There was plenty of room for improvement on last season’s Fighting Illini football team.
So Bill Cubit is hoping he’s helped bring in guys who can do just that: improve things in Champaign.
During an interview on National Signing Day, the Illinois offensive coordinator shared his recruiting philosophy, one that tries to guarantee an increased level of play.
“My philosophy in recruiting is you’re trying to out-recruit the guys you have,” Cubit said Wednesday. “I think that’s the whole goal of what you do in recruiting, and if you can do that you just keep on raising the level. Don’t ever settle for a guy just to be a role guy. You want to get a guy that’s going to come in and — I told (quarterback recruit) Chayce Crouch, ‘If you’re the best quarterback, guess what? You’re going to play.’ And I think he’s pretty good. But those other three guys, they’re sitting there saying the same thing, ‘I better get on my horse so that young guy doesn’t beat me out. Because if that young guy beats me out, I’ll never play.’ So competition’s so big.”
If competition drives success, the Illini could use all the competition they can get. Illinois won just one game in conference play last season, finishing with a 4-8 record. It was a marked improvement from the first season under head coach Tim Beckman, when the Illini won just two games. But still, a year after the Illini offense was one of the nation’s worst, it was the defensive side of the ball that had the most problems, hardly being able to stop anybody. And even on Cubit's repaired offense, the loss of four-year starter Nathan Scheelhaase could loom large.
So what of Cubit’s philosophy? The Illini had the 11th-ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten out of 12 teams, per rankings from Rivals. Are there any players in this year’s class that can come in and compete right away with hopes of making an instant impact?
“In this recruiting class? Every one of them,” Cubit said. “I think the offensive line, that’s a little bit harder, but we played a true freshman for a lot of the year. ... So every one of these kids. (Running back recruit) Matt Domer, look you’ve got a chance come in here and play right away. Every one of those wideouts, Chayce Crouch the same way. I don’t want guys to come in here and say, ‘Well, I’ll wait a year, I’ll wait two years, I’ll redshirt.’ Those guys are a dime a dozen. I want guys that come out here and want to play right away.”
It’s plausible that with a comparatively low level of talent to begin with, newcomers could make a big difference in a hurry. But the rankings weren’t good for the Illini. They brought in zero four-star recruits. But that doesn’t matter much to Cubit, who as a head coach at a smaller Western Michigan program rarely brought in big names.
“I could care less about those stars,” Cubit said. “I’ve seen two-star guys be great players. The guys I put in the NFL at Western Michigan, not one of those guys had three stars. You watch that safety from (the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks), that guy in the back: two stars. So I think it’s a process of getting guys who fit your system and what you want, because there’s some wideouts out there that had a lot more stars than what we have but that I didn’t think fit and were what we need.
“You can’t go out there and recruit off of stars because that’s what gets you beat.”