The Return Of LLUOI

The Return Of LLUOI

Nick Allegretti is the reason I started the Looks Like University Of Illinois series. In 2013, on the The Deuce, I got into an argument with other Illini fans about Nick Allegretti's ranking. I argued that since he had committed early, this was a 4-star, maybe 5-star recruit who was only ranked as a low three-star because he committed to Illinois. I received a pile-on for this – a long line of responses in the thread calling me a homer and a fanboy – and I realized that I needed to get these predictions on the record.

I should mention - I never moved off that position. In fact, I doubled down. In the fall of 2013 Allegretti was named to the US Army All American Bowl (generally all four-star recruits and above). I said that Allegretti – who was ranked something like 20th in the state of Illinois at the time – was the football equivalent of landing a McDonald's All American in basketball. After the laughter died down, someone asked that if Cliff Alexander were to pick Illinois on Signing Day (it was that week, I believe), which player would make more of an impact - Cliff for basketball or Allegretti for football? I said "equal impact." I received the 2013 equivalent of a "ratio."

{Cliff flames out at Kansas in spectacular fashion}

{Allegretti wins his third Super Bowl, this time starting at left guard for the Chiefs}

I only wish that some record of all of that existed. Posts on The Deuce would fall off the back end in less than a month, so you'll just have to rely on my retelling of the story.

Or, I guess, you could rely on my Signing Day Summary for that class, written ten years ago last week. I note there that Allegretti was ranked between 20th and 25th in the state of Illinois across the various scouting services... yet had played in the All American Bowl (and was "a monster"). Here's what I wrote in the intro to that Signing Day article:

So consider the case of Nick Allegretti. He picked Illinois on March 11th of last year, and at the time, Cincinnati was his only other BCS offer. He has, in my estimation, the best film of any Illini lineman in the last five years. I think he's a monster. I have him redshirting and then starting for four seasons at center.
And I wasn't the only one who saw his film this way. The top 200 or so high school football players will get an invite to the US Army All American Bowl or the Under Armor All American Game (200 / 6.54 = 30.6, so consider these players like top-30 basketball players). And Allegretti was one of five players from Illinois to get an Army Bowl invite. Even Rivals national guys agree with me: this kid looks the part of a Big Ten offensive lineman. So why is he only a three-star? Why is he supposedly only the 20th best player in the state per Rivals? Pretty much only because he picked Illinois.

I would always name my favorite recruits each class in those Signing Day articles (labeling them as "Instant Impact Players") and for that class, despite guys like Tyrin Stone-Davis, Chayce Crouch, and Matt Domer being consensus top-5 players in the class, I picked my top three as Jihad Ward, Geronimo Allison, and Nick Allegretti. Here's what I said about Allegretti (link is here, the same link as above):

Nick Allegretti
Center, Lincoln Way East High School, Frankfort, Illinois
I already talked about him a bunch up above. When I watch his film, I think he's a four-year Big Ten starter. I totally get why the Army All American Bowl offered him a spot even though he's 20th to 25th in his own state rankings. Go watch that film. He looks like the perfect Big Ten offensive lineman. Watch the plays against Bolingbrook - he's dominating college bound defensive linemen.
He probably has a 5% chance of hitting all the goals I have for him, but I'm setting it there anyway. Put simply, he needs to be a future All Big Ten lineman.

Love it when 5% hits:

(I also love it when I set the odds and then say "the 5% odds hit!")

Midway through that 2014 recruiting cycle, in June of 2013, I started Looks Like University Of Illinois articles. If you're not familiar with where that comes from, in the movie Risky Business, when the Princeton recruiter tells Tom Cruise that's he's "just not Ivy League material", he responds like this:

I didn't write a LLUOI article for any of the players who committed in that class before June (like Allegretti or Dude K), but starting with Austin Roberts on June 14th, I began ranking each recruit with a Tom Cruise rating. Every Illini recruit has received a Tom Cruise rating since.

And I continued referencing Allegretti over the years as the "here's when my trust in the rankings fell apart" player. In 2018, once I had a full set of LLUOI rankings for nearly every player on the roster, I wrote this article. A snippet:

But I found that's mostly impossible for Illinois classes to be accurately rated, especially on the football side. At their core, the websites doing the ratings are "selling" them. And it would be the dumbest business model in the world if they gave an accurate 1.5-star rating to a Florida State commit - they'd lose subscriber after subscriber. So I get why they rarely give out 2-star ratings and why they bump a player when he commits to Florida State or LSU or some other team site with a massive fanbase. Accurate ratings would be financial suicide. It's a safe hedge (if a kid picks Florida State, there's a great chance that he's pretty good), so rank accordingly.
For a team like Illinois - bottom of the college football barrel for more than 25 years now - it's then very difficult to get accurate ratings. Especially when a player commits early. We've been over this before. Mike Epstein had no chance at an accurate rating after committing to Illinois as a high school sophomore. Nick Allegretti committed in March before any big offers came along. Epstein was chosen as the player of the year in South Florida (over what - 70 four-star and five-star recruits?), and Nick Allegretti was selected for the US Army All American Game, but again, they committed to Illinois early. No chance they'd be rated anything more than a mid-to-low three-star.
So I set out to produce accurate ratings for Illini football and basketball players (basketball is much more accurate, I think, given that there are basically 150 players to identify as true high-major players and then everyone else is pretty much just bunched into an "others" group beyond that). I knew that football ratings could be improved simply by finding the Allegrettis of the world and letting Illini fans know that they're getting a much better player than someone ranked 20th in the state. The information is right there. It's fairly easy to separate high-impact recruits from low-impact recruits. The recruiting game (and the money made off the recruiting game) just gets in the way.

That brings us up to the present. Nearly 11 years of LLUOI ratings. Well, kind of. Let's talk about what went away and what's coming back.

My disdain for the current state of recruiting coverage is no secret the last few years. I've written about it many times. In 2004, it was so amazing to have online rankings of high school recruits. In 2014, it had begun to morph into "boost the rankings of the recruits who have chosen the schools with the largest fanbases" (the "safe bet" I referenced in the article above). There was significant backlash in the middle of the last decade, a massive realization that rankings weren't really rankings.

And so composite rankings were born. The RSCI model was applied to several of the ranking websites. No longer could someone accuse a website of cooking the books to feed the large fanbases what they wanted to hear. These were just averages.

But I'm sure you can guess what happened next. 247 began weighting the averages so the their own number meant more (meaning, they'd still be able to cook the books on a recruit they wanted to move around). When On3 came along, they bragged that their composite rankings were an unweighted average - none of that silly book cooking you'd find on other sites. Care to guess what happened then? After a few years, On3 quietly announced that they were going to weight their own rankings over the others in their "consensus" rankings. These people just can't help themselves. They want your money, and cooking the books = more money.

At the same time, grade inflation spun out of control. Taking a look at basketball recruiting rankings for a moment, I can still remember the number from the 2017 class. ESPN named ONE HUNDRED AND NINTEY FOUR players either 5-stars or 4-stars. For more than a decade, 4-stars stopped at player #100. But "{school} lands four-star guard" sells articles like you wouldn't believe, so the recruiting services had a "what if we named... nearly every recruit going to a high-major school a four-star?" realization. The the label "four-star recruit" lost all meaning.

On the football side, grade inflation is now completely out of control. Let me go dig for some of the things I've tweeted about this. I'll just cut and paste the text here. In 2021 I did the math on the 3-star, 2-star line for college football recruits over the previous decade:

In 2011, the final 3-star on the list was #1607. In 2021, #2574. So over one decade, 967 more three-stars.

Think about that. NINE HUNDRED AND SIXTY SEVEN MORE THREE-STARS than a decade prior. Yet nobody really cares because all fans have seen their players rankings rise and "this staff is really out-recruiting the previous staff" can be sold on every campus.

Last summer I ran the average rating for the player ranked #1000 in each recruiting class on the 247 Composite:

2013: .8417
2014: .8433
2015: .8483
2016: .8450
2017: .8467
2018: .8527
2019: .8574
2020: .8539
2021: .8574
2022: .8600
2023: .8644

Nowhere left to go at this point. Every P5 recruit will be high 3-star or above.

In 2015, when I ranked a player with 1.5 Cruises, I received some "thanks for an honest evaluation". In 2021, when I ranked a player with 1.5 Cruises, I received hate mail. Fanbases across the country, whether they were aware of it or not, had shifted to a "tell me this recruit is awesome or else" stance. I felt like there just wasn't an environment for any ratings at all.

So I tried to change my approach. For the recruiting cycle in 2022-2023, I tried to evaluate those rosters through returning lettermen, then underclassmen ready to leap, and then incoming freshmen and transfers (which is when I'd assign the Tom Cruise rating instead of writing individual LLUOI articles). It was, in a word, a disaster. I didn't finish (not even close). In August, just before the players played their first game, I assigned a bunch of Cruise ratings for each player, many of which had enrolled back in the spring. Such an embarrassing fail on my part.

All the while I heard from many of you. "Where did the Tom Cruise ratings go? That was my favorite feature." At least three people told me they unsubscribed because I stopped writing them. And I get it. I promised something and then I failed to provide it.

But I really was stuck. When you write an honest evaluation and your haters send that article to the player's parents saying "this guy thinks your son sucks", what are you supposed to do with that? Weaponized honesty is a strange thing to sort through. I totally get why Rivals and 247 never use 2-star or 1-star ratings. Who wants to tell a 17 year-old kid that he probably can't cut it in power conference football? The simplest way to go about all of this is to say "BOOOM" every time your team lands a recruit. Fans at home won't know the difference or even care. They just want to be told that their football team will get better soon.

I think I've worked my way through all of that (I think). I think the reinforced paywall will help here. The only people who will have access to the player evaluations? You, the subscriber. The less I put on the open internet, the better. So what if tens of thousands of people can't access it? I'm only writing it for you.

That's where I've framed this in my mind. Honest evaluations (I think) are more important now than ever. You don't want to be told the team will get better simply because that's the default position. You want to actually know if the team will get better. I will try to provide that opinion.

Starting with... oh dear God the backlog here is incredible. I have an entire class of 2024 high school recruits and transfers to get through before I can even start on the 2025 class (which already has 3 recruits). This is going to take me... four months? Probably longer than that. I'll set the goal that I'll try to finish them all by the beginning of June before I start in with The 90 Illini for 2024. We'll see how that goes.

The good news: I'm starting up LLUOI again. And I have 18 hours on this train on my way to Washington DC tonight and tomorrow morning. Maybe I can get three of them written?

(Fat chance.)