What universe are you residing in? Whatever it is, it’s different — conference speaking — from the one Illinois inhabits. We’re worlds apart.
Basketball exists there as an amusing sideline to the real thing. For 16,000-plus who watched Ohio State break a four-game tailspin Thursday against Illinois, victory was satisfying ... but couldn’t be classified as life or death.
Come Feb. 5, a circled date for Ohioans, it would be death and dishonor if Urban Meyer failed to produce a spectacular football recruiting class.
And, of course, he will.
OK, before digging any deeper into this, let’s agree: Evaluations by recruiting gurus for Rivals, Scout and ESPN are mistake-prone but, contrary to general belief, coaches at prep and college levels have input in these projected player assessments, so in reality it is an educated venture.
Top of the league
Based on the incredible buildup of talent in Columbus — second only to what’s happening at Alabama — the Buckeyes are unchallenged in the Big Ten. After No. 2 OSU, the Rivals site projects no other conference member in the Top 20.
Any realistic prognosticator would foresee a Big Ten future of the Buckeyes dominating their brethren ... call it the Big One and the Little 13. Yes, OSU’s 23-game winning streak has been double-snapped. That’s in the rearview mirror. Look ahead.
To begin with, Meyer has better returning talent than anyone in the conference. And the anticipated migration of Rivals’ Top 100 high school prospects shows — inhale slowly — OSU has lined up eight of these special athletes, while the other 11 members of the current conference have four.
Think about it. OSU has twice as many Top 100 preps as the others combined.
Here’s a confession. When I analyzed the Illini-Buckeye rivalry about 1970, just after the UI’s "slush fund" scandal, I opined that, based on the lopsided nature of resources and brand, Illinois should never defeat Ohio State in football. Emphasis on the word "should." As it turns out, Illinois rose up to defy the odds — magically in some cases — on a number of occasions (11 UI wins since 1970).
But it’s more lopsided now than ever. Ohio State is poised to sign one five-star athlete — Georgia linebacker Raekwon McMillan — and 15 four-star studs who fill their requirements of speed and skill. Imagine! Illinois might need a decade to attract 15 four-stars, showing no five- or four-star preps in the upcoming 17-member class (late changes may yet happen) that features just 11 high school graduates.
Contest of opposites
This isn’t the NFL. There’s no free agency, and there’s no draft to create a degree of equality of franchises. Blue-chip preps knock down the doors to attend tradition-rich OSU. The Buckeyes turn away better talent than Illinois can attract.
On the face of it, this is unfair competition. It’s a contest of opposites, one team winning 23 consecutive games before losing, and the other dropping 20 straight Big Ten games before defeating equally troubled Purdue.
UI coaches have rattled the bushes, including the junior college ranks, in a quest to right a listing ship. But the home state remains less than cooperative and, with 10 days left until the signing date, UI coach Tim Beckman can only hope his staff has uncovered stars in the making.
How can you provide a different perspective from the following?
— Fletcher Page of Scout.com says the UI has landed just three of the state’s Top 50 football players. That’s beyond unacceptable.
— Rivals’ national Top 100 list shows five athletes from the state, and they will attend LSU, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Nebraska and Ohio State. The top two at Nos. 60 and 72 are four-star linebackers Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South (LSU) and Nyles Morgan of Crete-Monee (Notre Dame). Three incoming UI linebackers from beyond state boundaries are evaluated at the two-star level.
— In Rivals’ Top 250 and Scout’s 300, the Illini show not a single enrollee. That’s a long list of the best athletes being sprayed across the nation’s football programs, and none for the UI.
— Barring a late addition, the Illini landed five in-state preps, two of whom were listed on Edgy Tim’s earlier top 27 in the state: receiver Mike Dudek of Neuqua Valley and center Nick Allegretti of Lincoln-Way East.
— The UI’s favorite school in the Chicago market, Mount Carmel, produced a four-star defensive tackle in Enoch Smith, and he chose Michigan State along with offensive linemen Brian Allen of Hinsdale Central (four stars) and Chase Gianacakos of St. Charles North.
Winners always win
Football is a numbers game, and blue-chippers are trampling each other in a rush to join perennial winners where huge crowds pay homage.
But the Illini, with so little help from their giant population center, are obliged to look far and wide. And they attracted just two preps from the secondary market of Ohio where so many UI coaches have roots.
Beckman appears to have fulfilled his needs at receiver with a crack quartet of Dudek, Malik Turner and jucos Tyrin Stone-Davis and Geronimo Allison.
But there are serious shortages in both lines, and the linebacker corps has no one who can run and shed blockers like departing Jonathan Brown.
Illini Nation may take solace in the fact that recruiting classes, even at Ohio State, seldom turn out as expected. But it’s obvious that a stunning imbalance of talent favors the Buckeyes.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.