Signing Day 2014 primer: Big Ten
Big Ten finished with two programs, Ohio State and Michigan, ranked in the top five of Rivals.com’s final 2013 team recruiting rankings. With two teams currently in this year’s top 20 (Ohio State is No. 2; Penn State is No. 19), the conference has a bit of catching up to do. Still, with National Signing Day a week away, there’s plenty of league-wide intrigue.
So, what can we expect from the Big Ten when Feb. 5 rolls around? Here’s a breakdown of each school’s current recruiting class (including Maryland and Rutgers, which don’t officially join the league until July 1).
• Illinois: On the heels of a 4-8 season, Illinois wasn’t expected to make a huge impact on the recruiting trail. The Illini’s 17 commits to date are mostly three-star prospects, though coach Tim Beckman brought in four early enrollees. One bright spot is Nick Allegretti – the ninth-ranked center in the country, according to Rivals.com — who should add depth to the offensive line. However, this 17-member class isn’t likely to make the Illini a contender any time soon.
• Indiana: Coach Kevin Wilson’s most prized prospects may already be on campus. Four-star receiver Dominique Booth, a onetime Tennessee pledge, and four-star offensive lineman Tim Gardner enrolled early and will participate in spring practice. The Hoosiers are still fighting an uphill battle against their Big Ten foes, however; Booth and Gardner represent the only four-star recruits in the 2014 class.
• Iowa: The Hawkeyes’ haul includes four-star quarterback Tyler Wiegers and four-star athlete Jay Scheel. Scheel pledged to Iowa earlier this month after fielding offers from Nebraska and Iowa State. There’s not much of a wow factor to coach Kirk Ferentz’s latest class — at least relative to some other Big Ten programs — but it features plenty of young defenders. The Hawkeyes have five incoming players to shore up their front seven.
• Maryland: Four-star defensive end Jesse Aniebonam is Rivals.com’s 10th-ranked weakside defensive end, while four-star offensive lineman Derwin Gray is an early enrollee who should improve the Terrapins’ pass protection. Juwann Winfree, a four-star receiver who fielded interest from SEC schools such as Georgia and South Carolina, is a nice pick-up in the passing game.
• Michigan: Michigan’s class isn’t quite comparable to its 2013 haul, when the Wolverines pulled in a star-studded 27-prospect group. But this batch was always going to be a bit smaller, and the current 16-member class boasts plenty of talent, led by five-star defensive back Jabrill Peppers and seven early enrollees. However, it had to hurt when the Wolverines whiffed on the country’s No. 1 prospect; defensive end Da’Shawn Hand selected Alabama over Michigan and Florida in November. Five-star defensive end Malik McDowell out of Southfield, Mich., is still on the Wolverines’ wish list.
• Michigan State: Fresh off a thrilling Rose Bowl win over Stanford, the Spartans are poised to cap one of the better recruiting classes of coach Mark Dantonio’s tenure. Michigan State’s crop currently ranks fifth in the Big Ten in Rivals.com’s rankings, with players like four-star defensive back Montae Nicholson and four-star defensive tackle Enoch Smith Jr. This class still has time to get even better: Uncommitted five-star defensive end McDowell included Michigan State in his final consideration set earlier this week.
• Minnesota: The star of Minnesota’s class is running back Jeff Jones, a four-star product from Minneapolis — if Jones ends up signing with the program. He has been courted heavily by Michigan, Michigan State, Florida and Missouri since pledging to the Gophers last February. Minnesota has a couple of sizable receivers committed, too, in 6-foot-4 Isaiah Gentry and 6-3 Melvin Holland Jr.
• Nebraska: The Cornhuskers aren’t burning up the recruiting trail, but coach Bo Pelini is bringing in some talent on the offensive line. Tanner Farmer, an Under Armour All-America guard, and Nick Gates are both four-star linemen who should add depth. Four-star running back Mikale Wilbon, a former Vanderbilt commit, is also talented. The question is whether a class that currently ranks 30th in the country can help Pelini finally take Nebraska to the next level.
• Northwestern: Northwestern’s class might be small — coach Pat Fitzgerald currently has 15 commitments leading into National Signing Day — but there’s plenty to like for Wildcats fans. In fact, this smaller class could be the best of Fitzgerald’s tenure. According to Chris Johnson, if Northwestern’s haul holds, it will average better than three stars per player for the first time under the coach. The Wildcats currently have four four-star prospects in the fold, including Clayton Thorson, the country’s sixth-ranked dual-threat quarterback.
• Ohio State: It’s no surprise that Urban Meyer is poised to haul in the best recruiting class in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes’ current crop ranks second only to Alabama, according to Rivals.com. Ohio State has secured commitments from two of the country’s top inside linebackers, including Raekwon McMillan, the nation’s top-rated player at his position. The Buckeyes’ class also features touted offensive guard Demetrius Knox and four other offensive linemen. In all, 16 of Ohio State’s 22 commits have a four- or five-star rating.
• Penn State: A lot has been made of James Franklin’s recruiting since taking over for Bill O’Brien. Franklin has swiped more than a few prospects from his former employer, Vanderbilt, where he rejuvenated the recruiting efforts of a once-dormant SEC program. Franklin has stabilized his 2014 class despite Penn State’s coaching turnover. The Nittany Lions have five early enrollees, and they’ve added a handful of new commitments, including four-star receiver Saeed Blacknall, a onetime Rutgers pledge.
• Purdue: The Boilermakers will add some talent to their defensive line in 2014. Defensive end Gelen Robinson is a top-15 player at his position and one of the most heralded players in the state of Indiana. The pickings are slim after Robinson, however; there are no other four-star players in Purdue’s current crop. For now, this class seems destined to finish near the bottom of the conference rankings.
• Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have found difficulty on the recruiting trail while trying to hire new offensive and defensive coordinators. Rutgers lost four-star receiver Blacknall, who flipped to Penn State earlier this week, and three-star defensive tackle Peter Mokwuah, who spurned Rutgers for Notre Dame. Blacknall had represented the only four-star commit in coach Kyle Flood’s class, according to Rivals.com. Still, three-star cornerback Andre Boggs stuck with the program this week after taking an official visit to Wisconsin.
• Wisconsin: Gary Andersen has reeled in a couple of top-tier prospects in his first full class at Wisconsin. Four-star athlete Dareian Watkins flipped from Northwestern, while four-star quarterback D.J. Gillins and four-star offensive lineman Jaden Gault have enrolled early. The Badgers may not land many big-time prospects, but they always tend to find players who fit perfectly in their system.