There must be a reason or reasons why none of the top four football prospects in the Class of 2010 in the Chicago area are seriously considering the University of Illinois.
There must be a reason or reasons why Illinois coach Ron Zook signed only one of the top six players in the Class of 2009.
There must be a reason or reasons why the Illini landed only two of the top 12 players in the Class of 2008.
Is the Chicago area overrated? Is Zook focusing on other regions where the talent is richer and more promising? Are the homegrown athletes who are being recruited by Notre Dame, Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota not good enough for Illinois?
"As long as he recruits well, it doesn't matter where they come from. Fans want good players," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports, who has been observing the process for 30 years. "If you win, people don't care of you don't recruit in your own state, only if you lose.
"Illinois seems to have different priorities. Their priorities are Florida and Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago. They have a presence. They offered most of the top players but lost them. Last year's class was very good. This class isn't as good as the last two. But Illinois always struggles in Chicago so it is smart to go to other areas."
Zook keeps his own countenance. He doesn't discuss recruiting or anything else with anyone who doesn't eat at his table. But even his most ardent cheerleaders are asking questions, wondering where the magic has gone, criticizing what they perceive as a dropoff in recruiting.
For example, a recent report on Rivals.com stated that Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State were setting a fast pace in recruiting for 2010, that even octogenarian Joe Paterno was showing a renewed vigor and determination to keep Pennsylvanians at home.
Zook as one local commitment for 2010, defensive back Corey Cooper of Proviso East, but he continues to visit other schools so observers wonder how firm his pledge really is. Fremd offensive lineman Christian Lombard, who has committed to Notre Dame, isn't taking any calls.
Of the top three uncommitted juniors, Johnsburg tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz has narrowed his list to six--and Purdue and Illinois are on the bubble, after Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State; Proviso West wide receiver Kyle Prater, whose coach Famous Hulbert is a former Illinois player, said three finalists are Penn State, Michigan State and Stanford with Illinois one of 15 other schools that have offered; and Loyola defensive end Chance Carter, whose coach John Holecek also is a former Illini player, lists Notre Dame, Stanford and Wisconsin as his finalists.
In fact, Carter was offered by Notre Dame after attending a one-day camp in South Bend in June. Later, he went to a one-day camp at Illinois but wasn't offered.
"My girlfriend likes Illinois but I'm not a big fan," Carter said. "Champaign is too rural for me."
So what is Zook to do? Or is he doing enough? After all, he did sign the best player produced in Illinois last season, East St. Louis wide receiver Terry Hawthorne. And he lured arguably the state's best running back of 2007, Belleville Althoff's Jason Ford, away from Iowa. And nobody is complaining about the performances of quarterback Juice Williams from Chicago Vocational or running back Rashard Mendenhall from Niles West, now in the NFL.
"Chicago really isn't considered Illinois territory in football, not like it is in basketball," Lemming said. "Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern and Notre Dame are closer. Zook understands that and has alternative plans, which is what a smart recruiter does. He takes what he can get fro Chicago but makes sure he has other options.
"Chicago is a split city, like New Jersey. No school dominates recruiting in Chicago, not now, not ever. Everyone has had good years in Chicago but never consistently. It is a fragmented and segregated city and it's the same in recruiting. That's why nobody ever dominates."