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Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Big Ten signing day storylines

By Tom VanHaaren

Signing day is only 50 days away and there are plenty of questions surrounding the big day. Big Ten programs still have a ton of top prospects on the board, which means there could be some impactful decisions coming in the near future.

Here is a look at some of the top storylines in the conference leading up to signing day.

Who gets Malik McDowell?

The No. 68 ranked prospect has Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State among his top group. That’s the good news for the Big Ten, but the bad news is that LSU, Florida and Alabama are also in the mix.

He still has a few official visits left, including one to Ohio State. It looks as though Michigan is in the lead, but there are a lot of teams to fend off. McDowell keeps things close to the vest, so it will likely come down to the wire to see where he lands.

How does Ohio State close out its class?

The Buckeyes picked up a commitment from No. 12 ranked Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) on Monday, but this class is far from finished.

Wide receiver Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) is scheduled to announce his decision on Tuesday and there is a good chance he will also pick Ohio State.

ESPN 300 prospects Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland, Ohio/Glenville) and teammate Erick Smith, Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) and Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes) are all still listing Ohio State as a top suitor along with Dixon and McDowell.

Where does each class rank in the conference?

There is no question that Ohio State will finish with the top class in 2014. Michigan is next in line, but with so few spots remaining, the Wolverines aren’t likely to move up much further.

Penn State and Wisconsin are next with Northwestern right behind those two programs. As it stands now, there is a good chance that order stays the same.

All three programs have some big targets still on the board, including running back Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom) for Wisconsin, Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) for Northwestern and Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) for Penn State.

Penn State recruiting well despite sanctions

Penn State has done an outstanding job dealing with the sanctions handed down by the NCAA. Part of the scholarship reductions were reduced, though, which opened up a few spots in the 2014 class.

Christian Hackenberg has the quarterback spot wrapped up, but with the transfer of backup Tyler Ferguson it was imperative to add depth with Michael O’Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy).

Linebacker Donte Raymond (Piscataway, N.J./Piscataway) is very close to a commitment to the Nittany Lions and defensive tackle Thomas Holley could be a member of this class as well.

Defensive back Shawn Boone (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer), Kareem Are (Fort Scott, Kan./Fort Scott community college), Derrick Nnadi and a few other prospects are still considering Penn State.

Can Michigan hang on to Peppers?

Michigan commit Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) had said he wanted to take official visits after his season. That goes against coach Brady Hoke’s no-visit policy, so it was a big deal to Michigan fans.

Peppers took an official visit to Michigan on Dec. 13 along with most of the other Michigan commits, and it now looks as though Peppers is sold once again on the Wolverines.

Peppers told fellow commit Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate School) that Michigan is where he wants to be. It is very likely the Wolverines hang on to the No. 2 ranked prospect in the country . This visit was a big step towards keeping him on board, but there is still plenty of time between now and signing day.

<Will Nebraska’s juco strategy work?

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has been on the hot seat lately, which means he needs to see immediate results on the field. One strategy to accomplish that is by targeting junior college prospects, since there is a higher chance of immediate impact from those players.

The Cornhuskers regularly target juco prospects, but there are already four junior college commitments in the 2014 class with potential to add a few more.

The spots that those prospects are filling are positions that have senior players on their way out the door. Plugging those junior college prospects in right away can help ensure there is no drop off in the talent level .

What does Wisconsin’s class look like on signing day?

The Badgers have an intriguing class lined up right now. The coaching staff has flipped a plethora of prospects to Wisconsin from the original commitment. Dareian Watkins (Galion, Ohio/Galion) is one who was committed to Northwestern before picking Wisconsin.

The Badgers are still fighting to keep defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) on board as he is also considering Michigan State. He will announce his final decision on Jan. 4.

The biggest target remaining for Wisconsin is running back Joe Mixon , who has the Badgers in his top group. The No. 72 ranked prospect has been considering Wisconsin throughout his process and it seems as though there is a chance he ends up in Madison.

With a lot of questions still left for Wisconsin, this class could go a variety of different ways once signing day hits.