates was still working with the team.
With the defensive line needing help, Beckman praised James because the Miamian had the option to go back into the recruiting mix.
“It shows how strongly he feels about Illinois,” Beckman said. “He was one of the top defensive ends in high school. He did the work that he needed to do on his own, and he’s back.”
James and Joe Futo, 273-pound product of the Samoan Islands, add strength in an area in which the Illini coaches still are beating bushes from California to New York.
Aware that some Illini recruits aren’t high on various lists, Beckman said:
“It’s all about fit. Two school names come up when we talk about the top teams on defense and offense, Michigan State and Baylor. And you’d be shocked if you see how few four- and five-star players they have. It goes back to the evaluation process. We’re bringing players to fill our areas of need.”
This is certainly true at receiver. Tyrin Stone-Davis and Allison have been ranked among the top seven juco receivers in the nation.
“Coming early, they’ll have a jump-start with a semester of school and spring practice,” Beckman said.
Nutshell: It is natural for Illini Nation to be disappointed with a program that shows one Big Ten win in two seasons, a program that didn’t crack the Top 100 on defense.
But consider: Cubit turned unknowns into quality receivers in 2013 as the Illini racked 43 offensive TDs and finished No. 21 in pass offense and No. 30 in first downs ... this with a quarterback who threw four TD passes in 2012. With Lunt and freshman Aaron Bailey ready to step forward, with Austin Schmidt gaining experience as backup for the only critical line loss (Corey Lewis), with tight ends Matt LaCosse and Jon Davis returning, and with Young supporting Ferguson, it is reasonable to expect the offense to pick up where it left off.
With 20 of 22 defenders returning, added maturity and key additions like James and Tyree Stone-Davis should strengthen a weak unit.
At home, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably still as disillusioned as an Auburn fan last year after the Tigers went 0-8 in the SEC, or as doubtful as the Baylor faithful when the Bears won seven Big 12 games in four seasons, finally qualifying for the 2010 Texas Bowl in which the Illini destroyed Robert Griffin & Co. 38-14.
Things can change in a hurry and, for Illinois, they did in a bad way after the team started 6-0 in 2011. But on Wednesday afternoon, we could as least dispel some of the nonsense and see a tiny light ahead with nine new athletes and no serious setbacks.
And if you have already decided it’s hopeless and elect to stay home in 2014 ... don’t worry about the athletic budget. We talk about attendance as though it is critical, and it isn’t ... not from a financial standpoint.
If the information new member Maryland received from Jim Delany is accurate, each Big Ten school will receive an extra $7 million in broadcast revenue beginning next year (up to $32 million), and that $7 million alone is nearly enough to crack the nut on annual State Farm Center renovation payments for the next 30 years.
By 2017, when new contracts are signed, look for that $32 million to be $43 million ... and the overall UI budget to crack $100 million. If my numbers are off by a million or two, so what?
So quit worrying about finances. It’s enough to worry about the football team.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.