But amid the dark clouds, Tom Lemming sees some light at the end of the recruiting tunnel.
``Obviously, it was not a great year for them,'' the veteran Chicago-based recruiting analyst told me of a recruiting class that's ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten. ``But this class won't kill them. They've had three good classes before this, and they have a good recruiting staff that will come back next year. There are still a lot of positives. They worked real hard at the end, but with so many coaching changes, it was almost impossible for them to land anybody of blue-chip caliber. So they went after guys that they evaluated as pretty good players that they hope to develop. With the new coaches they have, especially the ones that came from Louisville, they have a bright future.''
The key, of course, will be for Zook and his staff to accomplish some things on the field this fall with the three previous classes. Otherwise, it's possible they won't be around to develop the 2010 recruits. The good news is, Zook's new hires are widely viewed as top-notch coaches who can get that job done.
And while this class isn't up to the usual high recruiting standards of Zook, it's important to remember that recruiting isn't the end all-be all.
Of course, everyone would rather have a highly ranked group, because that suggests better athletes. But Illinois was ranked eighth in the Big Ten by Rivals.com, ahead of No. 9 Northwestern and No. 10 Wisconsin. I don't expect either of those schools to fall that far in the standings. Because I know Pat Fitzgerald brought in players who will serve his system well. And the Badgers also have a history of finishing much better in the won-lost standings than they do in the recruiting rankings.
If Illinois can start following that path--finding players players who fit its system and coaching them up--it will give itself a boost in its goal of being consistently competitive.