Football Recruiting 2019: How do the Illini Stack Up?

#1
The Illini had one of their highest average ratings for a recruiting class, yet, due to a small class size, 247 ranked them 13th in the Big Ten. Is this a fair assessment? In this post, I will stack the Illini against all of the Big Ten West opponents, as well as Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State and Rutgers in the East. (No need to try to compare with Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.)

My methodology is simple. I took the individual ratings from 247's class calculator and made bar graphs to see how they stack up. Some players had no rating and are ignored. The class calculator includes only recruits; transfers like Luke Ford, Richie Petitbon and A.D. Miller aren't included. (The class calculator makes it very easy for me to pull the data. Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing this.) Also, ratings can and do change, but this is where we stand as of last weekend, when I pulled the data.

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Before comparing the 2019 classes, I'd like to compare the combined classes of Tim Beckman (2013-2015) with Lovie Smith (2017-2019). To be fair, I'm excluding Beckman's first class which was shortly after he was hired. Over the three years compared, they each recruited 67 players. Smith had one player rated below 0.75, so does not appear on the chart. There is no question that the talent level has increased across the board with Lovie Smith.

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However, has it increased enough? In the second chart, I've added a line designating Northwestern's lowest rated player for 2019, as well as all of the players rated lower than that over the last three years. To put this in words, Northwestern has had 9 players rated at 0.8397 or lower, while Illinois has had 34. In other words, all of Northwestern's players are rated at or above the gray line.

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And comparing 2019 to 2018, I don't think there is any question that this year's class is significantly better. To give some perspective, I've included Northwestern's lowest rated 2019 recruit (0.8397), which is very close to Lovie Smith's median recruit ranking (0.8390).

I won't try to place every school's recruiting rank. I'm simply going to compare the ratings and decide for or against Illinois. Since I'm conceding Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, Illinois starts out 0-3, so they can't do better than 4th. But surely they can do better than 13th, can't they?

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Since I've been including Northwestern's lowest rated recruit for 2019, let's start with them. If this were for a basketball team, Illinois wins hands down. But this is football, where depth is vitally important, both in terms of the number of starters and the higher incidence of injuries.

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If we shift our view to try to match up the recruits the best we can, we see that Northwestern can't touch Illinois' top three recruits, but Illinois ends up with a lot of spots they can't fill, and all above Smith's median rating. I think this is close, because the top players could be game changers. But because I think quality depth is more important, I'll concede the recruiting battle to Northwestern. That puts Illinois 0-4 in the Big Ten, and 0-1 in the division.

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Going alphabetical in the division, let's look at Iowa. I've included the Northwestern lowest rated recruit for perspective. Remember, it's just a hair higher than the Lovie Smith's median recruit, so I think it gives a great marker. I think we'll see a common theme. Does the ratings of Illinois' top recruits outweigh the depth of their opponents classes? I don't think so. Advantage, Iowa. Illinois 0-5 (0-2) for those keeping score.

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Next up, Minnesota. P.J. Fleck brought in twenty players in this class rated above Lovie Smith's median rated player. Depth wins out over the top three again. I now have Illinois 0-6 in the Big Ten and 0-3 in the West.

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Nebraska... ouch. Scott Frost did pretty well in his first full recruiting class. No contest. Illinois 0-7 (0-4).

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Purdue... Jeff Brohm brought in 22 players at or above Lovie Smith's median rated player and exceeded the Illini's highest rated recruits. Illinois 0-8 (0-5).

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Wisconsin brought in an entire class rated above Lovie Smith's median rated player. If they ever bring in a highly rated quarterback... oh, crud. I now have Illinois last in the division, and 0-9 in the Big Ten.

Due to website limitations, I'll look at the East division in the next post.
 
#2
Indiana.png

Indiana surprised me. They have quite a bit more depth than I expected with 19 players rated above Smith's median rated player. I have to give them the edge. I have the Illini at 0-10 in the league.

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247 has Maryland rated two spots ahead of Illinois. I just don't see it. Raise your hand if you think 247 developed their formula just to screw over Illinois. I'll take Illinois' class any day, so that puts Illinois at 1-10, and no worse than 13th in the league.

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No surprise with Michigan State. A solid class, pretty comparable with Wisconsin's: top level talent which exceeds the Illini's with the depth to make it no contest. Illinois is now 1-11.

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Last and least, fortunately, is Rutgers. Honestly, though, they recruited deeper than I expected, with 13 players above Smith's recruiting median. Illinois squeaked past Rutgers in the 247 rankings and I give the nod to Illinois as well. The Illini's top 5 players are rated higher than anyone on Rutgers. And while they do have a slightly deeper class, with better middle talent, the bottom third consists of pretty lowly rated recruits.

I rank Illinois' 2019 football recruiting class as last in the Big Ten West, and 12th in the Big Ten. The recruiting is improving, and let's hope it continues, but especially with quality depth.

We have few weeks until Spring practice begins. How would you rank the Illini recruiting class? Did I give too much emphasis on depth? Would you prefer the graphs display the data differently? Let's discuss.
 
#3
South Carolina
Very cool data. Unfortunate that the class size was so small and it shows that it can be difficult to call a couple of the matchups. Would love to see this again next time we have a larger class.
 
Likes: ILL_INI
#4
once you ignore transfers and favor depth, a class with 5-7 let alone 7-10 more is almost a priori better by your criteria
 
#5
View attachment 4288
Indiana surprised me. They have quite a bit more depth than I expected with 19 players rated above Smith's median rated player. I have to give them the edge. I have the Illini at 0-10 in the league.

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247 has Maryland rated two spots ahead of Illinois. I just don't see it. Raise your hand if you think 247 developed their formula just to screw over Illinois. I'll take Illinois' class any day, so that puts Illinois at 1-10, and no worse than 13th in the league.

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No surprise with Michigan State. A solid class, pretty comparable with Wisconsin's: top level talent which exceeds the Illini's with the depth to make it no contest. Illinois is now 1-11.

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Last and least, fortunately, is Rutgers. Honestly, though, they recruited deeper than I expected, with 13 players above Smith's recruiting median. Illinois squeaked past Rutgers in the 247 rankings and I give the nod to Illinois as well. The Illini's top 5 players are rated higher than anyone on Rutgers. And while they do have a slightly deeper class, with better middle talent, the bottom third consists of pretty lowly rated recruits.

I rank Illinois' 2019 football recruiting class as last in the Big Ten West, and 12th in the Big Ten. The recruiting is improving, and let's hope it continues, but especially with quality depth.

We have few weeks until Spring practice begins. How would you rank the Illini recruiting class? Did I give too much emphasis on depth? Would you prefer the graphs display the data differently? Let's discuss.
I appreciate all of the work you put into this. And I think you raise important points. It puts some things in perspective. I want to offer some counter-arguments, but it is not intended to counter your point, which is important and valid.

First, what we needed in this class was speed, playmakers, and a few upgrades. This type of analysis leaves out the question of need. And I think the coaches went all in on players that fit their needs. And, to be fair, we did not get an o lineman that was much needed.

Another thing to consider, is who are the lower ranked recruits. If we look at 2018, I think we would see that several of those lowly ranked recruits got considerable playing time as true freshmen. Was it scouting? Was it system fit? Let’s look at the names at around 83 or less

Quan Martin
Sydney Brown
Edwin Carter
Delano ware
Matt robinson
Caleb griffin

There are more, but I think this shows a trend, where the staff identifies players that are underrated and played much, much, better than rankings. Particularly the top 4 on that list, I wouldn’t have traded for more highly ranked recruits.

I could go higher and point out that Mj rivers has an .85 ranking, which is on par with northwesterns lowest ranked player, played considerably well as a true freshman.

When we look at rankings, our last several classes weren’t extraordinary by the numbers. But the players we put on the field made plays. And absent some pretty big defensive holes, the team seemed much better than second to last In the big ten. The real question is: Did we recruit players that can plug the holes? Does Beason and a year of more Experience to most of the defensive backs allow us not to get gouged by every team on offense? Does a year of experience on the D line allow us to get penetration and pressure the qb? Can eifler and his speed come in To plug holes (and read defenses) to make key stops? Can our playmakers stay healthy? Can our receivers catch passes?

Ultimately, this is going to be settled on the field. But I believe that this incoming group adds enough of the good stuff we need to win football games. And if it doesn’t do it for Lovie, I believe that the team we have is good enough to win
 
#6
once you ignore transfers and favor depth, a class with 5-7 let alone 7-10 more is almost a priori better by your criteria
Almost, but not quite. Rutgers had 7 more players and I rated them lower. I did look at the quality of depth of a class.

Illinois transfers Miller, Petitbon, and Tate, assuming he transfers here, will be here at most one year. Is it really fair to include them? It would be nice to include Ford, but how? What rating does he get? And then I would have to figure out who else was transferring to Big Ten schools. If you get me the data and we can determine ratings, I'm open to adding them.

Finally, recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. No one builds a program on transfers, so focusing just on recruits is justified. If Illinois could have recruited a highly rated OL, I don't think they give that scholarship to Petitbon.
 
#7
First, what we needed in this class was speed, playmakers, and a few upgrades. This type of analysis leaves out the question of need. And I think the coaches went all in on players that fit their needs. And, to be fair, we did not get an o lineman that was much needed.
True, there is no other analysis other than the numbers. But, there is definitely a correlation of recruiting numbers to future performance, so I think this type of analysis is still valid.

I heard the argument with Beckman, too, that they recruited based on need and were able to find hidden gems among the lower rated recruits. Could Illinois be so lucky to have two coaches in a row who can recruit like that?
Another thing to consider, is who are the lower ranked recruits. If we look at 2018, I think we would see that several of those lowly ranked recruits got considerable playing time as true freshmen. Was it scouting? Was it system fit? Let’s look at the names at around 83 or less

Quan Martin
Sydney Brown
Edwin Carter
Delano ware
Matt robinson
Caleb griffin

There are more, but I think this shows a trend, where the staff identifies players that are underrated and played much, much, better than rankings. Particularly the top 4 on that list, I wouldn’t have traded for more highly ranked recruits.
One of the disadvantages of Northwestern and others not recruiting lower rated players is that they can't find these hidden gems. But because they played on Illinois as a freshman, does that necessarily mean they are better recruits than anyone higher rated recruits on another team? I haven't seen anything about 2018, but the Illini had more players on the 2017 Freshman All Big Ten Team than Ohio State. Did that mean the Illini out recruited Ohio State the year before?
I could go higher and point out that Mj rivers has an .85 ranking, which is on par with northwesterns lowest ranked player, played considerably well as a true freshman.
Actually, MJ Rivers was rated at 0.8539, which is pretty good for Illinois. It places him in the top 20 of Lovie's all-time recruits, but, it would have put him at 14th in this year's NW class. He definitely played well for a freshman.
When we look at rankings, our last several classes weren’t extraordinary by the numbers. But the players we put on the field made plays. And absent some pretty big defensive holes, the team seemed much better than second to last In the big ten. The real question is: Did we recruit players that can plug the holes? Does Beason and a year of more Experience to most of the defensive backs allow us not to get gouged by every team on offense? Does a year of experience on the D line allow us to get penetration and pressure the qb? Can eifler and his speed come in To plug holes (and read defenses) to make key stops? Can our playmakers stay healthy? Can our receivers catch passes?

Ultimately, this is going to be settled on the field. But I believe that this incoming group adds enough of the good stuff we need to win football games. And if it doesn’t do it for Lovie, I believe that the team we have is good enough to win
I think the Illini will definitely be better than last year. How much better? You raised some good questions.
 
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#8
As a stats and numbers guy, I love the charts and information you have provided. But the value lies within the reader. When you have a multi year chart, like Lovie vs Beckman, I hope everyone can see that Lovie started with less and is brining in better talent. But when you go into a single season, it makes it more difficult for me to make my decision. For example, I personally would rather have Lovie's class over Northwestern's. And when I look at ILL vs MN, I see a handful of recruits the MN has that ILL was not allowed to bring in. If I was going to make a valid decision on Lovie's recruiting vs others, I think it would have to be at least a three year scope.
You make very valid points about depth. Let me raise these two questions;
1. Is top end talent more important than depth in college football? Was Purdue's offense that much better because of their depth or because R. Moore was added to the team?
2. Is it as easy for a staff to "coach up" a 3 star recruit to a 4 star level as it is a 2 star recruit to a 3 star level?
3. What would field the more successful team after three years?
A. 3-4 93 rated players included with average and some below average players
B. All 84-87 rated players
Open questions
In my opinion it is clear we are not at the Nebraska level. If we start showing wins this year, will that change? I hope.
 
#9
Thanks for the analysis, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the 247 ranking and the average player rating. Some of the depth of the recruiting class I think is overrated because we have used those scholarships that last 2 years and this was destined to be a smaller class. But there is no doubt in my mind that if we had more open scholarships our average rating would have went down. You always cherry pick the better recruits, you would be stupid not to, if there had been some additional 4 or 5 stars that we could have gotten, we wouldn't have held back. But for the number of openings we had, we did very well & I don't think you knock the depth down for recruiting a few 5th yr transfers, when next year looks to be a smaller than average class as well. It is a good class considering the size limitations, if we call it 8th or 13th, doesn't much matter.
 
#10
Cincinnati, OH
I find some of these counter-arguments peculiar. The OP is not talking about performance, this is simply a wealth of information on recruiting rankings. There are published studies showing a correlation between recruiting rankings and team performance. Therefore, it is important for Illinois to bring in the highest ranked recruiting class possible. This isn't about individual player performances of freshman and other under-rated players (and if it is, we also need to discuss the higher-ranked players at Illinois that haven't panned out, or discuss the strong performance of freshman players at NW and other institutions). Talking about individual players gets messy (individual player rankings are really messy, tough to compare, and caveats with player fit, system, coaching changes, etc.) and again, isn't the point made by the OP.
 
#11
Cincinnati, OH
Another thing to consider, is who are the lower ranked recruits. If we look at 2018, I think we would see that several of those lowly ranked recruits got considerable playing time as true freshmen. Was it scouting? Was it system fit? Let’s look at the names at around 83 or less

Quan Martin
Sydney Brown
Edwin Carter
Delano ware
Matt robinson
Caleb griffin
This is the challenge of evaluating individual players as freshmen. I'm not sure I would say any of these players impressed me. Carter had two great catches and I know Quan had the three picks, but there were plenty of gifs created on social media of the freshman secondary making critical mistakes. That doesn't mean they are good or bad, they're freshmen. Mistakes happen. Are they playing because of obvious talent? Or the lack of talent on the roster? Another reason this is a tough comparison is, if Illinois was a 7/8 win team, how many of these recruits would have played as a freshman? Tough to say, but it's easy to assume less of them would have played, therefore it's tough to compare freshmen on Illinois to freshmen on more successful B1G programs because they are less likely to play their freshmen.
 
Likes: ILL_INI
#12
I find some of these counter-arguments peculiar. The OP is not talking about performance, this is simply a wealth of information on recruiting rankings. There are published studies showing a correlation between recruiting rankings and team performance. Therefore, it is important for Illinois to bring in the highest ranked recruiting class possible. This isn't about individual player performances of freshman and other under-rated players (and if it is, we also need to discuss the higher-ranked players at Illinois that haven't panned out, or discuss the strong performance of freshman players at NW and other institutions). Talking about individual players gets messy (individual player rankings are really messy, tough to compare, and caveats with player fit, system, coaching changes, etc.) and again, isn't the point made by the OP.
I agree there is a correlation, when you reach the highest level of recruiting. That is above and beyond the current state of IL, Northwestern, and Minnesota's level. When you are talking about that level or recruiting, it becomes insignificant.
 
#13
Almost, but not quite. Rutgers had 7 more players and I rated them lower. I did look at the quality of depth of a class.

Illinois transfers Miller, Petitbon, and Tate, assuming he transfers here, will be here at most one year. Is it really fair to include them? It would be nice to include Ford, but how? What rating does he get? And then I would have to figure out who else was transferring to Big Ten schools. If you get me the data and we can determine ratings, I'm open to adding them.

Finally, recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. No one builds a program on transfers, so focusing just on recruits is justified. If Illinois could have recruited a highly rated OL, I don't think they give that scholarship to Petitbon.
its just that your words nearly always relied on "depth". i think the visual almost does your analysis for you - I was surprised at how our 6-15 stacked up versus others (or didn't) - it was sobering - but given the lack of reliable scouting on the .86-.83 recruits makes me want to say recruit A vs B are a virtual tie if within x. maybe summarize into number of recruits in "quadrants", ie intervals. I definitely dont subscribe to relying on "we find the hidden gems" in comparing classes ex-ante, to me that is ex-post analysis for finding gems and coaching up - under or over performing recruiting rankings. since you have an infinite amount of time on your hand, you could answer Dude's questions about depth:
3. What would field the more successful team after three years?
A. 3-4 93 rated players included with average and some below average players
B. All 84-87 rated players
 
#16
its just that your words nearly always relied on "depth". i think the visual almost does your analysis for you - I was surprised at how our 6-15 stacked up versus others (or didn't) - it was sobering - but given the lack of reliable scouting on the .86-.83 recruits makes me want to say recruit A vs B are a virtual tie if within x. maybe summarize into number of recruits in "quadrants", ie intervals. I definitely dont subscribe to relying on "we find the hidden gems" in comparing classes ex-ante, to me that is ex-post analysis for finding gems and coaching up - under or over performing recruiting rankings. since you have an infinite amount of time on your hand, you could answer Dude's questions about depth:
3. What would field the more successful team after three years?
A. 3-4 93 rated players included with average and some below average players
B. All 84-87 rated players
I think the quadrants idea is pretty insightful.
I also want to make sure my post does not get misconstrued
1. That would be three years in a row of 3-4 93ish rated recruits with the average to below average players
2. There was no negative thoughts about my replay to ILL_INI. He offered us some good analysis. I just disagree on his conclusion within the comparison of the lower ranked teams. Those were open questions for everyone, including myself, to think about what would give us the best on field team.
 
#17
Cincinnati, OH
I agree there is a correlation, when you reach the highest level of recruiting. That is above and beyond the current state of IL, Northwestern, and Minnesota's level. When you are talking about that level or recruiting, it becomes insignificant.
No, studies are not exclusive to playoff contenders and elite recruits, they are consistent across the recruiting spectrum and recruits ranked by Rivals/ESPN/Scout. And as much as it pains me to say, NW is not on the same level as Illinois or Minnesota, they have gone to bowl games 9 of the past 11 years, won the B1G west this year, and finished as ranked team twice in the past four years.
 
#18
No, studies are not exclusive to playoff contenders and elite recruits, they are consistent across the recruiting spectrum and recruits ranked by Rivals/ESPN/Scout. And as much as it pains me to say, NW is not on the same level as Illinois or Minnesota, they have gone to bowl games 9 of the past 11 years, won the B1G west this year, and finished as ranked team twice in the past four years.
Ok so going off of this, then Lovie Smith's IL teams should have a good amount of more wins then Beckman's....
I disagree on Northwestern. They got every lucky bounce last year by playing Purdue before they got good, and Nebraska crapped the bed so bad vs them that it hurt to watch. They lost every game they played outside the TERRIBLE B1G west last year during the regular season, including AKRON. There is the elite, Mich, OSU, Penn, and there is the rest of the B1G. That correlation turns pretty insignificant after the top tier. I would be interested to see the comparison of the two differentials over three years, Lovie vs Beckman and Lovie vs Northwestern. Would that help my argument or hurt it?
 
#20

Deleted member 631370

D
Guest
Really good compilation of the data. Thanks for sharing.

But I think you got your data for Maryland wrong. Or rather, you missed their top recruit.

Their top recruit for 2019 is Nick Cross, a high 4* safety. Was a tossup between FSU (his original school of choice) and Penn State, but then suddenly committed to Maryland. He rates more than .97 according to 247 composite. Higher than any of our recruits.
 
Likes: ILL_INI
#21
Cincinnati, OH
Ok so going off of this, then Lovie Smith's IL teams should have a good amount of more wins then Beckman's....
I disagree on Northwestern. They got every lucky bounce last year by playing Purdue before they got good, and Nebraska crapped the bed so bad vs them that it hurt to watch. They lost every game they played outside the TERRIBLE B1G west last year during the regular season, including AKRON. There is the elite, Mich, OSU, Penn, and there is the rest of the B1G. That correlation turns pretty insignificant after the top tier. I would be interested to see the comparison of the two differentials over three years, Lovie vs Beckman and Lovie vs Northwestern. Would that help my argument or hurt it?
A couple things: (1) As mentioned before, recruiting ratings have steadily crept up over time. I would surmise that Beckman and Lovie's recruiting rating are relatively close when you standardized the scores across classes, and (2) you're looking at two data points. Both coaches struggled/have struggled because of poor recruiting rankings. Squinting and seeing that one coach has slightly better scores does not provide justification for it not fitting the model.
 
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#22
This is the challenge of evaluating individual players as freshmen. I'm not sure I would say any of these players impressed me. Carter had two great catches and I know Quan had the three picks, but there were plenty of gifs created on social media of the freshman secondary making critical mistakes. That doesn't mean they are good or bad, they're freshmen. Mistakes happen. Are they playing because of obvious talent? Or the lack of talent on the roster? Another reason this is a tough comparison is, if Illinois was a 7/8 win team, how many of these recruits would have played as a freshman? Tough to say, but it's easy to assume less of them would have played, therefore it's tough to compare freshmen on Illinois to freshmen on more successful B1G programs because they are less likely to play their freshmen.
I agree with you and the original poster. And I think you misunderstand my point. I’m pointing to the fact that our lower ranked recruits, like Sydney brown and others were probably misdated, or hit the system well
 
#23
I agree with you and the original poster. And I think you misunderstand my point. I’m pointing to the fact that our lower ranked recruits, like Sydney brown and others were probably misdated, or hit the system well
It looks like my full post hot cut off and was left with this. Too tired to fix it. I’ll try to update my point tomorrow
 
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#24
Really good compilation of the data. Thanks for sharing.

But I think you got your data for Maryland wrong. Or rather, you missed their top recruit.
Thanks for catching that. I wish I could say I did that because they changed his rating, but I simply missed the top row while copying from the website. Here's the updated graph:
Maryland.png

That definitely makes the 247 rating make more sense, but two spots ahead of Illinois? I guess the 8 and 9 spots where the Illini don't match up counts for quite a bit in their formula. Maybe a slight edge to Maryland, which puts the Illini back in 13th place. Ugh.

Someone requested the Maryland and Rutgers graphs without shifting, so here they are:
MarylandNoShift.png

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RutgersNoShif.png


Any preference for the ones shifted vs. the ones ordered by their team rank? Asking for next year.
 
#25
Ok so going off of this, then Lovie Smith's IL teams should have a good amount of more wins then Beckman's....
I would be interested to see the comparison of the two differentials over three years, Lovie vs Beckman and Lovie vs Northwestern. Would that help my argument or hurt it?
Does this chart help or hurt your argument? I don't want this to be anti-Lovie, and four years seems better than three. I'm not including 2019 recruits since they couldn't play in 2018.
NW-IL_2015-2018.png

The Illini had 26 more recruits over the same four year period, yet Northwestern won the Big Ten West in 2018.