Big Ten: Blake McClain

Signing day wrap: Big Ten

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5

Signing day certainly lived up to the hype. With commitments, decommitments and drama across the board, there was a ton of action throughout the day within the Big Ten.

The biggest news on the day was when ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) committed to Michigan State, but never sent in his national letter of intent. Before the announcement, McDowell's parents were open about the fact they did not want their son to pick the Spartans.

[+] EnlargeMalik McDowell
John Albright/Icon SMIESPN 300 DL Malik McDowell picked Michigan State, but his parents aren't happy with his decision.
When he did commit to Michigan State, the parents refused to sign the letter of intent. While that document isn't completely necessary for the No. 60 ranked prospect to attend Michigan State, he does need to sign his Big Ten tender. That document ensures his scholarship and also needs a parent's signature.

The Spartans' coaching staff has been working feverishly to get the parents on board, but it has been an uphill battle.

B1G surprises

Amidst the McDowell drama, Ohio State snuck in and was able to get three-star defensive end Darius Slade (Montclair, N.J./Montclair) to flip from Michigan State.

Slade initially said he wanted to wait on signing with the Spartans and visit the Buckeyes after signing day. The Michigan State staff spoke with Slade and decided to move on once Slade said he wanted to take the trip to Columbus.

The Buckeyes reaped the rewards as Slade then sent in his letter of intent to the Ohio State fax machine and is signed for the 2014 class.

There must have been something in the water with Big Ten defensive end commits as former Nebraska commit Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) flipped to South Carolina.

The three-star defensive end had been committed to Florida State at one point, then decommitted and chose the Cornhuskers. All seemed to be well until signing day when McClain flipped to the Gamecocks. It is a significant loss for Nebraska at an inconvenient time.

B1G movers

Michigan State saw a huge rise in the class rankings, moving up 10 spots to No. 29 overall. A big part of that increase was due to McDowell. If the Spartans can keep him on board it will be a huge coup.

Michigan State also landed three-star athlete T.J. Harrell (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Catholic), giving the coaching staff 14 three-star commits to go along with eight four-stars in this class. Defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wisc./Sun Prairie) didn't commit on signing day, but he was a late flip, switching from Wisconsin.

Northwestern dropped four spots, but that was essentially due to the lower numbers in the class and the fact that the Wildcats had closed out their class.

Future is bright at Penn State

The Nittany Lions picked up a commitment from linebacker Torrence Brown (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Tuscaloosa Academy) to cap off James Franklin's first class as Penn State's head coach.

Franklin was not only able to keep the class intact, but added some outstanding prospects.

ESPN 300 defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) did decommit, but the addition of ESPN 300 wide receiver Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) and three-star athlete Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame) helped Penn State finish No. 24 in the class rankings.

Franklin and his staff have already hit the ground running for the 2015 class as well and several junior prospects reported the Penn State coaches even spoke with them on signing day. There are apparently no brakes for this staff as they look to start building their first full class at Penn State.

Impact signings

Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) faxed in his letter of intent to Michigan on signing day. On the surface that might not seem like much, but right up until the night before signing day Peppers had been contemplating holding off on putting ink to paper.

The nation’s No. 2 prospect had heard from a few other schools, but ultimately decided Tuesday night that he would sign with the Wolverines.

That was a crisis averted for Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who brought in the No. 18 class in the country. The Wolverines hadn't landed a commitment in the 2014 class since August and most recently fell from No. 12 overall. That is significant given the fact that Michigan at one point had the No. 1 ranked class for 2014.

Minnesota was also able to hang on to its biggest commitment with running back Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn). The ESPN 300 prospect had been wavering and hearing from a few schools, but announced he would stay committed with the Gophers during a ceremony at his school.

That is as good a commitment as coach Jerry Kill and his staff have landed. Jones is an explosive back.

All in all it was an exciting day for the future of the Big Ten. The conference ended with 34 ESPN 300 prospects and three teams -- Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State -- ranked in the top 25 of the class rankings.

Nebraska class pleases Pelini

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska’s class of 24 prospects, unveiled on Wednesday, ranked 39th nationally and No. 7 in the Big Ten after coach Bo Pelini’s staff added a flurry of commitments on the final weekend of the recruiting season.

The Huskers lost defensive tackle Blake McClain of Jacksonville, Fla., to South Carolina on signing day and still await a letter of intent from committed receiver Robert Lockhart of Hinds (Miss.) Community College.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesCoach Bo Pelini and the Cornhuskers have moved some of their recruiting east since leaving the Big 12.
Pelini praised the signees, his seventh class at Nebraska.

“I feel good about them, what their potential is,” the coach said. “I can say right down the line that these kids love to play football, and they’re a good group of young men.”

Pelini answered questions for more than 40 minutes on Wednesday. Here’s a synopsis of some topics discussed:

Go south: The Huskers signed nine players from the states of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. The trend to the southeast, Pelini said, comes as Nebraska identifies areas that work with its changing identity as a three-year member of the Big Ten.

Nebraska failed to sign a recruit from California, though not for a lack of trying. It maintained a connection from its old Big 12 days by snagging four players from Texas.

“We’ve kind of moved east,” Pelini said. “You have to acquire data, and you have to evaluate it. You’ve got to look at the facts as much as you can.”

From his observations, the image of Nebraska has shifted since leaving the Big 12.

“Some recruits perceive Nebraska as if it’s going to playing in the snow every week,” Pelini said.

Strong up front: Nebraska’s highest-rated signee, guard D.J. Foster of Lincoln (Neb.) Southeast, headlines a group of recruits on the offensive line who rank as a highlight of the class. The Huskers also signed Tanner Farmer, an Under Armour All-America Game participant out of Highland, Ill., and Nick Gates of Las Vegas Bishop Gorman.

“That’s a good group of offensive lineman,” Pelini said.

Additionally, Mick Stoltenberg of Gretna, Neb., could play offense or defense. Stoltenberg, who missed much of his senior season with a knee injury, will begin his college career at the spot that allows him to play most quickly.

Fast start: Secondary coach Charlton Warren, hired in mid-January, hit the ground running as a recruiter. His boss was impressed.

“He’s going to be a huge benefit to our staff, not only as a secondary coach but as a recruiter,” Pelini said. “He communicates very well. He works hard. He couldn’t get out (to recruit) fast enough.”

Two quarterbacks: Pelini said the addition to this class last weekend of Georgia prep QB A.J. Bush was unrelated to the status of fellow newcomer Zack Darlington, who missed all but the first game of his senior season after suffering a head injury.

The Huskers had long considered pursuing a second QB, according to the coach.

Darlington, of Apopka, Fla., joined the program in January. He is participating in Nebraska’s winter-conditioning program and is scheduled to take part in spring practice.

“I think he’ll be fine,” Pelini said of Darlington. “I wouldn’t anticipate wanting to get him hit through spring practice. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

“He’s a winner. He’s a heck of a football player. He’s a guy who, I think, could be a really good football player for us.”

Big decision: Receiver Monte Harrison of Lee’s Summit, Mo., is considered a top prospect this spring for the Major League Baseball draft. Pelini, though, said he expects Harrison to choose football in college over professional baseball.

“We’re so excited about him,” Pelini said, “and I think he has every intention of coming here to play football and also to play (college) baseball. If that changes, who knows? I know one thing, it would have to be something pretty significant to keep him from doing it, because I know in his mind, he sees himself as a football player.”

Nebraska dealt with a similar situation in 2011, losing quarterback Bubba Starling to the Kansas City Royals. The Royals drafted Starling in the first round and signed him to a contract in August after fall practice had opened in Lincoln.

Nebraska won’t have to wait as long to learn of Harrison’s decision as the deadline to sign this year falls in July.

Talent vs. character: Pelini struck down the suggestion that Nebraska values high character in recruits over talent. He said he had heard recently of such a theory.

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. “We want both, so any notion that we don’t care (about talent) . . . we want both. Anything that’s being portrayed any other way is ludicrous.”



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