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MnB B1G Preview: Illinois' Fresh Faces

With a post-season transfer of power in Champaign, the Illini were only able to rope in a bit of a smaller class, signing 19 kids. The class is also noticeably devoid of any solid four-star types, the likes of which Illinois can usually contend for, in most of the years under Ron Zook. All in all, it's class that was able to keep most of its original cast, while losing some kids after the transition to a new staff, and grab a couple of kids in the closing month of the 2012 recruiting cycle.

The offensive side heavily features skill players that Tim Beckman may be able to mold into the explosive offense he had running at Toledo, towards the end of his tenure. OH RB Lakeith Walls and MI RB Devin Church were two late de-commitments that Beckman quickly jumped upon. Walls is a towering back (6'4, 200) that was also recruited as a linebacker by some schools. He chose Illinois after decommitting from NC State. Church was a nearby kid from Brother Rice HS, with a couple of MAC offers. Among those was Northern Illinois, to whom he had been previously committed. Church is more of a flash to Walls' bang, but the two could complement each other well. FL RB Dami Ayoola brings a little more hype from the recruiting process, having garnered offers from the likes of Auburn, Iowa, Notre Dame, South Florida, and West Virginia.'s Mike Bakas had Ayoola rated higher among Floridian prospects than the likes of Stanford LB Noor Davis, who is generally regarded as top-100 player.

The WR position featured four players, none of whom look particularly special on film. IL WR JJ Robertson selected the Illini over Western Michigan in May of 2011, and could add some value on special teams. OH WR Justin Hardee comes from the storied Glenville program in Ohio, but had little interest from non-MAC schools, outside of Illinois. FL WRs Taylor Barton and Jevaris Little will likely come in as defensive backs for the Illini. The offensive line features similar levels of talent in OH OT Joseph Spencer and OH OG Robert Bain, although the addition of Bain may have aided the Illini in landing the commitment of 2013 4* QB Aaron Bailey, a teammate of Bain's.

At the linebacker position, the Illini stocked up in the hopes of hitting big with at least one. FL LB Tajarvis Fuller is a bit undersized, but Illinois has shown a willingness to play bigger safeties at the SAM linebacker position, where he could make an impact. LB Mike Svetina comes from the same St. Ignatius program as Jake Ryan, and has the athleticism to potentially make such a splash, down the road. OH LB Mason Monheim got his name out early, but didn't manage to sweep in more than MAC-level interest. PA LB T.J. Neal got bumped down on the rankings because of his size (6'1) like James Ross, but has the athleticism and instincts to be a steal. He also held offers from USC, Auburn, Florida, and Nebraska, among others.

Beckman and staff finished off the class with two average defensive backs from the midwest. IL S B.J. Bello, a long time Western Michigan commit, switched over to the Illini with a week of signing day. While he has good size, I'm not too sold on his long term potential. OH CB V'Angelo Bentley comes from a highly scouted Glenville program, yet lacked offers from non-MAC schools besides Illinois and Pittsburgh. Although he was a Semper Fi All American, as well, he still doesn't strike me as having too high of a ceiling, either. IN K Ryan Frain is a 3* kicker that may be in line to replace Derek Dimke this fall, although he almost flipped to Georgia Tech after Zook was fired.

All in all, this class is comparable to Indiana's, although smaller. Illinois may have grabbed some quality skill players and some raw talent at the linebacker position, but all in all, the class looks more like something you'd expect from Toledo than a Big Ten team. Of course, that's the byproduct of bringing in a MAC coach without much hype, so it should be no indictment of Beckman's ability as a recruiter.

I leave you with a few stats...






MOST UNDERRATED RECRUIT--> LB T.J. Neal. As I mentioned, he was low-balled a bit by the recruiting services because of his size, but his tape and offer list show his true potential. Missing out on FL LB Keith Brown to Louisville hurt, but the addition of Neal could ease the pain.

BEST OFFENSIVE RECRUIT--> Obviously has to be a skill player, and I've always liked the tape of Lakeith Walls. He's an intriguing prospect, and if he fills out his frame, he looks like he could be a real impact player at the next level.

BEST DEFENSIVE RECRUIT--> Obviously, T.J Neal. Eventually, w'e'll get to a point where everyone in the class won't be lowly rated, and the underrated recruit won't always coincide with the best offensive or defensive recruit.

BEST NAME--> Justin Hardee. Because I'm hungry right now, I think.

THE FINAL VERDICT--UNDER OR OVERRATED CLASS? I think you can make a serious argument for this being the worst class in the big ten. Aside from TJ Neal and perhaps Walls/Ayoola, this class looks like something Beckman would have put together at Toledo, and unlike Indiana, lacks the size to make an argument for the addition of depth.