By Neal Malone
With National Signing Day right around the corner in college football, each Big 10 program is readying themselves for the introduction of their next crop of talent. Although most high school seniors have already made their verbal commitment, Wednesday’s festivities could bring a few surprises. Every year, there are several cases where “verbal” commitments don’t translate to signed letters of intent. Expect to read a few stories about recruits deciding to ditch their verbal commitments and go somewhere else. With that being said, most players will sign with their original choice. Based on the knowledge I have at this point, I’m going to analyze each Big Ten class and give my conference rankings going into National Signing Day (All ratings provided by Rivals.com’s 2-5 star scale).
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Penn St. — Joe Paterno’s 2010 class couldn’t be more impressive. The Nittany Lions welcome the most 4-star recruits (12) out of any team in the Big Ten. With a good mix of defensive and offensive weapons, Penn St.’s recruiting class is the best in the conference. The class is highlighted by two Stamford, CT natives, linebacker Khairi Fortt and running back Silas Redd. Both Fortt and Redd are already both enrolled at Penn St., so there aren’t any doubts regarding their Signing Day decisions. Having two players rated in the Top-50 nationally isn’t a bad way to headline your class.
GRADE: A+…….(20 total commits: 12 ****, 7 ***, 1 **)
Ohio St. — The Buckeyes class is shaping up to be a great one, especially on the offensive side of the ball. O-Lineman Andrew Norwell and running back Roderick Smith are ranked #59 and #65 respectively, but they aren’t the only offensive weapons headed to Columbus. The Buckeyes are set to nab an additional four 4-star offensive players at skill positions including QB, RB, and WR. The need for offensive firepower was evident last year, so the incoming studs should give OSU fans some comfort. Perhaps the most exciting part about the Buckeyes’ class has yet to come. Tressel and Co. remain in the hunt for a few highly rated offensive linemen, #2 rated Seantrel Henderson and #43 rated Chaz Green. We’ll see how it goes on Wednesday.
GRADE: A….(18 total commits: 8 ****, 9 ***, 1 **)
Michigan St. — Some may say that the Spartans’ in-state rival has a slightly better class, but the one thing the Wolverines don’t have is an oral commitment from defensive end William Gholston. The 5-star Detroit native is the highest rated Big Ten recruit at #21 nationally. Gholston, the cousin of NYJ player Vernon Gholston, had offers from just about every elite school in the country. Besides Gholston, Mark Dantonio’s 2010 class is packed with playmakers. Whether it’s 4-star pro-style quarterback Joe Boisture (6-6…great size) or the four 3-star players characterized as “athletes,” Michigan St. appears to have no shortage of firepower this year. I find MSU’s class to be very impressive and I wouldn’t be surprised if you start to see a very high level of success from them in the coming years.
GRADE: A….(21 total commits: 1 *****, 4 ****, 12 ***, 4 **)
Michigan — Under fire or not, Rich Rodriguez has been able to woo some top-quality talent to Michigan for 2010. The Wolverines boast the largest Big 10 recruiting class so far and much of the elite talent coming in is on the defensive side of the ball. However, Rodriguez will add another highly-rated dual threat QB in Detroit-native Devin Gardner. It’s players like Gardner that suggest Rodriguez may finally be acquiring the talent needed to run his offensive system. Michigan has received oral commitments from a whopping 20 3-star recruits, which gives them at least decent odds for future success. Like any class, some will flop and some will rise to the challenge, but overall I like what Michigan has done this year. Oh yeah, and the Wolverines are still in the running for the nation’s #20 rated player, linebacker Christian Jones.
GRADE: A-….(26 total commits: 5 ****, 20 ***, 1 **)
THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
Iowa — When you think about former Hawkeyes currently playing in the NFL, it’s likely that Dallas Clark, Shonn Greene, and Robert Gallery come to mind. Because of that, it should come to no surprise that the gems of the 2010 Iowa class are a running back, a tight end, and an O-lineman. C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE), Marcus Coker (RB), and Andrew Donnal (OL) could all possibly contribute sooner rather than later. Iowa has had loads of injury problems at running back and practically half of their offensive line will be drafted by NFL teams in a few months. The thing about Kirk Ferentz’s recruiting classes is that often times they don’t appear to be anything special. However, Ferentz has shown over the course of his career that he has quite the eye for talent. Don’t be surprised if this “middle of the road” class ends up being something terrific.
GRADE: B+…(20 total commits: 4 ****, 13 ***, 3 **)
Minnesota — The Golden Gophers 2010 class doesn’t contain any jaw-dropping recruits. However, the consistency throughout the class is pretty impressive. Tim Brewster clearly made it a point to address all facets of the game when recruiting this past year. While 4-star recruits Lamonte Edwards (ATH) and Jimmy Gjere (OL) could be studs, this year’s Minnesota class has 18 3-stars, third most in the conference. Many of those players are bound to end up playing at a very high level in the Big 10. We may not see many of these players for a year or two, but I think the 2010 class is very solid.
GRADE: B…(24 total recruits: 2 ****, 18 ***, 4 **)
Wisconsin — Much like Iowa, Wisconsin is a team that seems to have a lot of success annually without ever knocking it out of the park in the recruiting game. This year’s class is vintage Wisconsin…nobody too flashy, but a huge crop of players that, with some coaching, could be really good eventually. I really like running back James White, who passed on multiple Big East, ACC, and Big Ten offers to attend Wisconsin. He runs a 4.4 forty and will have decent size once he hits a college weight room. Solid class for Brett Bielema, but it lacks a marquee guy.
GRADE: B…(24 total recruits: 21 ***, 3 **)
Northwestern — Recruiting at Northwestern is always a challenge because of the high academic standards compared to the rest of the conference. However, Pat Fitzgerald and his staff clearly scoured the entire nation for players that would fit their system. The Wildcats have received oral commitments from the North, South, East and West and only one player hails from the Chicago area. The Wildcats have the smallest class in the Big Ten, but 16 of their 17 recruits are 3-stars, which is very good, especially for NU. Northwestern has never been about numbers, though…especially with Pat Fitzgerald at the helm. Coach Fitz prides himself on being able to draw out the maximum effort, intensity, and concentration of his players. In my opinion, if these recruits have bought into his philosophy, then we could see several of them soaring to a very high level of achievement.
GRADE: B-…(17 total recruits: 16 ***, 1 **)
Purdue — Purdue might as well be called Mainland North after Signing Day. Mainland, a high school in Daytona Beach, FL, is home to four Boilermaker commits at the moment, including Purdue’s only 4-star target, wide receiver O.J. Ross. Ross is joined by fellow Mainland receiver Chevin Davis, kicker Jonathan Linkenheimer, and defensive back Ricardo Allen. All of them with the exception of Linkenheimer had offers from fairly high-level programs all over the country. Purdue also was able to convince a large group of defensive linemen and linebackers to come to the program. A great defense could be in the works for Danny Hope. The 2010 class will come with its share of projects, though, which is the only thing keeping me from really liking this new crop of kids.
GRADE: B-…(24 total commits: 1 ****, 15 ***, 8 **)
Illinois — After last season’s tremendous struggles at the quarterback position, Illini fans have to be very happy when they hear the name Chandler Witmer. Witmer, their only 4-star recruit this year, is a pro-style quarterback with a lot of potential. However, outside of Witmer, Ron Zook’s class is uncharacteristically mediocre. Even Indiana, who is clearly at the bottom of the Big Ten in terms of recruiting, has a few higher-rated players than Illinois’ second best recruit behind Witmer. Illinois did do a decent job getting offensive line talent this year as they expect to have three 3-stars sign on Wednesday. Overall, though, Zook’s class this year is a bit of a head-scratcher.
GRADE: C…(18 total commits: 1 ****, 9 ***, 8 **)
Indiana — Looking at the numbers, Indiana is clearly bringing in the weakest recruiting class in the conference. Indiana has 14 recruits coming in with a 2-star rating, which shows the coaching staff will have plenty of work to do to mold them into solid college football players. However, this year’s class is easily better than some of the past Hoosier classes. Bill Lynch and his staff’s recruiting efforts have vastly improved and the Hoosiers are finally starting to see players turn down higher level offers to attend Indiana. Much like Minnesota and a few other schools, Indiana has dipped into the junior college ranks to find talent. The Hoosiers’ top recruit, Andre Kates, comes from ASA College in Brooklyn, NY. He turned down offers from decent programs such as BYU, Oklahoma St., Clemson, Oregon St., UCLA, and Minnesota, so IU coach Bill Lynch clearly said something right. If Kates does indeed sign with IU (which is still up in the air), then he’ll be an impact player right away. On top of Kates, the Hoosiers have several more promising recruits coming in, but overall the class is not on par with the rest of the Big Ten.
GRADE: C-…(25 total recruits: 11 *** 14 **)
Well, there you have it…all 11 programs and their 2010 recruiting class grades. It’s possible that on Wednesday each program could lose or maybe even gain a few more players, but what you see now is likely what you’re going to get on Signing Day. Penn State’s class is incredible, but if Ohio State gets lucky on a few players that haven’t announced their decisions yet, the Buckeyes could emerge with the stronger class. Either way, those two programs, along with Michigan and Michigan State, have nothing to be ashamed about.
I knew Indiana was going to have the weakest class, but Illinois’ group is nearly as bad. Ron Zook came to Champaign as a headline recruiter, but his prowess has clearly dropped off since his arrival. Although the Illini don’t have the worst class, they certainly have the most disappointing one.
As for the player “star” ratings I listed, it’s just an easy way of evaluating talent and getting the gist of a player’s skill level. Obviously every year with every team, there are going to be surprises, both good and bad. There are plenty of NFL players that didn’t have high ratings going into college. It’s really about getting a player that fits your system and many of the Big Ten coaches are masters at making the most out of what sometimes appears to be so little in high school.
National Signing Day is this Wednesday, February 3rd. Good luck to all!