Final grades for the Illinois football class of 2024

Illinois football just wrapped up the class of 2024. Here is how the Illini fared when it came to the third recruiting class of the Bret Bielema era.
Oct 1, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini helmet during warmups prior to the
Oct 1, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini helmet during warmups prior to the / Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

National Signing Day 2024 is now pretty much complete, and it is time to take a look at how the Illinois football program fared.

The 2024 campaign didn’t end the way Illini fans had wanted. A 5-7 record, albeit not the worst we could have done, isn’t matching the expectations for the program. After eight wins the year before, I believe getting to a bowl game every season should be the minimum expectation.

Getting to that mark consistently is going to take a mix of coaching and talent on the football field. In Bret Bielema’s first recruiting class in 2022, the Illini finished with the No. 51 class in the country. In 2023, we elevated that ranking to crack the top 40 at No. 38. Illinois just finished up the class of 2024, and we have the No. 47 ranked class in the nation.

Grading out the Illinois football class of 2024

  • National Ranking: B-

When it comes to recruiting, overall, I think Bielema has done a solid job. The three recruiting classes leading up to Bielema taking over at Illinois were ranked No. 55, No. 59, and No. 69 in the nation.

So, cracking the top 50 is a good thing. At one time, we were near the top 40, but after losing a big-time recruit, this dropped us down. Top 50 gets Illinois into the B-range, but if we really want to be nationally competitive, classes have to start registering in the top 40 at some point. A solid B- is what I would give Illinois’ national ranking of No. 47 in the country.

  • Mix of Talent: B+

I believe a good recruiting class won’t be too heavy on either transfers or incoming freshmen. There needs to be a nice mix of both types of players.

For the class of 2024, Illinois has a total of 19 incoming freshmen/junior college players and seven incoming transfers. That is about where I want the mix. I am looking for a blend of around 72-78% freshmen/JUCO in every recruiting class. That leaves a nice base to build while the transfers help stabilize the current roster.

In the class of 2023, Bielema had a blend of 79% freshmen/JUCO and 21% transfers. This time around, those numbers were 73% freshmen/JUCO and 27% transfers. That is right around the blend I want. You can’t go too heavy on either group. The Illinois coaching staff did a good job with the blend, I just wish there were more bodies in the mix.

  • Quality Talent: C

Any coach can bring in players, but can the coaching staff bring in quality talent? That is where you can go from an okay program to one that can compete in the Big Ten.

Losing one of our top recruits on Wednesday is going to hurt this grade. That was a big loss for the class of 2024.

Overall, Illinois finished with 10 top 1000 recruits. Among those top 1000 recruits, three of them were in the top 500 and one was in the top 300.

In 2023, Illinois had 11 top 1000, and in that were five top 500 and one top 300 recruits. In 2022, we had 10 top 1000 players, and among those were two top 500 and zero top 100 players.

I do love the players Illinois was able to sign, but judging off the last recruiting class, the quality of talent dropped based on numbers. That knocks the grade down as well.

  • Quantity Talent: B

Illinois, at one time, had 20 commitments for the class of 2024. That was a solid number, but one player dropped off after Wednesday. That is going to cause the grade to drop.

I would like to have seen somewhere in the ballpark of 21-23 freshmen entering the Illinois football program. Developing a base while also bringing in transfers is the way to go. The more freshmen bodies, the better.

Bielema and the Illinois coaching staff nailed it with the number of transfers. I don’t want too many transfers coming in and taking the jobs of some of the developing underclassmen. That would discourage the underclassmen who have been working for snaps, as they just lost their job to some microwave player.

Illinois did a good job bringing in necessary transfers. We didn’t overload. This raises the grade quite a bit.

  • Addressing Needs: A-

Coming into the class of 2024, Illinois needed to fill some massive holes on the roster. There were two glaring holes, and they were on the offensive and defensive lines.

Two out of the top four regular recruits were in the trenches. Illinois’ top recruit, AJ Dennis, plays guard on the offensive line. Bielema also snagged talented defensive lineman Eddie Tuerk.

Illinois was also able to add DL Demetrius John, DL Angelo McCullom, and DL Joe Barna to the defensive line and OT Brandon Hansen and OG Zafir Stewart to the offensive line.

Bielema wasn’t done adding players to these two groups either. In the transfer portal, Illinois snagged DL Enyce Sledge, DL Anthony Johnson, and DL Dennis Briggs on the defensive line, and OG Kevin Wigenton, OG Melvin Priestly, and OT JC Davis to the offensive line.

The Illini lost starting tight end Tip Reiman to the NFL. Bielema brought in one of the top transfer tight ends, Cole Rusk, to fill that void.

Outside linebacker was an issue for the Illini last season. Junior college EDGE Daniel Brown is coming into the program. Illinois’ secondary was an issue, and we added four new defensive backs. Illinois also lost our former starting running back. To replace him, Bielema brought in Ca’Lil Valentine, a top 500 recruit.

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