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Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Best Big Ten classes by position

By Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival

Each class within the Big Ten has its strengths and weaknesses, but there is a lot of talent joining the conference. Here is a look at the top classes in the Big Ten by position.

Strongest class: Penn State

This one is close, as Penn State has No. 4 ranked Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) and Michigan has No. 5 ranked Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate).

The two prospects are only separated by two spots in the ESPN 300, so it would be fair to say this is a tie. If it was based on need, the nod would go to Michigan. But based on the numbers, O’Connor is ahead of Speight, so we’ll give it to Penn State.

True freshman Christian Hackenberg looks like he will be a strong leader for the Nittany Lions, but adding O’Connor is some extra reassurance and competition for the offense.

Running back
Strongest class: Northwestern

With Justin Jackson (Carol Stream, Ill./Glenbard North), Solomon Vault (Gaithersburg, Md./Gaithersburg Senior) and Auston Anderson (Plano, Texas/Plano West) it’s hard to argue against the Wildcats.

That’s two four-stars and one three-star at the same position. It’s a strong class for the Wildcats overall, but the coaches will be adding depth for the run game.

Wide Receiver/Tight End
Strongest class: Penn State

Ohio State has a case, with two top-50 wide receivers in Lonnie Johnson (Gary, Ind./West Side) and Terry McLaurin (Indianapolis/Cathedral), as well as standouts Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus), Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII) and Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa./New Castle).

Michigan does as well, with No. 8 Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids), No. 50 Maurice Ways (Beverly Hills, Mich./Detroit Country Day) and a strong tight end in No. 4 Ian Bunting (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central).

But considering the NCAA restrictions placed on the Nittany Lions, the fact they landed ESPN 300 wide receiver Chris Godwin (Middletown, Middletown), top-70 wide receiver Troy Apke (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon) and No. 6 athlete and ESPN 300 standout De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) says a lot. Bill O’Brien’s work -- especially at wide receiver -- isn’t going unnoticed.

Offensive line
Strongest class: Ohio State

There was absolutely no secret the Buckeyes needed offensive linemen after missing out in the Class of 2013. They started this class with a commitment on Christmas Day from three-star guard Marcelys Jones (Cleveland/Glenville) and then picked up a commitment from three-star tackle Kyle Trout (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster).

Ohio State really picked up steam in the trenches over the summer, however, when ESPN 300 tackle Jamarco Jones (Chicago/De La Salle) and guard Demetrius Knox (Ft. Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal) committed. They’re in the running for ESPN 300 tackles Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mt. Lebanon) and Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara), as well as top junior college tackle Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.J./Nassau Community College), so this class can get stronger.

Defensive line
Strongest class: Michigan

The Wolverines have two defensive line commits, and both are in the ESPN 300. Defensive tackle Bryan Mone (Salt Lake City/Highland) is the No. 5-ranked tackle in the country and No. 76 overall. Lawrence Marshall (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) is the No. 12-ranked defensive end and No. 112 overall.

If that wasn’t good enough, Michigan also could land No. 4 Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) and No. 67 Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) to the already stellar class.

Strongest class: Ohio State

One of Ohio State’s biggest needs in the Class of 2014 was linebacker. The Buckeyes have two big recruits already in ESPN 300 standouts Dante Booker Jr. (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary) and Kyle Berger (Cleveland, Ohio/St. Ignatius) at outside linebacker.

They also landed three-star backer Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati/Moeller). Should Ohio State be able to grab the top linebacker in the country in Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), the argument for best linebacking group in the country going to the Buckeyes has merit.

Strongest class: Michigan

It’s hard to argue against the Wolverines, with the No. 1 ranked cornerback committed in Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic). Michigan also has a commitment from Brandon Watson (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy) after seeing him in person at camp and extending an offer.