National Signing Day 2011: Ron Zook Has Lost His Recruiting Mojo at Illinois

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National Signing Day 2011: Ron Zook Has Lost His Recruiting Mojo at Illinois
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Signing day is upon us today and universities across the country are bringing in their next round of recruits. Fans are celebrating or bemoaning the efforts of the schools to bring it on home in attempts to reload or rebuild their programs. It can be viewed as the crossroads for programs for the upcoming year, and years to come.

One such program at the crossroads is the University of Illinois. The Illini are coming off an inconsistent 7-6 campaign, which followed up two disappointing seasons in the shadows of their 2008 Rose Bowl appearance.

The Illini have struggled on the field during coach Ron Zook's tenure, posting a 28-45 (16-32 Big Ten) record during Zook's six seasons. Despite the struggles, Zook started his tenure with recruiting classes that far outpaced the product on the field. Zook's 2006 class was ranked 28th by and his 2007 class was ranked 20th.

In fact, his success drew attention from the media. Dennis Dodd with CBS SportsLine mentioned "Zook's tremendous recruiting has Illinois seeing stars," that he could always recruit, and the "only constant is that he can pull talent." How times have changed.

Things were good for the Illini in the early days of the Zook era. In 2005, when Zook came on board, the Illini had the 45th-ranked recruiting class, but they managed to pull in two 5-star recruits, one 4-star recruit, and five 3-star recruits. In fact, the star of the class will have a chance to be a star in this weekend's Super Bowl, Rashard Mendenhall.

Things continued to move forward as Zook's 2006 class pulled in three four-star recruits and thirteen three-star recruits in route to being ranked 28th. This class featured current NFL players Vontae Davis and Michael Hoomanawanui, as well as the quarterback who would lead the Illini to the Rose Bowl, Isiah "Juice" Williams.

The 2007 and 2008 classes saw the Illini moving into the top 20 as the classes ranked 20th and 19th, respectively. Both classes brought in quality players.

The 2007 effort brought in two 5-star recruits, five 4-star recruits, and eight 3-star recruits and starred two NFL players (Josh Brent and Arrelious Benn) and a future star in LB Martrez Wilson. Future NFL picks DL Corey Liuget and RB Mikel Leshoure headlined a rich 2008 class, which had six 4-star recruits, and 14 3-star recruits.

The 2009 group marked what would be initially thought of as an anomaly as Zook's class only came in 35th (five 4-star recruits, and seven 3-star recruits).

However, this would not prove to be the case as the Illini dropped 22 spaces to No. 57 in 2010, pulling in only one 4-star player, Chandler Whitmer, who announced he was transferring Butler County (Kan.) Community College to continue his career since he could not compete with Nathan Scheelhaase for the starting job. Additionally, there was a drop in 3-star recruits in the 2010 class as only eight such players were signed.

That brings us to today. has the upcoming 2011 class ranked 43rd ( has it 42nd) with no 5- or 4-star recruits and 17 3-star recruits. This class is not one that is comparable to past Zook efforts and is definitely not one that will help the Illini continue the efforts from last season.

This class does not fill the holes left by graduation and early departures to the NFL that the Illini face. With this being the case, another season without a bowl game looks to be on tap.

Zook came to Illinois with such promise. It was that promise that helped to bring in those early recruits and the brief success seen in 2007 and 2010. However, the promise seems to have died and the potential recruits see it as the program is at a crossroad.

When Washington State and South Florida have more 4-star recruits, and your class is comparable to South Florida, Vanderbilt and Duke, there is a need for a change. Without success on the field this year, that change should start at the top. Are you ready for that Coach Zook?

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