Report: Illinois set to part ways with the $120 million mega star…..

CHAMPAIGN — Monday’s surprise defection by Illinois football newcomer Andrew Dennis got me thinking: How has talent acquisition gone during the Bret Bielema era?

The coach just signed his fourth recruiting class, including offensive lineman Dennis, one of the top-rated prospect in the Class of 2024.

The Mount Pleasant, Mich., native entered the transfer portal after participating in spring drills with Bielema’s team.

Was it something they said? Dennis reportedly wants to be closer to home, which could mean a move to Michigan State, where he had originally made a commitment.

If he goes to the Spartans, Dennis won’t have to wait long to see his temporary teammates. Michigan State plays at Illinois on Nov. 16. Awkward.

Back to the original point, the players on the 2024 team all came to Champaign-Urbana to compete for Bielema.

His first three teams featured a 18-19 record with one bowl bid and the school’s first winning season since 2011. The previous five seasons under Lovie Smith Illinois was 17-39, so there has been obvious improvement.

Bielema is operating with different tools available to add talent. Namely the transfer portal. The explosion of the transfer portal has made it easier to address needs … as long as you don’t lose key pieces of your own.

With all that in mind, here are some of the recruiting hits and misses as Bielema enters his fourth season:


1. Tommy DeVito, quarterback. The Syracuse transfer turned out to be the perfect guy for the moment. He quickly became a team leader, then played mostly error-free during the 13 games to produce the best record at the school since the 2007 Rose Bowl season. The proud New Jersey native went on to become an undrafted rookie sensation with the NFL’s New York Giants last year.

2. Isaiah Adams, offensive lineman. Bielema discovered a gold mine at the junior college level, bringing in the Canadian via Garden City (Kan.) Community College. Adams started all 25 games in his two seasons. He impressed his teammates enough to be named captain. And he impressed the Arizona Cardinals enough to be a third-round pick in last week’s NFL draft.

3. Pat Bryant, wide receiver. Part of Bielema’s first recruiting class at Illinois, he was a three-star prospect from Jacksonville, Fla. Today, he is the team’s go-to receiver after catching 43 passes in 2023. A future pro.

4. John Paddock, quarterback. Watch, the Illini legacy will beat out Kirk Cousins and Michael Penix Jr., to become the Falcons’ starter. Just kidding. I think. His 507-yard game against Indiana will be talked about in these parts for the next 100 years.


1. Chase Hayden, running back. The transfer from East Carolina, who started his career at Arkansas, was supposed to share the load with Chase Brown. But injuries and inconsistency limited him to 27 carries for 105 yards in parts of two seasons.

2. Zach Tobe, defensive back. There are holes in the Illinois secondary for 2024 and the Floridian was expected to fill one of them. He surprised the coaches with his move into the transfer portal (and will now play at Georgia Tech).

3. Joey Okla, offensive lineman. On paper, the Wisconsin native looked like a guy who could help up front. But he was never able to break into the rotation and is now walking on at Wisconsin. It won’t be a good look if he starts against Illinois for the Badgers. The teams next meet in Madison in 2025.

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