National signing day is here, and who better to break down the Big Ten recruiting scene than Tom Luginbill, national recruiting director for ESPN Scouts Inc.
I recently checked in with Luginbill, and here are some of his thoughts on this year's Big Ten recruiting crop.
Generally, how do you think the Big Ten did in recruiting this year?
GrantTom Luginbill: The obvious team to focus on is Ohio State. I don't think there's any surprise by that. I believe it'll be one of their stronger classes overall. They're going to lead the pack, there's no doubt about it. And with such a young defense, there may be some guys like Doran Grant who play right away and have nice roles.
The team that has made up some ground that I was really concerned about two months ago is Penn State. They don't have a lot of numbers, which is more a reflection of available scholarships than anything else. That's not a bad thing; it just means the bulk of their roster is returning. They've really upgraded in the offensive line and made some headway there closing down the stretch.
Michigan State is another program I think has done a really, really nice job overall. I believe Lawrence Thomas, who's their top-rated guy, will probably end up either being an inside linebacker or defensive end. I don't think he can play on the outside.
The quarterback that's intriguing and stands out to me in the conference is the kid that's going to sign with Iowa, Jake Rudock. He is the quintessential, perfect Iowa QB. He fits everything that they're about and what they want out of their quarterback. They're getting a steal on him because not enough BCS schools paid close enough attention to him in my opinion.
If there's a team where you've got to be really impressed with what they've been able to do, it's Northwestern. The top one-third to even two-thirds of their class far exceeds what people expect Northwestern to be able to go out and get.
With Penn State, you mentioned all the heat they took early on. Do people make too much of the Joe Paterno factor and everything around it, or were those concerns legit?
TL: It was before all that. The offseason, the summer, even the early part of the season, they just didn't have a lot of guys and the guys that they had weren't guys you would think would be Penn State-caliber guys. What you want to attribute it to, that can be debated, but we always say recruiting's a marathon, it's not a sprint. What's happened down the stretch with them to be able to make up some ground is just further proof that it's a process. Paterno's going to be as involved as he feels he needs to be in recruiting. With what happened last year in recruiting -- I thought they had a fantastic class -- and then this year on the field when they played so many young guys, I think it's going to pay off down the road. I think they've got a chance to be really good the next couple of years.
With Iowa and Wisconsin, what would you say is the ceiling for those programs in recruiting? Can they take another step?
TD: Wisconsin certainly can. They probably have more upside to do that than Iowa as far as closing the gap with Ohio State. Wisconsin very clearly can not only compete with Michigan State but surpass them. But keep in mind with Wisconsin, it's every bit as much about the right player and what that guy gives as it is the great player. They're recruiting a certain type of guy. If there's ever a team in college football where you're looking for a certain fit for an identity, it's Wisconsin. So they're going to take some guys other people didn't recruit, not because other people didn't think they're good players, but because it doesn't fit what they are. But it does fit with Wisconsin.
To some degree, you have the same thing with Iowa. The challenge for both of those programs is not going to change. They're not in states that produce a high volume of players. They're having to go into other peoples' backyards to compete and that creates a recruiting challenge.
What have you seen so far from the three new coaches in the league in recruiting?
TL: With Michigan, the greatest thing that's happening right now with Brady Hoke is he's able to keep the defensive guys intact. I don't care who they are, just get some more defensive guys in there, and they've got some good players in there, so that's important.
As far as Kevin Wilson, what you're seeing is their real, true challenges of recruiting at Indiana, going out and convincing guys that this can be a successful program over the long haul. The top quarter of this class is of BCS caliber, bowl-type team talent. But you're going to see a significant drop-off when you get to the bottom half of the class, which can be expected to some degree.
With Minnesota, I think Jerry Kill over the long haul is an ideal hire at the right time, at the right place, but you may not see those effects right off the bat. I rarely judge a first-year recruiting class on behalf of a staff that didn't recruit the players, didn't start the process off and is tasked with keeping it together. Where you judge it is if you see guys defecting left and right because that's giving an indication that whoever got the job maybe isn't making the greatest early impression. But we haven't seen that.
What do you think of Nebraska's class and what kinds of challenges lie ahead for them in transitioning to the Big Ten?
TL: There are more positives than challenges because they have an automatic contingency in the state of Texas that most teams in the Big Ten do not have. Their top three overall prospects in the ESPNU 150, all three of them are from Texas. They've got to maintain that presence because it is an advantage and it is unique to them more so than anybody else. Iowa dips down there a little bit, Michigan to some degree because they can be a bit national, but Nebraska will come in with, outside of Ohio State, the strongest recruiting class in the Big Ten. The key will be to continue that presence in Texas.
Who are the Big Ten's top incoming recruits who could make an impact in 2011?
GreenTL: I like Doran Grant at corner for Ohio State. Aaron Green at Nebraska, it's fair to say he could have an opportunity to be very, very good. Nobody else truly stands out in a major way. Ohio State could have multiple guys play and have a role. You don't know what they're going to do with Braxton Miller in the first few weeks. They've got a lot of youth on defense, so some kids that are talented enough could come in and have some sort of a role.
Big Ten fans look at our ratings and see so many players from the south and southeast. How much of a concern is that for the league, especially with oversigning and things like that?
TL: The challenges are conference wide. This isn't a knock on the Midwest, but the Midwest just doesn't provide and produce the same level of speed and athleticism in huge volume that the southeast does. There's a reason why Ohio State's better than anybody else in the conference. Look at where all the skill people are from. Not all of them, but they add speed and athleticism, particularly on defense, from the south. And until the other teams start truly following suit and beating them on some kids or at least be able to match them, they're going to continue to have a significant advantage.
At Purdue, Danny Hope's made it a priority to have a huge presence in Florida and he signs a lot of guys from Florida that I think are going to help them get better and more athletic. Rich Rodriguez was on his way to doing it. I don't know how much Brady Hoke's going to continue that trend. But you look at the fastest, most athletic guys in the conference, like Denard Robinson, they're southern kids. It's a bit of a challenge when you're competing against SEC schools, but within the conference itself, the onus is on the other teams to have a presence in the south and the southeast the way Ohio State does. Because that's the difference between Ohio State and everybody else.