When the Big Ten’s athletic directors and head football coaches hold their annual spring meetings, there will probably be some interesting discussions.
Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Michigan's Brady Hoke landed the top classes in the Big Ten this year. They could go toe-to-toe on and off the field for years to come.
Perhaps the top agenda item will involve the practice of recruiting verbal commitments out from under one another.
Several years ago, then-Purdue coach Joe Tiller and then-Ohio State coach Jim Tressel made comments regarding such practices as used by then-Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Fast forward several years and Ohio State hired former Florida coach Urban Meyer as its new coach on Nov. 29.
At the time, the OSU class was stuck in neutral with several of the top prospects in Ohio headed elsewhere following Tressel’s messy departure amid an NCAA investigation. Meyer and his staff went to work and, by signing day on Wednesday, they had ended up flipping no fewer than eight commitments from other schools.
That total included four from Penn State, which was rocked by the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Joe Paterno’s firing, as well as two from Notre Dame and one each from Wisconsin and Penn State.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, speaking on Wednesday, was upset to lose Ohio offensive tackle Kyle Dodson to Ohio State. Dodson had verbaled to Wisconsin last summer before finally announcing his switch to OSU on Wednesday.
“There are a few things that happened early on that I made people aware of that I didn’t want to see in this league, that I had seen take place in other leagues,” said Bielema on Wednesday. “Other recruiting tactics, other recruiting practices that are illegal.
“I was very up front and was very pointed to the fact, actually reached out to Coach Meyer and shared my thoughts and concerns with him. The situation got rectified.”
Bielema intimated that Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez planned to speak with Big Ten athletic director Jim Delany about the practice of going after each other’s commitments.
Meanwhile, MSU coach Mark Dantonio was also upset over losing Ohio defensive end Se’von Pittman to Ohio State.
"(Ohio State has) a new coach, and it's different," Dantonio told the Detroit News. "I would say it's pretty unethical, in the end."
But Meyer said that by entering the race in midstream – just two months before signing day – he owed it to Ohio State to try and sign the best players he could get.
“I was hired, and we covered our state and said to players, ‘Would you be interested?’ ” Meyer told ESPN.com. “We had one or two that said they would be interested, and others recruited us. Se'Von Pittman and Taylor Decker came after us.
“You've got a responsibility to your home state. There's not a coach in America who's not going to do that, not going to check his own state … to see if they're interested. And if they are, then come on now, let's talk about it. And if they're not ... The young man up at St. Edward (offensive lineman Kyle Kalis, who signed with Michigan] we asked. He said, ‘I'm solid, I'm good.’ We said, ‘Good luck,’ and we moved on. I didn't call him again.
“I think any time there's instability, that causes anxiety for a recruit. So I know with Se'Von Pittman, his comment to me was, ‘I always wanted to be a Buckeye. I just wanted it to be stable.’ ”
Steve Wiltfong, a 247Sports.com national recruiting reporter based in the Midwest, said it is impossible to stop prospects from moving from one school to another until they sign on the dotted line.
“All is fair,” Wiltfong said. “Look, a commitment doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about getting them inked. You have to continue to recruit these kids all the way up until signing day. That’s the world we live in. It’s never going to change. You just have to hang on to their guys.
“Everyone is trying to flip everyone, in my mind. You always have that one kid you were close to landing. You re-visit him and see if you can’t have a chance at him. Obviously, in college football, there are a few schools more popular than other schools. But that’s life.
“Michigan flipped a Cincinnati commit (instate running back Dennis Norfleet) the night before signing day because, well, they’re Michigan.”
Lack Of Star Power
Perhaps the most distressing thing coming out of national signing day for the Big Ten was the lack of star power in the conference.
Big Ten teams combined to sign just two of the nation’s top 50 prospects as rated in the 247Sports.com national top 247 list. Both of those players are headed to Ohio State in Pennsylvania defensive end Noah Spence (ranked 12th overall nationally) and Ohio defensive end Adolphus Washington (ranked 20th).
By contrast, the SEC – which has won the last five national championships – took home a nation’s best 17 signees from the national top 50. Other conferences that did better than the Big Ten included the Pac-12 with 11 national top-50 players, the ACC with 10 and the Big 12 with five. Notre Dame got two, while Conference USA and the Big East each got one.
There is one remaining unsigned national top-50 prospect. He is Maryland athlete prospect Stefon Diggs, who did make a visit to Ohio State.
Wiltfong said he was not troubled by the lack of star power in the Big Ten classes.
“You do need those high end players, but I think you also need quality depth and talent,” he said. “Ohio State and Michigan, in particular, added depth to all areas of their football teams.”
Big Two, Little Ten
In the days of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, the Big Ten was known as the Big Two and the Little Eight because of the stranglehold Ohio State and Michigan had on the conference championship during their Ten Year War between 1969-78.
It’s just one year of recruiting rankings, but perhaps those days are coming back. Looking at the 247Sports team recruiting rankings, you notice Ohio State at fifth overall and Michigan eighth. The next Big Ten team on the list is Nebraska at 29th.
“I don’t know if it will go back to those days because Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State and Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, the coaches at those schools are all great evaluators,” Wiltfong said. “They can coach kids up and develop them to keep their teams competitive. Each of them did land some difference makers.
“Ohio State and Michigan, there is no doubt, have more national appeal than any other school in the Big Ten. The chances are they will typically have the top two classes in the Big Ten because they can go anywhere in the country and offer from them hits home. I know Wisconsin has been to two straight Rose Bowls but the national appeal isn’t there the same as it is for Michigan and Ohio State.”
In terms of the national recruiting race, Alabama edged out Florida State for the top spot. They each had six national top-50 prospects. Texas (two top-50 signees) was next in third with Florida (three top-50 signees) fourth and Ohio State fifth.
Click here for a look at the 247Sports Big Ten rankings.
Below we take a look at each of the Big Ten football recruiting classes and also provide bonus coverage and analysis of Notre Dame’s class as well. We have comments from Wiltfong on each of these classes.
1. Ohio State
* National Ranking: Fifth
* Signees: 25 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (13): Spence (ranked 12th nationally), Washington (20), Reeves (82), Bogard (117), Dunn (132), LB Jamal Marcus (151), LB Joshua Perry (173), LB Camren Williams (174), LB David Perkins (177), DT Tommy Schutt (181), DE Se’von Pittman (186), OT Kyle Dodson (224), RB Warren Ball (239).
* The Skinny: The fallout from the Tressel departure and NCAA sanctions – the Buckeyes have a bowl ban for 2012 – could have had a negative impact. But Meyer rode to the rescue and went right to work. In two months, he and his new staff landed 13 of the commitments with nine of them in the national top 247. They closed strong as well, luring Reeves, Marcus and Dodson in the final week.
* Meyer Says: “This is a great day for Ohio State and a great day for our coaching staff. I keep hearing this is a top-five class or a top-three class. But that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me personally. At the end of the day, it’s what happens in two or three years from now.
“However, I am very pleased with the work ethic our guys have shown. It was very impressive to be able to pull that class together.”
* Wiltfong Says: “What Ohio State did was amazing, but not surprising. Urban Meyer is a rock star. He is maybe the most famous person in college football, right there alongside Nick Saban. If Urban Meyer offers you and Ohio State is going to recruit you, they are going to have a good chance to get you. That doesn’t mean they’re going to bat 1.000 and get everybody they want. But they will certainly be in the running for anybody they want and recruit hard.
“With their class, you look right away at Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. Those are two guys at positions of need that could give them quality snaps right away. There are a lot of fantastic gets. You can never have enough good players in your front seven. They loaded up on front seven talent. They got speed and athleticism and depth, where they can rotate cats in and out.”
* More Coverage: Click here for coverage of national signing day from Bucknuts.com.
* National Ranking: Eighth
* Signees: 25 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (11): Pipkins (51), Bolden (59), Kalis (62), Magnuson (72), Wormley (73), LB James Ross (116), CB Terry Richardson (142), RB Dennis Norfleet (169), DE Tom Strobel (198), WR Amara Darboh (199), LB Royce Jenkins-Stone (209).
* The Skinny: Brady Hoke presided over a nice turnaround on the field, leading UM to an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech. He and his staff did just about as well in recruiting, locking up four offensive linemen and five defensive linemen. Wormley and Kalis were, arguably, the top two players in Ohio this year. UM got nine players from Michigan and nine from Ohio.
* Hoke Says: "I like selling the product of the University of Michigan. Everything isn't easy to sell. This place is. ... I like walking into schools, stick your chest out a little bit, regardless of the year we've had, and sell Michigan."
* Wiltfong Says: “They did land some of the top players in Ohio. That will be a constant every year. Brady Hoke is from Ohio and he knows how important it is to recruit Ohio for his program’s success. It will just be great for the rivalry.
“The thing that jumps off the bat about this class was their ability to, again, get guys in the defensive front seven to make their football team better. They get Joe Bolden, Ondre Pipkins and Chris Wormley. Those are guys who can help right away. They went and got guys who can help them on defense.
* More Coverage: Click here for coverage of national signing day from Michigan.247Sports.com.
* National Ranking: 29th
* Signees: 17 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (3): Rose (138), McMullen (139), Afalava (230).
* The Skinny: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and his staff went through their first complete recruiting cycle as a Big Ten member. They worked to increase their presence in the traditional Big Ten footprint. Nebraska did well at linebacker, which was an apparent need after the Huskers defense struggled at times this past year. NU lost out on Arizona OL Andrus Peat, who signed with Stanford. His brother Todd plays for Nebraska.
* Pelini Says: "I like our class. I think, potentially, it's a good group. Like I've said before, and I really believe recruiting just starts today, because right now when we get them, that's when you really get the chance to develop them.
"It's not about what they are coming in. It's about what they are going out."
* Wiltfong Says: “Nebraska got some nice players with Michael Rose and Greg McMullen. Those guys had a lot of offers. They’re four-star players. It looks like a balanced class to me. They got kids from California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio. I don’t think they put their eggs in one basket. They went out and recruited nationally and landed a quality class.
“It’s a smaller class. Had they landed another seven players and gotten up to 24, I think you would have seen them in that top 15 or top 20 range.”
* More Coverage: Click here for coverage of national signing day from Huskers Illustrated.
* National Ranking: 37th
* Signees: 25 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (0): None
* The Skinny: Iowa has lost 11 games over the last two years – a large number for a program that has been among the Big Ten’s best for much of Kirk Ferentz’s time as the head coach. It hurt that Iowa worked this cycle down at least two assistant coaches as well. But the Hawkeyes still got some potential difference makers on the defensive line, in particular.
* Ferentz Says: “I am really pleased with the class overall. We certainly felt like we had some needs to meet and try to address, and I think we did a good job with that. I think overall the entire class, all 24 guys signed right now we feel really good about them having a role in the future with us, most importantly, I think they're good fits with our program. I think that is the number one thing that which look for.”
* Wiltfong Says: “Right away, you look at the defensive linemen they got from Chicago in Faith Ekakitie and Jaleel Johnson. Those guys have a chance to be great players. No one coaches up and evaluates defensive linemen like Iowa. I believe the last 10 senior starters they’ve had have all had an opportunity to play in the NFL.
“Greg Garmon is a heck of an athlete out of Pennsylvania. He could do a heck of a lot of different things at Iowa as well as Maurice Fleming, the kid out of Chicago. He could start out as a defensive back, but could play wide receiver or return kicks.”
* More Coverage: Click here for coverage of national signing day from Voice Of The Hawkeyes.
5. Michigan State
* National Ranking: 38th
* Signees: 18 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (1): Burbridge (85).
* The Skinny: Michigan State has had consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time in school history and was coming off a rousing Outback Bowl win over Georgia as well. The Spartans got some offensive line help in Higgins and Benny McGowan, both from Ohio. Burbridge should help at receiver, while MSU was still waiting for verbal commitment Monty Madaris, a wide receiver from Ohio, to send in his letter-of-intent. MSU got Cox’s verbal on signing day.
* Dantonio Says: “I think all of our players have a chance to play. Last year was a little bit different just based on the players we brought in because they were defensive and offensive linemen. I think we brought 10 of them in and they don’t play quite as fast because of the nature of the position. This year we bring in more skill players. Certainly the wideout competition we’ve talked about is a position that we can have guys ready to play and our numbers suggest they’ll be able to play.”
* Wiltfong Says: “I think they do what the rest of the Big Ten does. They evaluate the guys who fit their scheme and then they coach them up. That’s what they will do with this class. There is a lot of potential with this class and they’re in good hands with that coaching staff.
“They landed the top player in Michigan in Aaron Burbridge. He’s just an electric receiver. He plays at a different speed than everybody else. Then they bring in Tyler O’Connor, their quarterback of the future. They got some hard-nosed kids. They may have gotten the steal of the Big Ten in the running back Nick Tompkins out of Georgia. He’s a guy that was maybe overlooked by the instate school. But Nick is a ball player. He had Stanford and Arkansas and Wisconsin that offered him.”
* More Coverage: Click here for coverage of national signing day from SpartanTailgate.com.
6. Penn State
* National Ranking: 39th
* Signees: 19 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (2): Pollard (194), Lewis (246).
* The Skinny: The issues at Penn State have been well documented. In terms of recruiting, new coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t hired until January and he’s only been part-time since then as he finishes his duties as the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator through Sunday’s Super Bowl. He retained some key PSU assistants and the Lions were able to build out their class, even as there were defections (most notably the four that ended up at rival Ohio State).
* O’Brien Says: "I (couldn't) care less about player rankings. What I care about is that we found players who are the right fit for Penn State. I don't know who does those rankings. But I'm part of a football team now, and I can go up and down (New England's) roster and find plenty of guys who were ranked highly coming out of high school, and plenty of guys who were not."
* Wiltfong Says: “I think first of all, they are set up to have a really good recruiting year in 2013. Any time you change coaches at a major program, it bodes well that next year on the recruiting trail. Penn State has a lot to offer with its tradition and game-day atmosphere. You throw in this staff with the great resumes they have, led by Coach O’Brien and what he’s done in the NFL, I think quality kids will gravitate toward Penn State.
“This class, they didn’t get much time to come in and work a lot of magic. They brought in some good players. Running back was the big position of need. They would have liked to get two. They only got one but he was a stud in Akeel Lynch, the Gatorade player of the year out of New York. He had some great offers, including Oklahoma. He will be one of the first chips to help get this program in the direction he wants to go.”
* More Coverage: Click here for coverage of national signing day from Lions247.com.
* National Ranking: 54th
* Signees: 26 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (0): None
* The Skinny: Purdue was coming off its first bowl win for head coach Danny Hope. The Boilers did well on the offensive line. They also got a pro style quarterback in Appleby and a pair of dual threat QBs in Marshall and instate star Aloyis Gray. Purdue got Kentucky OL Joey Warburg away from an Illinois verbal. The Purdue class contains players from 13 different states.
* Hope Says: “This is a signature class in a lot of ways. (Administrative assistant) Paul (Gonnella) has impacted the recruiting process. We have states we normally recruit in and we did a good job in going into those areas and landing top prospects, but there were several states that are outside of our normal recruiting areas. A lot of that had to do with Coach Gonnella targeting prospects on a national level.
“We signed an outstanding player, Jonathan Curry from Alabama, and that's not one of our normal recruiting areas. We're excited about the big offensive lineman (King) out of Arkansas. That's not normally one of our recruiting areas. We got Ryan Watson, a four-star defensive end out of Maryland. That's not one of our prime recruiting areas. A lot of it has to do with the efforts of Coach Gonnella.”
* Wiltfong Says: “The one that jumps out right away is Ryan Watson. Purdue beat out a lot of heavy hitters to get him out of Maryland. It is a balanced class. It looks like they got their quarterback of the future in Austin Appleby, who participated in the Elite 11. A guy who is maybe under the radar was defensive back Jordan Shine. He committed on the spot, but he was one of the best players in the state this year. They did a good job of finding quality players.”
* National Ranking: 59th
* Signees: 27 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (0): None
* The Skinny: Minnesota was just 3-9 on the field for first-year coach Jerry Kill. But he and his staff did what was necessary to keep the state’s top players at home. They are building from the ground up with two top OL talents in Pirsig and Hayes. Harbison could provide some explosiveness at receiver. Minnesota grabbed six junior college transfers.
* Kill Says: "The most important thing for us was to make sure we got kids that fit in here at the University of Minnesota with our system and what we expect. I think we did that. And then of course we needed to improve the athleticism and speed in our football program and I think we did that too."
* Wiltfong Says: “They kept the top two players in the state at home in Jonah Pirsig and Andre McDonald. Pirsig had a lot of big-time offers. It was important to keep them at home. Isaac Hayes is another fantastic player from instate. Jerry Kill did a good job of setting up shop in Minnesota and bringing these guys in to help build the program up.”
* National Ranking: 60th
* Signees: 25 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (0): None
* The Skinny: This was coach Kevin Wilson’s first full pass through the recruiting cycle. The 1-11 season on the field probably did not help matters. IU had an early commitment from top QB prospect Gunner Kiel. But he and his brother, Dusty, who was briefly IU’s starter this past year, are each headed elsewhere now. IU plugged that gap with Sudfield. They also did well with a pair of linebacker signees in Mangieri and Jordan Wallace to fill holes on the defense.
* Wilson Says: “We did a great job of not just recruiting talent, but recruiting our core values. We sold the values of what we’re trying to attract and how we want to build our program and work, doing things the right way in the classroom, building leaders, building a football team. I think we got a lot of guys that meet the physical needs we want, but I think they fit the needs of what we’re looking for and the kind of kid we want to play ball for us at IU.”
* Wiltfong Says: “Indiana had one of their best recruiting classes in a long time. One of the first things they did was bring in several junior college players on defense. They struggled defensively this year. They’re bringing in five guys who can come in and bring in depth and age to that defense. They brought in Nathan Sudfield, a quarterback from California. He had offers from Arizona and UCLA. He can come in and push the starter, Tre Roberson, right away.
“They also added a lot of size. Coach Wilson and his staff when they took over, I think they thought they had a small roster. They went out and landed a bunch of guys from 6-4 to 6-6 with bigger bodies so they can be a more physical football team.”
* More Coverage: Click here for coverage of national signing day from Inside Indiana.
* National Ranking: 61st
* Signees: 21(Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (1): Odenigbo (98).
* The Skinny: The Wildcats have been to a bowl four straight years for coach Pat Fitzgerald, which is a new school record. They landed Odenigbo, who is their first top-100 prospect possibly ever. He could end up as an outside linebacker or defensive end at the college level. NU also did well on the offensive line. Sixteen of NU’s 21 signees were team captains.
* Fitzgerald Says: "We had 57 relationships and signed 21 players. If we offer you, it means something. We don't take a shotgun approach.
"If we don't bring in the right fit, that's a bigger issue than whether they can run, throw, catch, tackle or block. Now with social media, kids will put things on Twitter or Facebook where you really question: 'What the heck are you thinking?'"
* Wiltfong Says: “Pat Fitzgerald is widely considered one of the best recruiters in the country and one of the more genuine, aggressive head coaches out there. He does a good job of building relationships. He beat out some of the big guys in landing Ifeadi Odenigbo. They also got a quality running back in Malin Jones. They are bringing some quality guys in there.”
* National Ranking: 65th
* Signees: 12 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (2): Voltz (54), Biegel (180).
* The Skinny: Wisconsin has been to back-to-back Rose Bowls and won consecutive Big Ten titles for the first time since 1998-99. But coach Bret Bielema dealt with the departure of six of his nine assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Paul Chryst who left to become the head coach at Pittsburgh. He was also hamstrung by scholarship limitations, although UW seemed to maximize the spots it had to offer.
* Bielema Says: "It was a blessing in disguise that it was a small class. We're a relatively young football team. There really wasn't a lot of really huge numbers. If you were dealing with a class of 22 to 23, it would have been a challenge."
* Wiltfong Says: “Wisconsin is only bringing in 12 guys, but the 12 guys they are bringing in are good, hard-nosed football players. Dan Voltz, right away has already enrolled and he is at a position of need. He could play center for them or guard. He should be in the two-deep right away. Vonte Jackson was hurt as a senior, but he was electric as a junior. If he can bounce back, he could help them as well.
“Vince Biegel is as good an athlete and linebacker as you will find. He is a sideline-to-sideline player. They got their quarterback of the future in Bart Houston he was 38-1 as a starter at the national powerhouse program at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle.
“They did lose six assistants after the Rose Bowl and that may have hurt them. They did lose Kyle Dodson, perhaps, because of that. But they were taking a small class no matter what. The guys they did take are good players.”
* More Coverage: Click here for coverage of national signing day from Badger247.com.
* National Ranking: 68th
* Signees: 18 (Signee list)
* National Top 247 Prospects (0): None.
* The Skinny: Tim Beckman arrived from Toledo as the new head coach in December and did what he could to salvage the Illinois recruiting effort. Two of the key signees were Fuller and fellow linebacker Tyrone Neal. Beckman praised Williams for being a leader in trying to recruit other players.
* Beckman Says: "I've known Vontrell for quite some time. We put this recruiting class kind of in Vontrell's hands. We said, 'Hey, you want to be known your senior year and known to be a champion? We need your help.' Vontrell Williams did an excellent job of reaching out and being involved in the recruiting process."
* Wiltfong Says: “They got some guys at the end who are pretty good football players. (Ohio DB) V’Angelo Bentley is one of the guys who stands out right away. For Coach Beckman, you won’t find a coaching staff that will work harder at this than they will do. They will get out there and make some offers quickly. They will compete for guys. They have to find a way to keep some of the top players in Illinois at home.”
Bonus Coverage: Notre Dame
* National Ranking: 16th
* Signees: 16 (Signee list)
* The Skinny: The Fighting Irish scored a major coup in mid-January when Kiel abruptly de-committed from LSU and enrolled for the winter session at Notre Dame. Coach Brian Kelly also got star power with Shepard and Day. But the Irish lost out on a previous verbal in California WR Deontay Greenberry, who signed instead with Houston.
* Kelly Says: “We have a class that represents the needs that we have in our football program. As you know, last year our need base relative to our class was centered around the power position. I thought we did a great job of addressing that. This year was about that skill level, especially at the defensive backfield and the wide receiver position.”
* Wiltfong Says: “Coach Kelly is trying to build this roster up and he is continuing to do that. Last year, he bolstered the front seven on defense. He supplemented it this year with Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones. This year, the focus was on the secondary and getting playmakers on offense. They did that. Tee Shepard is one of the best corners in the country, while Elijah Shumate was a four-star safety.
“They got they’re quarterback of the future in Gunner Kiel. He’s already enrolled after committing to Indiana and LSU previously. That was huge. They are getting this roster back to where they can compete with the big boys.”
* More Coverage: Click here for coverage of national signing day from Blue and Gold Illustrated.
Already have an account? Sign In