Rivals.com - Take Two: Can recruiting wins help Lovie Smith keep his job?
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Take Two: Can recruiting wins help Lovie Smith keep his job?

CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position | Team

Take Two returns with a daily offering tackling an issue in the college football landscape. Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Adam Gorney lays out the situation and then receives takes from Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell and an expert from the Rivals.com network of team sites or a regional analyst.

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The Lovie Smith era at Illinois has been a struggle through three seasons, with only nine wins and 27 losses during that stretch and just four conference wins. There is little doubt that Smith enters this season in Champaign on the hot seat and if things don’t improve, Illinois could move in a different direction.

But one thing that could help Smith save his job with the Illini is the fact that the program is recruiting at an impressively high level. In the 2019 class, Illinois signed high four-star athlete Isaiah Williams from St. Louis (Mo.) Trinity Catholic and four-star athlete Marquez Beason from Duncanville, Tex. Despite a disappointing season with some serious blowout losses, both of those big-timers stuck with the Illini.

And now the 2020 class is off to a fantastic start, especially in recent days as Illinois has landed commitments from three-star offensive lineman Marcus Harper out of Chicago Simeon, followed up by even bigger pledges from four-star RB Reggie Love from St. Louis Trinity Catholic and four-star WR Jadon Thompson from Chicago Marist.

Love is the third-best player in the state of Missouri. Thompson is No. 4 in the Illinois state rankings. And there could be many more elite recruits heading that way.

Illinois is definitely a major contender for four-star athlete Teriyon Cooper, who was once again on campus this past weekend, along with many of the top players in Illinois.

Smith has struggled so far. But recruiting has picked up dramatically and could be really special in 2020. Should he get a lot more time to turn the program around or does Smith need to win now?


“A home run recruiting class in 2020 will go a long way toward easing the concerns of athletic director Josh Whitman. Still, the national perception will be that Lovie enters his fourth season planted firmly on the hot seat. A bowl berth is not necessarily a must, but the win total has to increase and the team needs to be more competitive.

"The 63-0 loss to Iowa towards the end of last season took a lot of air out of the program. Whitman will talk about ‘progress.’ That means more victories and fewer embarrassing blowouts. But unless the team implodes, Whitman will continue to ask for patience, and he'll give Lovie a chance to show what he can do with a dynamic group of recruits. He will deserve that opportunity if he continues to pull in difference-makers on the recruiting trail.”


“I don’t think recruiting can keep your job. Wins keep your job. There have been coaches like Mark Stoops at Kentucky, who did well in recruiting, but if you don’t follow it up with wins then I don’t think he would have lasted. What he showed was progression on the field and that’s what Illinois needs to show. Al Golden is another one who was known as a very good recruiter, always had highly-ranked recruiting classes at Miami early, but they just didn’t progress on the field.

“If you’re not winning football games, you’re not going to last. Smith’s under some scrutiny this year, for sure. We’re going to have to see if they improve, but recruiting won’t save your job.

"The job Smith has done in recruiting has been impressive. A lot of people, myself included, thought those two high-end kids last year would de-commit or at least look around more than they did, and Cooper was committed to Texas and he de-committed after his visit to Illinois, and now he visited again. The Illini are doing a good job getting these kids on campus and now they just had another run of impressive commitments. Smith and his staff are doing a tremendous job in recruiting and it could buy him some more time to turn it around on the field. With players coming in with such talent, it definitely could happen soon.”