Simply put, the Fighting Illini have had little success recruiting high schoolers in recent seasons.
Coach Lovie Smith’s last three classes have ranked in the bottom three of the Big Ten — 14th in 2020, 13th in 2019 and 12th in 2018. Of the 56 high school recruits in those three classes, only five were rated above a three-star prospect by multiple recruiting sites.
However, Illinois has been able to acquire talent through the transfer market. Its top two receivers last season — Josh Imatorbhebhe and Donny Navarro — were transfers, as were its leading pass-rusher (Oluwole Betiku Jr.), starting quarterback (Brandon Peters) and starting guard (Richie Petitbon).
Illinois’ 2020 recruiting class features 13 high schoolers and seven transfers — former UW linebacker Christian Bell announce Monday he was decommitting from the program after planning to graduate-transfer there. At least four of those transfers are immediately eligible.
After upsetting the then-No. 6 Badgers, the Illini tallied three more wins before falling off and ending the year on a three-year skid. If the transfers can make an immediate difference again for Illinois, .500 will no longer be the ceiling.